17 February, 2010

Imbroglio a Go-Go

I have a rather Zen riddle for you guys: What is the sound of a fan being told off by someone she admires?

Yeah, I don’t quite know, either. But how perfect is it that having to address this latest go-round marks my return to blogging (especially after my last post on here)? A lengthy and sordid tale, shortened: I recently posted on FWD about Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley’s side project, the musical conjoined twin-duo Evelyn Evelyn, and things happened. Some folks showed up to tell me that I should focus on more important things, some broke out tone arguments, plus some other fun stuff. Which is sort of expected in the blogosphere—and some of which I expected, since Amanda’s fans tend to be pretty loyal--but I digress.

Here’s the thing: I attempted to be extremely careful about what I included in that post and how I wrote it. And yet, I keep having this nagging feeling that people either did not read or chose to ignore my numerous mentions of my affection for Palmer’s music, preferring instead to go into all-out defense mode. As if the definition of being a fan is entirely dependent on not critiquing and/or not questioning things that you take issue with. Ultimately, if I didn’t have the love that I do for Amanda’s music, and the desire to see her do better in the whole not-appropriating-disabled-peoples’-experiences department, I would not have written the post. I would not have raised these questions. I certainly would not have alluded to the fact that she can, and has, written some great songs about people with disabilities and/or mental health conditions (“Ultima Esperanza” and “Bad Habit,” to name just two). I probably would have just ignored Evelyn Evelyn as some eccentric side-project (that I am clearly not artistic enough to understand) and continued on my little bloggerly ways.

What I wanted to get across in the post, and what I want to reiterate here, is that some of us do not have the luxury of removing certain things, or certain people, from our mental peripheries. This is a hugely important principle in many segments of social justice work. For some of us, “suffering” is part of the messy reality of life; when you have chronic pain (as I do), that’s just the way it is sometimes. I cannot choose how, when or where my pain will affect me, and “suffering” is often part of the experience of living with pain, chronic illness or disability. And you cannot separate that suffering and that pain from the legacies of ableism, privilege and exclusion that continue to affect how people with disabilities are treated by many non-disabled people. As I’ve said before, dealing with my own physical pain is often easier than dealing with peoples’ opinions, attitudes and preconceived notions about my pain or about people with disabilities as a whole. But those things still affect and reinforce each other regardless.

How great for Amanda Palmer that she can so easily remove me--and my fellow disabled feminists--from her mental periphery. She would do well to remember, however, that many of us cannot do that. That she misunderstands my and others' critiques as just "anonymous hate" is, frankly, disappointing.

Also: Lauredhel has a great post here which further expands upon why all of this is so problematic.

Note: Comments on this thread, as usual, will be moderated with an iron fist. Them's the rules. If you don't like it, you can leave, because I am done arguing with people about supposedly infringing on their precious First Amendment rights by not letting them say bigoted shit.


bint alshamsa said...

Maybe this is easier for me because I have never heard of Amanda Palmer before (one of the benefits to growing up as a Jazz aficionado). I just don't understand why some of my sisters and brothers with disabilities feel like the fact that an artist has made a few songs about disabilities that weren't awful is enough to make it necessary for them to add all sorts niceties about them before pointing out how they've done some really foul shit. I mean this "Evelyn Evelyn" project is ridiculously ableist. Anyone who could do that has NEVER been a friend or ally of ours. I say that because "Evelyn Evelyn" reveals a complete disregard for people like us and an utter lack of understanding of our issues.

I mean, I love you to death and I think you're absolutely right so it's hard for me to understand why you felt like you needed to be nice about this in the first place.

annaham said...

Thanks for your response, Bint. At its core, my overly-nice response to this has been a defense against a possible tone argument--ie, "You're too angry, so I don't have to listen to you or your criticisms." Then again, Amanda has shown, at least on Twitter, that she is NOT interested in considering for even a moment that this project might be problematic, or listening to the numerous people who have brought this up, so it might be time for me to drop the veneer of civility. Conveying my deep disappointment and coming from the fandom perspective obviously hasn't worked in getting her to listen.

Assiya said...

I'm glad you are back :) I had missed your voice online

Manda said...

Hi Anaham - I found your blog through the link on AFP's most recent blog addressing the post-EvelynEvelyn-drama.

Firstly, I think you write really well, and are an awesome blogger, and if I get nothing more from this argument but a bit of a headache and finding an awesome blogger to follow, than I'm happy.

Secondly, unlike some of the other commenters on your original blog criticising the Evelyn-Evelyn project, your opinion and argument actually changed the way I saw the project. I came in sceptical as to how anyone could be offended by it, but came to see it from another perspective. For that I'm grateful.

Not being disabled myself, I hadn't thought of it like that. In fact, I hadn't given it much thought at all beyond "isn't this quirky?" and "wait - are they real??"

So this is a really long-winded way of saying 1. Thankyou and 2. Ooooh - I kind of get it now. ^.^ I still don't view it with the same discomfort as you and many others do, because I'm not as close to the issues, but I do now see where you are coming from, and hope that in future these issues are addressed and not just ignored.

Anonymous said...

Your post has been added to a linkspam round-up.

Alan said...

There's been a torrential volume of discussion at Amanda Palmer's blog, which I found myself sucked into reading nearly all of in an effort to understand more about the controversy. I'm about as privileged, if I understand the term correctly, as it's possible to get -- and, yes, I had the damnedest time trying to wrap my head around why some people could be so troubled about E/E. But I'm making an honest effort.

This comment does a better job than most explaining a large part of the problem -- it's extremely difficult to find a real common ground for discussion here. I'm still having a hard time keeping myself from the automatic reaction that people are deliberately trying to be offended, because I couldn't initially see any cause for offense myself. It's profoundly counterintuitive to realize that not everyone will feel the way I do. But I'm making an honest effort.

The problem for many of the abled, I think, is that in such discussions we feel as though we're being accused of deliberate malice when we're generally only guilty of cluelessness. And, yes, I'm sure I'm roughly the fifteen millionth abled-white-male-of-middle-class-origin to say this exact same thing. But our problem, on the whole, is simply that we don't understand -- and at least some of us are trying to educate ourselves.

As for Amanda Palmer -- of whom I'm not actually a fan; I just found myself drawn irresistibly into this donnybrook once I heard about it -- it's worth observing that she explained the offending tweet in her followup blog post, which, though plainly unsatisfactory to many of the offended, falls, again into the "honest effort" category.

And, yes, the absence of malicious intent doesn't excuse negative effects. But when people on both sides of controversies like this throw up their hands and conclude that the other side will never get it, is too wrapped up in its own worldview to be worth talking to, then everybody loses, because we've lost the ability to communicate with each other. And I do mean both sides -- I've been plenty pained and embarrassed by privileged, abled people saying things even more insensitive and blundering than what I'm saying now, and giving up on dialogue.

People are talking, and that's good. If anything, we should keep them (ourselves) talking, however awkward it gets... I mean, I'm learning. Trying, at any rate.

notemily said...

I want to say something about the "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" quote. That's a Buddhist concept, one I learned about from mindfulness class, and I think it's actually very helpful for chronic pain. The point of it is that pain, physical pain or emotional pain, is going to happen at some point. The things we build around that pain--thinking about how horrible it is, about how our lives would be so much better without it, how much we wish things were different--is what creates suffering. The mindfulness practice is to learn to stay with the pain itself, rather than the thoughts about the pain.

That said--the "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" concept is one that you have to take on for yourself. If it works for you, great, but nobody can just TELL you that your suffering is optional and expect it to go away. That's incredibly belittling. The Buddhist quest to reduce suffering is a lifelong journey, and suffering is not something that can be fixed with a platitude.

I can see where AP was coming from with that tweet, but I think it was also a willful misunderstanding of what you were trying to say. That is, I think there were two definitions of "suffering" going on, and AP knew (or should have known) that you weren't talking about the Buddhist concept of suffering, but rather the term as it's commonly used.

Anonymous said...

Hi Annaham,
First of all, let me say that I completely respect your position and am not interested in getting into any kind of argument. I am really on a quest to understand the issues at hand in order to avoid them (important because I am 1. a high school teacher 2. a writer 3. a human being). If you have the time or inclination, would you mind helping me out by answering my questions in this post? http://wp.me/pOhT2-w

The short version of my question is regarding the idea of Palmer and Webley "helping" Evelyn and Evelyn...I honestly read that sentence as being about already successful artists with a mentor/Pygmalian conceit getting off on counseling an unknown act. What I'd like to know is where you see ablesim coming into that. Your explanation on FWD makes sense...I'd just be interested in more clarification when you have the time/inclination.

Thanks a lot for your help, and good luck dealing with the internet backlash, etc.

Veronique Chevalier (formerly Cyphyre) said...

Greetings! I am in the same line of work as Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley- a perfomer/lyricist.

I too take "uncomfortable" subject matter and try to lift up the proverbial rock and make art of the crawlies that emerge from underneath.

One the one hand, as a survivor of childhood abuse, I feel I am qualified to make a song from the point of view of a child recounting stories about her family's "funny" uncle.

Humor, for some survivors is an indispensable tool for maintaining sanity and gaining perspective. It certainly has been for me. I honestly feel that if it were not for my outlet as a comedic musical performer, I would have turned to substance abuse.

That said, I recount from firsthand experience, a reaction of horror from a member of the audience at one of my performances of my song "Uncle Pierre".

While I can, and do have compassion for the suffering of others who lived through similar circumstances, (I worked professionally as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, persons with disabilities & frail elders for ten years) I also don't feel that I should be required to censor myself when it comes to direct experiences.

On the other hand, on one occasion, I had the opportunity to co-write with an accordionist who also manages a troupe of circus sideshow human "oddities".

When I shared with him my idea for lyrics about the malformed offspring of a bearded lady and a lobster boy, he really took exception to my concept explained how ableist and offensive my song was.

My eyes were opened and I felt truly embarrassed at my lapse in sensitivity. I immediately disposed of the lyrics and certainly won't ever approach the subject in the same way again.

So, I guess what I am trying to say, is that I agree that there are definitely boundaries that should not be crossed by those who do not have "insider" experience, but I also think that those who do have such direct insights should be free to express them.

There is always the risk of offending someone, but one must always balance the merits with the negative. I did my best to ensure that the woman I'd offended at my show received my sincere apology- she is the friend of a mutual acquaintance.

In closing, I did share my "Uncle Pierre" song with a colleague who is a professional therapist working with survivors of incest and abuse. She felt that while there is a risk of triggering wounds in survivors, she also felt that by bringing a taboo subject up in a humorous way, it could also serve as a tool for a survivor to begin the road to healing.

I think we can all agree these are complex issues, and there are no simple solutions, but as you do, I feel that if there is a dialogue, there is a possibility of finding mutual understanding.

Awareness is the first step to change.

Thank you for allowing me my piece.

(Rust Belt) Jessie Lynn said...

@Veronique - I had to respond, as I am the person you offended!

I was very heartened when you sent that message to our mutual friend later on in the evening. I wouldn't even say offended was the right word - disturbed? Yes. Upset? That, too. I had no context for the song, and had no idea about your background/experiences. I only knew about my own, and that song affected me.

I am not easily offended. I was upset and disturbed, yes, but I don't necessarily shy away from that, either, in my own music & writing or in that of others. I think it is important to face those dark things - with humor, or in whatever way you see fit.

Though I wouldn't write a song such as that, I believe very strongly in your right to do so.

You're a great and very entertaining performer (I enjoyed the rest of that set thoroughly!), and I hope you keep on doing what you do.

Also, I believe I know the accordionist "with a troupe of human oddities" of whom you speak. He is an acquaintance of mine, as well. Small musical world!

@annaham - I have spent the past day and a half wading through all the numerous blog posts, comments, and everything, from all viewpoints, about Evelyn Evelyn. I am a long-standing fan of AFP's (and Jason Webley's), but was blissfully unaware of all of this until a couple nights ago. I had heard of the Evelyn Evelyn project a long time ago, but I knew from the get-go it was Jason & Amanda. I didn't pay any further attention to it after that, except for occasionally thinking "oh, I'd like to hear the record when it comes out. I like the music they both make." I knew nothing of the twins' backstory, or of them trying to pass them off as real people, or to present themselves as the saviours. I honestly just thought of it as fictional characters they were writing songs from the POV of, and I didn't see anything wrong with it, and really didn't think that anyone else might. But that is coming from a mindset of privilege.

As someone who has been diagnosed with a few different "mental disorders" (for lack of a better term), and also a survivor of child sexual abuse, and of rape (and a woman, and queer, and a former drug addict), I do know something of being underpriviliged in some ways. (But again, one can only speak for what personally upsets them - and I never for a second thought you were trying to speak for all PWDs, or all feminists, or anything.) But there are a lot of ways in which I am also extremely privileged; one of them being that many of my differences are not always visible to other people, so I have the luxury of putting them aside at times. I know many PWDs cannot do that.

This has all gotten very long and rambly, and I apologize. I have so many complicated thoughts on this topic, now, I might end up writing my own blog entry to add to the whole thing, and if I do, I will link your original post at FWD. To end this, I just want to thank you for writing such a well-thought-out piece, and opening my eyes to a side of it I might never have thought about otherwise.

Lyn Belzer said...

Censorship, schmensorship. Your house, your rules. The end.

(No, this has nothing to do with AP, but from the tone of the last comment you left on the original FWD entry, and this one, I thought you could use the encouragement.)