Here’s where we get to the heart of the problem. Sexism is always excused. Pitchfork would never take the time to defend the songs of white teenagers who fired off fantasies about torturing African-Americans no matter how good the music was. Would any black person in their right mind be excited about an artist who wrote racist fantasies in song after song? Did anyone from the LGBT community come out in support of Buju Banton, extolling the virtues of ‘Boom Bye Bye’? So why are so many members of the press, including women, so keen to push the positive aspects of Odd Future? Simply because the music is supposedly good? I don’t think it’s that simple.
In online publications like Pitchfork, or in any publications that cover ‘alternative’ music, racism is never tolerated. If a white artist were to continuously use the N word in song after song it would be the subject of every interview, and their youth would not be considered a good reason to ignore the overall sentiments. If the artist insisted it was a joke or that they were merely trying to shock, it would not be considered a good answer and rightly so. Racism should be questioned, countered and eradicated as much as humanly possible. Homophobia and sexism are often given a free pass but, at least within the LGBT community, homophobic artists are not championed. So why is sexism excused and why are women some of the people excusing it? On a larger scale the problem is societal. We live in a patriarchal society where a woman’s every move is subject to over-analysis. Within the narrower world of pop-culture and music writing, however, I see another element at play.
It has been noted by more than a few observers that most of the people talking up Odd Future are middle-class Pitchfork reading types, the kind of people that many would label hipsters. Among this demographic there’s a certain embarrassment at being middle-class. Suburbia is seen as the home of mediocrity, a hotbed of denied passions and smiling blandness. For this reason certain members of the middle-class have developed an obsession with being authentic, with being ‘real’. This is often played out in rather tiresome but ultimately harmless ways, for example the music labeled Americana. Hip-hop too is often embraced as an authentic alternative to stifling middle-class mores, with misogyny and homophobia regularly excused or overlooked. Those who do take the time to criticise these aspects of hip-hop are more often than not seen as hypocrites, racists or just plain uptight Tipper Gore-esque meddlers.
The case of Odd Future, however, is way beyond the standard misogyny and homophobia of hip-hop or rock. It is certainly not the kind of lyrical output normally celebrated in the ‘alternative’ press. It appears that the championing of Odd Future is an attempt to connect stifled and emotionally dead middle-class music fans with a taste of something genuinely shocking and, when it comes to being shocking, misogyny is always the answer. Racism won’t work, homophobia will be challenged at some point, but misogyny will be given a free pass. Refusing to listen to Odd Future because they rap so relentlessly about rape and homophobia is seen as a worse crime than reveling in rape fantasies. Don’t you have a sense of humour? Can’t you get past the rape stuff and get into the music?
Worse, none of the members of the press are asking Odd Future serious questions about anything. Maybe they don’t want to blow their credibility by saying something like, “You know almost one in five women in America have been raped”. The endorsement of Odd Future gives the perfect example of college-age middle-class values; timid, passive, afraid of being inauthentic, afraid of being seen as self-righteous, afraid of being labeled closed-minded and afraid of taking anything seriously. As a result Odd Future get a free ride to fame and nobody wants to dwell too long on how disgusting their lyrical content is.
In the LA Weekly article about Odd Future we are briefly introduced to Syd, a female who sometimes engineers their music. Even though Syd’s back-story constitutes a tiny portion of the article, the writer still has to point out that she is “arrestingly beautiful”. At no point does the author evaluate the physical attractiveness of Odd Future themselves. The writer, as noted, is female. I ask myself why a female would write such things and the answer can only be that the patriarchal nature of society is so strong and overwhelming that many females have never acquired the necessary self-respect to reject this kind of vile and hateful misogyny.
That is not to give men a free pass. Men’s willingness to overlook hateful language against women or gays as long as it provides a few laughs is sickening and, until men properly join in the fight against sexism, it will continue to do serious damage. Femininity, be it in females or males, continues to be seen as weak, pathetic and even repulsive by many members of society, and it is more than a little depressing to see this viewpoint go unquestioned by writers who clearly consider themselves liberal in thought and deed. Rape is a crime and, in the majority of cases, women are the victims. If we are not willing to take a stand and let our voices speak in favour of the victims, then our status as a moral agent can rightly be called into question. When the need to be open-minded or edgy overrules the need to be sensitive to an overwhelming societal problem, then things have taken a disturbing turn for the worst.