Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Azealia Banks's Twitter Slur and Artist Deealbreakers

Twitter will be the death of us all, I swear. Or, at least, it serves to make us aware how clueless some celebrities are.

Azealia Banks, who was the music blog world's "it girl" for most of last year, got into a Twitter spat with celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton, called him the "F" word, told him to "kill himself" (among other things ) and effectively turned the world against her.

I don't have a ton to add to the deluge of posts that have come from inside the music as well as the LGBT blogosphere. Perez Hilton is... not exactly my favorite person in the world either, but let's face it,   the public shaming Banks is getting for using a gay slur is expected.

By now I know I shouldn't, but I expect better of celebrities. Yes, they're human; they're flawed. They fuck up like the rest of us, but using a gay slur -- I don't care if she's bi; it's not hers to "reclaim" -- even against someone I despise, is a dealbreaker, plain and simple. Granted, if I removed everyone from my iPod who has done or said something problematic during their career, I'd probably have no one left. But it is becoming hard to write about someone without feeling as though I have to vet them first. For example, each time I write something about Patti Smith or Yoko Ono -- two women I overwhelmingly respect -- should I mention that both have appropriated the "N" word, a solid no-no from someone whom that particular slur can't be used against, and in no way can be justified? It seems irresponsible not to.

Of course, both Patti and Yoko's careers predate Twitter and social media as a whole. Their indiscretions  weren't like they are now, and with enough historical distance, the bad things become obscured by their achievements. It's easy to excuse away things that happened years -- decades -- ago, though those things are part of their respective legacies and should be talked about.

So I guess what I'm asking is, as a few others before me have with no real clear-cut answers, where does one draw the line and say, "Okay, I can no longer promote this person's work?" Maybe because I tend to assign more weight to writers, I find it easier to do so with someone like, say, a Mary Daly, who was clearly a transphobe, than Patti Smith, whose racism was disguised as clumsily articulated artistic statement. By no means, I am excusing her, but how do I talk about her work without the caveat that one of her most well-known songs was pretty fucking racist? I don't, but I still acknowledge her influence.

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