TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
A little over a year ago, Amanda Palmer saved my family.
Don’t panic. This isn’t the part where I defend her recent behavior, or much of her behavior in general.
In 2013, my life had started to change. My chapter-by-chapter recap of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels had become more popular than I could have imagined. I’d started a serial romance, The Boss, and that had become pretty popular, too. I considered sending the full to my agent, thinking maybe I could sell it somewhere. I thought about proposing it to Ellora’s Cave, the company that had published my last book at the time. But neither option felt right. I figured I would just leave The Boss on the blog, and then follow up with The Girlfriend. I wasn’t getting paid much for my writing at the time, so I felt like it wasn’t of a quality where I could charge for it.
People started asking if I could set up a donations account, so they could give me money for the blog and for The Boss. I did, but I felt guilty. Again, I thought that what I was doing wasn’t real, because no one had sanctioned my choices. There was no publishing house supporting what I was doing, so I wasn’t a “real” author. But my family of four was trying to get by–and get through a messy foreclosure–on twenty-thousand a year. Granted, it’s not an impossible task, but it isn’t comfortable, and it definitely isn’t stress free. There were plenty of times we were sending unsigned checks “accidentally,” etc, and more than once we had to turn to the state emergency fund to keep our heat on. We stretched one-hundred and six dollars worth of food stamps over every month. In case you’re wondering, those info graphics showing how cheaply you can eat on fresh produce and healthy food? Are all bullshit. We were struggling, and it didn’t seem like we would ever dig our way out of the hole of back taxes, defaulted student loans, and the mountain of medical bills that I’d piled onto the heap.
Then, I saw something that changed my life. It was Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, “The Art of Asking.” I’d heard of Amanda Palmer before. I knew she’d been in a band called The Dresden Dolls, because I had a friend who loved them. I think I’d heard one song. But my sister-in-law posted a link to the Ted Talk on my Facebook wall, and though I wasn’t super interested, I watched it anyway.
That video changed my life. Here was this woman, a successful woman, saying that there was more than one path to success, and that artists deserve to be paid for the work they do. That there was nothing wrong with asking for support, and there was nothing to be ashamed of if the path people thought you should take just didn’t work for you.
Because of that Ted Talk, I decided that it would be okay to charge book prices for The Girlfriend, the sequel to The Boss. That August, I embraced self-publishing, and put The Girlfriend on Amazon.
It sold two thousand copies in an hour.
A few days later, a complete version of The Boss made its self-pub debut as a ninety-nine cent e-book. In its first month, I made thirty-thousand dollars.
Amanda Palmer became my role model. I listened to her music and absorbed her blog. I learned about the controversy she’d sparked with her Kickstarter campaign that had so inspired me. She’d produced her album and gone on tour, but she was asking musicians to play without payment. I was conflicted; hadn’t she used her power of asking to raise money to fund her artistic endeavors? But then again, wasn’t she using that same power of asking to get these musicians to play with her? No one was forcing them to sign on. She was asking, and they were answering.
The more I followed her work, the more wary I became. At first listen, I thought her song “Guitar Hero” was an incredible portrait of soldiers trying to maintain a sense of normalcy amid the chaos of war; then I realized I’d been hearing the n-word shouted, for no discernible reason, besides to shock the listener (though I’m not confident that there ever could be a good reason for a white artist to include that in their lyrics). She wrote a controversial poem expressing sympathy for the surviving suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing. But she also started a twitter campaign urging people to post un-retouched photos of their least favorite body part to protest the unrealistic depictions of bodies in the media. She preached the gospel of independent art, but there seemed to be an edge of opportunism in everything she did. I wrote it off as her just being kind of kooky, in a way that didn’t jibe with my personal philosophy. And that, to me, was okay. I would occasionally roll my eyes and move along. I just sort of accepted, as Twitter user @GraceIsHuman tweeted, quoting a line from Erin Keane’s Slate.com piece (TW: rape):
“If Amanda Palmer can make something about Amanda Palmer, she will.” Never a truer sentence.
— Witch of West Africa (@graceishuman) October 31, 2014
Keane’s essay is one of many regarding Amanda Palmer’s support of accused rapist Jian Ghomeshi. Palmer had planned on hosting Ghomeshi as part of one of her shows, and as the allegations stacked up (TW: rape), fans were outraged to hear that she still intended to keep him on as her guest. Palmer asked for peace and understanding, stating that she needed time to sort through her thoughts. After a landslide of recriminations rolled through the media and her fan base, Palmer wrote a blog post announcing that Ghomeshi wouldn’t be at her show after all. This is something that I can’t just roll my eyes at. The heartfelt tone of her announcement strikes me as far too little and extremely late. It’s hard to believe that it came from a place of soul-searching and profound enlightenment when Palmer is currently on tour to promote her new book. The tone policing in her post and her pleas for respect and kindness on social media, her lamentations over how the passionate response to the controversy had somehow damaged society, all seemed intended to scold anyone who dared question her. It wasn’t sincere. It was a haughty declaration of moral superiority.
I can no longer say that I’m an Amanda Palmer fan. Not after this. Yet, I still feel as though I owe her credit for changing my life. So, while I’ll no longer follow her on social media, or defend her to her critics, I still feel a conflicted debt of gratitude toward her. Though I’ll never purchase another of her albums (nor her book, which I had been looking forward to), I may still occasionally listen to the music that I already own. I talk a lot on this blog about recognizing when the art and media we consume is problematic, and that we can still enjoy flawed things as long as we didn’t make excuses for those elements, but I’m not as tolerant as I used to be of creators. I loved Woody Allen’s movies, but I would never watch another, not even an old favorite. Braveheart, a film I once loved shamelessly, leaves a bad taste in my mouth now. Sometimes, when an artist or artwork are so profoundly troubling, we have to know when to walk away. I’ve got to walk away from Amanda Palmer, a person who has made such an enormous impact on my life. As Twitter user @1AprilDaniels said:
Amanda Palmer has written songs that have literally saved my life. Which makes her penchant for generating facepalms even more frustrating.
— October DEATHyuls (@1aprildaniels) October 31, 2014
summing up perfectly the conflict that many of Palmer’s fans feel after each one of her devil’s advocate missteps. Fans who have endured rape and abuse, who have been thrown under the wheels of Amanda Palmer’s publicity tour bus this week, are having to decide whether her good qualities–the list dwindles with each new grab at scandal–outweigh the extreme offense and second-hand embarrassment from her outrageous attempts to be provocative and thoughtful.
Yes, Palmer has taught me the “Art of Asking,” but asking that we accept passive-aggressive apologies for her antics time and again is wearing thin. And this time, it’s asking far too much.