Art in itself is a reflection of the individual who creates it.
While we can include certain exceptions, putting your name alongside a piece of work associates you with its contents. Whether it’s film or books, murals or singers, the artist will always have a meaning behind the images and narratives that they create.
The reason why I bring this up is that as a consumer of art, caring about the artist is not as important as it should be. Today, while we are starting to care about the artists behind the scenes, there is still a lot of grey area in what we consider as acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to artists. When we look at artists like Kanye West, J.K. Rowling, Chris Brown and so many others we ignore the problematic issues within not only their art but within their lives.
I will begin by saying: no you don’t have to be fully supportive of an artist to appreciate their work and art. There are many artists I listen to or read from that have questionable opinions on the world that don’t necessarily align with mine. Many artists are not going to line up with your personal beliefs and that’s fine. However, when the artists push harmful images, notions and beliefs; when they use their power and influence in a way that suppresses those with lesser power, is when there is a problem.
Over time, many issues have grown specifically with internet culture. We are now seeing: (1) the fallacy of cancel culture, (2) “stan” culture and its presence in protecting problematic individuals and lastly (3) the willing blindness of the consumer. All three of these are major components on why artists are not held accountable and thus we are still given platforms.
The Fallacy of Cancel Culture.
Cancel culture is defined as “cancelling” influencers and people in power for doing problematic things. It was created as a way to remove the influence and power that certain individuals had, specifically when they misused it. Whether you hate it or believe it to be something useful, cancel culture in itself is a part of the abundance of issues on the internet. This is because it doesn’t truly exist.
In theory, absolutely it does. Those in power who misuse the trust that they have should face repercussions for their actions… but they don’t. Each time we see culture change in action, it fails to do the one thing it was meant to do: remove people from being in a position where they can spread harmful views and messages.
I believe that cancel culture in itself is a mask disguising the lack of care we have for the artists we consume. It’s there for performative reasons rather than providing a beneficial environment to be surrounded by artists whose messages line up with the consumer. Take any internet personality, most have been “cancelled”. Many of these are on good grounds. However again, cancelled does not mean cancelled in this situation. It means the internet could not stand this person for a few weeks, maybe months, but went back on their word and forgot about the artist’s behaviour.
While we’re on the topic of cancel culture, it has also been a misused way to hold people accountable. Many times it’s been used in ways that directly affect women more than men. Take an artist like Taylor Swift. She is an artist who received the hate she did due to her being a woman. This is telling of the implications that cancel culture has. It repeatedly preys on women in the name of taking down artists who don’t deserve their platform, while successfully attempting to de-platform individuals who don’t need to be de-platformed.
Cancel culture is a false notion that has been created in today’s society to make us feel like we have done something. That is not to say that we should ignore artists’ mistakes and not actively call them out, however, there is a balance as well as a method to do it that ensures progressive change.
“Stan” Culture and Its Presence in Protecting Problematic Individuals.
I will admit, stan culture has been a big part of my life since I was in my early teens. Its referred to as internet culture that surrounds a group of obsessive fans. It creates internet memes, trends and language. It’s been there since I started on the internet and has been a large influence on my life. It has for many people. Stan culture has made the internet and thus our lives and perceptions of reality into what they are today. It’s been part of the creation of trends, language and standards that have consumed the lives of many individuals.
However, stan culture in itself protects the artists that they associate with. This is to the point where artists will be defended, as long as they have a large enough platform. This is especially a problem when we look into who we hold people accountable for their actions. As these actions bleed into their work and as we start to call artists out for actions done wrong, this can come at the cost of there being a backlash against you. This one, pushes people to actively cease calling individuals and artists out, but also on the flip side pushes for there to be a normal setting in which behaviour that otherwise would not be approved of, to now be seen as okay.
Stan culture is surrounded by the notion of blindly following and supporting someone. But where is the line drawn? Take Travis Scott fans for example. It’s important to care about him as an artist because he holds people’s lives in his hands at his concerts. Specifically in festival environments such as Astroworld. An event that was meant to be filled with celebration and connection ended with at least 8 people dead and hundreds injured. The artist performing has a lack of care, emotion and intention when it came to temporarily stopping a show to protect those at his concert. His team, his showrunners, him. No one did anything to protect these innocent lives and his fans came to rescue him from the onslaught of hate and backlash. He as an artist took things too far. He pushed the boundaries of what is okay and what isn’t. It has been said multiple times that this energy, one that Travis creates, exudes male aggression. Yet, people still defend that environment.
This is not some internet debate, one that is full of minuscule arguments and questionable motives. It is a case of an artist ignoring their consumers and using their power and influence in a harmful way, or in this case, deadly. People are still protecting the artist here. It proves how fans and stan culture can create a space where things that are plain and simply horrific, are now deemed as the fault of the consumer.
And this is not just on a large scale where artists are protected by their fans in terms of outward danger like Astroworld; a situation where people were physically harmed in a direct setting. We also see this “culture” all across the industry with artists like Nicki Minaj and her fans. A woman who has married a convicted child molester and who has done other questionable things remains invincible due to her “stans”. They have created an environment in which an artist who is harmful behind the screens can still be successful without repercussions. At the end of the day, these artists are humans and they should be treated as such. Not as untouchable gods who may do as they please.
This is why we care about the artists behind the art. We care about the artist on that stage for the power they exude, for the energy they provide us, but the nonchalance, the ignorance that has been presented is one that, without fail, has created harm and should be something that consumers should care about.
The Blindness of the Consumer.
I often hear, “the artist does not equal the art”. That is, the artist doesn’t define what their art means. But to me, this doesn’t make sense. Yes, in some cases we can separate the two. However, this does not work when specific artists use their art form to repeatedly enforce certain ideals.
Earlier in the year, I did a piece about the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. A woman who I believe allows her views, ones riddled with problematic undertones, to be riddled throughout her platform. She as a TERF has not only displayed transphobic ideas throughout the series but has also laid antisemitic and misogynistic undertones throughout her written works. She is someone who has used her art form under the assumption of it being a series of magic and inclusion, a world people can belong to no matter who they are; yet this world actively denies those who she deems as not being it to exist; this comes in the form of her transphobic and racist rhetoric.
As people have become aware of Rowling being a TERF, there’s a massive division in the consumption of the consumer. This is a battle that I, being a fan of the series, has had to deal with as well. It comes to the point of how much money are you willing to give an artist when you are aware of the person they are. Many people blindly purchase merchandise without being aware of the consequences it has. That is not to say that purchasing Harry Potter branded merch makes you an awful person, however, being a blind consumer is problematic in itself.
Being a blind consumer is one of the biggest problems when it comes to art. We appreciate so many aspects of a piece of music, of literature, couture, that we forget the underlying message some pieces have. Harry Potter has underlying transphobic, misogynistic and racist underpinnings throughout the series. In the fashion industry, Hugo Boss has made beautiful clothes, yet was responsible for creating the uniforms for Nazi soldiers. Another example from the music industry R Kelly, a man who was known for his innovation turned out to be a complete monster behind the scenes. Yet, people still follow and continue to actively search these peoples’ art out. This is due to how many consumers turn a blind eye in the face of a problematic artist to justify their likings of the art.
All three of these elements play a massive role in the lack of accountability held towards artists. Accountability is key here. At the end of the day, no artist should get off easy while still showcasing questionable motives and actions. Their behaviours are emitted through their art. This doesn’t mean a full stop on consuming things or songs you like. However, it is good to be aware of the messages that may be portrayed in what you are consuming.
Without being aware of the subliminal messages, the artist can subvert their beliefs onto you, however harmful they may be. This is an issue not about cancelling or completely removing certain artists from your life but it’s about being aware and genuinely looking to educate yourself about sources of the products you consume. I know for me I’m always trying to create a space where what I consume reflects me and who I am. Its backings come from a place where I feel like the intention was to create something good and something people truly would enjoy. This differs for everyone, however, hopefully opening your eyes up to the people you support or turning a blind eye to can push you in the direction of supporting artists who line up with your views.
Whether it’s through your music, literature or film; artists are there to project a story to you. Each one pushes a narrative the artist deems fit, whether that message is one that you support is up to you and how you believe the art was created. It’s up to you whether or not you support the artist in their message.
Hello!! I’m a first year Psychology major at UAlberta. I love putting my voice out there and being able to advocate or open up a dialogue about anything I’m passionate about. I’m so excited to create and work on new pieces that (I hope!!) you will all enjoy. Some of my hobbies are creating new Spotify albums and Pinterest boards while watching any docu series I can get my hands on.
I definitely agree that we should always consume media critically, and be vigilant about the ways we support artists and their politics or actions. I also think it’s interesting to look at who is “cancelled” by mainstream media and how quickly or intensely they receive backlash and lose support, if at all. For example, despite the fact that they have both proven themselves to be horrendous people countless times, I think J. K. Rowling and Justin Timberlake are going to continue to see success because they’re protected by the halo effect that is being white.