“No Politics Here ”- The erosion of freedom of speech in art and music.

By Jennifer DiSilvio

It started a few years back when I had a press pass for Drive-By Truckers. It was a free show outside on the waterfront in NYC, so of course, not everyone there was a true fan. I remember being proud as I looked up onstage and saw the “Black Lives Matter” sign the band had hung up. These guys were not only one of the best bands around, but they were true artists, never afraid to stand up for what they believed in, even if it meant getting pushback or losing fans.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised, however, when I heard a bunch of guys in flannel and baseball caps, most likely expecting to see what was, in their view, a typical southern rock band, see the sign, hurl some racist epithets and leave. All while preaching that they’d never listen to Drive By Truckers again . At that point, it was the Summer of 2016. Donald Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee and it would become official a few days later. The rhetoric on the right had begun to get uglier by the day. People were becoming more and more emboldened to be bullies. I expected it to be temporary, but I was sorely mistaken.

Fast forward to today. I tend to like my music, just as any art I enjoy, to have meaning. When an artist is passionate about what they create, it makes it ever so much more beautiful. You don’t tend to get musical or literary or artistic brilliance from playing it safe. True art comes from somewhere deep within the soul. Often going hand in hand with what an artist believes in the most deeply socially and politically.

I belong to a lot of music fan pages and I rejoice in the commonalities we share as communities of human beings, who all love and respect the music of a particular artist or band. They have been safe places to discuss the music we are passionate about with civil arguments and discussions being welcome. We may see a lyric differently, or disagree on what album was the best, but it seldom got dirty or ugly or personal.

Over the last several years, this has begun to change dramatically. The meltdowns and personal attacks and nastiness hurled towards those who don’t agree with us have become almost sport. There are an abundance of people who show up on these discussion groups with the sole intent of sowing discord and stirring the pot. It’s gotten so bad that there was once even a guy who made himself an alternate Facebook page just to see who he could trigger on both sides. Some sick sort of entertainment.

As civility and kindness began to become less commonplace and more the exception, I began to notice a few things. The band pages I belonged to were becoming harbors for trolls. Attacking the artists, attacking the fans that defended them and then making themselves the victims. Hurling insults and grammatically incorrect diatribes, often with very personal attacks on people who had never expressed anything but a desire to allow the band their message and right to sing about whatever they damn well pleased. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve seen posts in the vein of “I liked you better before you became political” and “shut up and sing”, as if the idea of artist disagreeing with their politics was an attack on them personally. The idea that these people genuinely believe that the artists have NO RIGHT to pen lyrics that disagree with their own beliefs. That freedom of speech is only meant for those with the same points of view and that art should be altered to fit their tiny little narrative and world view. These, ironically, seem to always be the same folks vehemently defending the second amendment at any cost and with no compromise, but tend to see the first amendment as something that should only be implemented when it validates their own belief system. Hypocrisy at its finest.

It got ugly fast. And it has become the norm now, to see these kinds of posts explode into arguments with comments in the hundreds, before the unpaid Facebook administrators have to put a stop to it by either banning the trolls, or unbelievably, banning the message. I understand it gets overwhelming. I get it that it’s too hard to control, sometimes. But it’s also their goal. To wear us down until they get what they want.

Some examples that have made me incredulous were the refusal to allow a fund raising post that supported women’s reproductive rights, by an artist on his own fan page. This was a very politically outspoken artist who never hid his beliefs, having his passion about an issue erased because it offended fans who must have never been listening in the first place. Or just today, a Bob Mould and Husker Du Facebook fan page, where rules against posting anything political have been put into place because of arguments over Bob having a right wing troll removed from his show for heckling him. And where, after I posted about a show in Tarrytown, NY, where Bob spoke for quite awhile about his beliefs about the current administration and clearly expressed his rage on some mind blowingly good new music, The moderators threatened to ban me from the page. ( I left of my own accord. I don’t abide censorship or bullies) We aren’t speaking about anything speculative. We are speaking about the artists own views and beliefs being censored to ensure the satisfaction of a minority who choose to bully and throw temper tantrums until they get their way. This is happening everywhere. From the one million mom group ( the actual number is less than 100,000, I suppose they learned their penchant for exaggeration from their President) who goes after people like the Hallmark channel for airing a commercial with a same sex couple in it. Or an attempt in Minnesota to ban books not approved by a religious based counsel from libraries. To the bands we love being censored by their own “fans” because they choose to disagree with the bands message.

The most frightening thing about this, the thing that’s beginning to keep me up at night, is that this assault on our first amendment is becoming, at least in some ways, successful. The minority with the loudest screams and the largest bully sticks are winning. This happens when a band page can no longer post the views of an artist. Or when we go to check out a book at the library that they no longer carry. Or when journalists aren’t allowed interviews or information unless they have thrown impartiality to the wind. Or investigations are called “fake” so often that it wears people down far enough that they aren’t sure what to believe any more.

It may seem trivial and irrelevant when these fan pages no longer allow the full story. When they’ve been whitewashed to the point of not even representing the artist any longer. But it’s not. Every tiny step backwards when it comes to our first amendment rights is one we may never get back. And it’s time we either stand up and fight back again that, or wonder what the hell happened when those rights have been eroded beyond repair.