Surfer Blood & domestic abuse

Pitchfork have reported about the new Surfer Blood album without mentioning their frontman’s recent arrest for domestic abuse. I’ve already expressed that I was worried this would happen.

Lots has already been written about how many commentators/white feminists are much more ready to vilify Chris Brown for his crimes than white celebrities who have also been convicted of domestic abuse, but here’s a) a concrete example of how one publication’s bias works and b) Pitchfork seemingly making a clear decision to erase what they’ve previously written about Surfer Blood – Jenn Pelly at Pitchfork found out about and reported on John Paul Pitts’ arrest (TW) in the first place.

To illustrate how wrongheaded this is, look at the way Pitchfork writes about Chris Brown compared to Surfer Blood: Surfer Blood’s new song is described in the article (by Pitts) as “about someone who is about to go through a manic episode”, which passes without further comment. Compare this piece on a Chris Brown remix from a couple years ago; Pitchfork tells us: “After the whole abusing-Rihanna thing, it’s still hard to hear a Chris Brown song”. And I agree, it is hard – it should be hard. But why isn’t this same problem applied to Surfer Blood? Frequently, there’s an argument here that “art shouldn’t be judged by the actions of its creators”, which gets applied to domestic abusers and reflects social factors more than artistic factors, pardoning the art of the likes of John Lennon, William S Burroughs, and Roman Polanski (and this isn’t a completely polarised race issue; Miles Davis and James Brown both repeatedly committed domestic abuse, but this is now usually overlooked). So it’s not that hating Chris Brown for domestic abuse is racist, but that hegemonic, socially-conditioned racism makes it “easier” to hate Chris Brown than white men accused of the same crimes, and we need to recognise and un-learn that implicit racism.

It should be equally “difficult” to listen to a Surfer Blood song given what Pitts has done, and there’s a clear semantic asymmetry here compared with discussion on Chris Brown – and right now not enough people are talking about why listening to Surfer Blood should be difficult. It’s not that Pitchfork should immediately stop giving a platform for Surfer Blood or that they should start describing Pitts as “actual piece of shit” like they have Chris Brown – it’s that these crimes cannot simply be erased; we need to think about the implications of supporting these musicians and the factors (especially race) which determine our reactions to different cases of domestic abuse.


About decemberembers

I've noticed that all of my music-obsessed friends have completely different approaches to music in the digital age, and I'm writing this blog as an attempt to raise questions about what you experience when listening to music. It's also partly a response to a majority of music journalism which, stylistically and ethically, I find problematic. I'm trying to avoid being prescriptive and will encourage open-mindedness. :)
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2 Responses to Surfer Blood & domestic abuse

  1. Soo says:

    I think with cases like Lennon, James Brown etc it’s largely the case that there’s simply no resonance for current listeners. It’s like Wagner being antisemitic – the response to an artist holding these views today would be strong but when it feels like ancient history it’s difficult to think that you shouldn’t listen (especially when it’s artists whose work is deeply woven into our culture). Then there’s the factor of how responses to these things have changed over time – it would (wrongly, of course) have been seen as less of an issue 40 years ago in general.

    Whether we should avoid listening to these artists is open to discussion but I think it’s definitely something to consider when looking at responses to contemporary artists.

  2. LogicBomb says:

    I dislike both artists as people for what they do, but I don’t let that affect my enjoyment of their art. I still watch Roman Polanski movies and listen to Surfer Blood, Miles Davis, and James Brown. I refuse to listen to Chris Brown’s music though, not because he’s an asshole, but because his music is shit. Seems a simple enough solution to me.

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