It is challenging to think what more is left to say about consuming the art of allegedly abusive creators. From musings on Woody Allen to Brand New, dozens of writers have outlined the nuances of continuing to engage with the work of, as Claire Dederer put it in the Paris Review, “monstrous men.” This support is typically presumed to be private, on one’s own time, far from the public sphere. A common conclusion seems to present itself in most of these essays: continuing to listen to music or watch movies or read books made by artists who have been named as sexually predatory is a personal choice. It’s up to all of us, individually, to decide if we want to continue digging into the catalogue of these types of artists (this writer chooses not to), but the general consensus seems to be that without public or financial support, enjoying their previous works is not explicitly unethical.
Questions about ethics arise when we begin to decipher the voices leading the #TeamHedley or #IStandWithHedley movements in Canada. Since allegations of sexual assault first surfaced against Hedley singer Jacob Hoggard, the CBC reported a disturbing and violent account of rape committed by the singer, the band’s music has been pulled from Canadian radio stations, and the JUNO Awards cancelled the band’s planned appearance at this weekend’s ceremony.
But amid these developments, an extremely vocal contingent of the band’s fans are choosing to celebrate and defend the band. This group is substantial; an online petition to have the band reinstated on the radio has gathered nearly 4000 signatures. Platforms for Hedley supporters are not just homegrown, but institutional.
Yesterday, this movement reached a fever pitch when the CBC ran an op-ed from a vehement and proudly outspoken Hedley supporter. It sparked immediate rage: if you’re looking at reactions from empathetic, non-sociopath humans, the column has been ridiculed. The upset is compounded by the fact that Hoggard’s accuser trusted CBC with her story, while the broadcaster now hosts an essay that dismisses her account (Buzzfeed’s Ishmael Daro reports that Hoggard’s accuser is “furious” about the piece).
Some fans believe that their entitlement to consuming the music guilt-free is more important than a survivor of abuse being heard and believed.
Continuing to listen to Hedley’s music is not, objectively, an immoral choice; one has to reconcile their listening habits with the repulsive accusations against Hoggard in a process Olivia Collette called “moral gymnastics.” However, publicly trumpeting your support while rejecting and erasing survivors of sexual violence is an immoral choice. It’s not alright to shout that you’re on #TeamHedley, regardless of what the band meant to you. Doing so indicates a dismissal of, and disrespect for, survivors of sexual assault.
The popular argument that goes, “Their art helped me through tough times and is important to me, therefore I will not stop listening to it,” is an insidious trojan horse that cloaks regressive, rape-apologist reductivism in selfish, sulking egotism. When people publicly assert their defence of artists accused of abuse, they retraumatize survivors of abuse and minimize their trauma, in the name of clearing their own conscience. The author of the CBC piece laments that the allegations against Jacob Hoggard have destroyed “the lives of members of the band, as well as the spirit of fans,” and therein lies the crux of the issue: some fans believe that their entitlement to consuming the music guilt-free is more important than a survivor of abuse being heard and believed.
This line of thinking relies on the belief that sexual assault is not as damaging as it is; how else could one explain these blasé excusals? What’s missing is basic empathy and awareness.If it were present, everyone would know that allegations of abuse need to be believed because In a country where the courts fail survivors time and again, it’s imperative to underscore that acknowledging and working to rectify the potential harm inflicted from instances of sexual violence is more important than continuing to listen to a pop band.
American writer Zachary Lipez recently suggested that, while he might listen to the music of problematic bands in private, he would never play them at the bar he works at, for fear of retraumatizing or upsetting folks. But folks on Hedley’s side are not celebrating the band in private; they are celebrating them in public, an emphatic shrug in response to individuals who say they were violated by Hoggard. The lack of empathy present in the pro-Hedley discourse suggests that one’s (imagined) personal attachment with a band is more important than the pain of an assault survivor. Canadians will continue to side with Hedley, but it is important to name this faulty reflex for what it is: a selfish erasure of sexual violence in the name of a guilt-free conscience.