Politics and Artists: Where Is The Line?

Iced Eart's Jon Schaffer pictured inside the Capitol during yesterday's riots.(Image credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

The first week of 2021 was certainly eventful. The scenes at the Capitol on the 6th January were horrifying, as the most devoted of Trump's legion embarked on an assault on the home of American democracy, and with it, on democracy itself. We'll revisit these scenes later in this article, but first, let's rewind a few days.

Iconic British comedian Rowan Atkinson recently condemned online 'cancel culture', describing it as the modern version of a "medieval mob looking for someone to burn". His comments sparked a small amount of controversy but it isn't the first time he has defended free speech and at heart, he may be right. Humans are diverse and there will be differences of opinion. Trying to discredit and shame someone for having opposing views to you isn't the way forwards.

Until they cross the line.

Like with everything else, there's a line when it comes to political views. What changes, and what the debate regarding 'cancel culture' should actually concern, is where the line actually is. Unfortunately, the answer isn't as simple as pointing to one event and saying "that's the line", because the truth is that the line will differ for each individual. With that in mind, let's look at a few instances of "problematic" behaviour and compare them in regard to their severity.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I absolutely adore Iron Maiden. Their lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, is a huge inspiration and one of my heroes. He's an impressive individual, the very definition of a polymath. Though he's best known for Maiden, he's also a qualified airline pilot (he flies the band on tour himself), author, broadcaster, entrepreneur and even a skilled fencer. The catch, for me personally, is that he is naturally more conservative politically and he voted for Brexit. We don't know who he votes for in elections, of course, and personally I would doubt that he'd be in favour of Boris and co. But with that said, our politics clearly differ and the question is: is that the line?

No. Dickinson may be slightly more conservative but I have been to Maiden gigs in the past decade and before their more political songs, he has often expressed his dislike for the current politics of the world.

Bruce may have voted for Brexit but that's not enough to cancel him.

So let's look at example #2: Ted Nugent. Nugent is far more vocal about his politics and is clearly very proud of his stance. Unlike Dickinson, he is very outspoken, a staunch supporter of the Republican party as well as a board member of the NRA. He is pro-hunting, has described Islam as a "voodoo religion"and upon the release of Nelson Mandela, said that "apartheid isn't that cut-and-dry. All men are not created equal."

Ouch. I can excuse the gun rights; as much as I advocate for gun control, that is simply a different stance. However, the man is clearly racist, as proven not only by his comments on Islam and apartheid but also by when he referred to Barack Obama as a"communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel". For me personally, that's beyond the line and I can no longer support his music or career.

And finally, example #3, the example that instigated this article in the first place. During yesterday's riots, Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer was pictured among those invading the Capitol. Though this was news to me, it wasn't to some older fans, who posted a link to comments made by In Flames' vocalist Anders Friden about Schaffer's behaviour on their tour together. "We supported Iced Earth in the U.S. and did amazingly well. We got a really great response and [Jon]— was upset, I guess. It ended with him calling us 'spoiled European pussies,' saying that I was a fucking rock star and a lot of other things. Then [I had issues with some of] his statements, which are pro-America, to say the least. He talked shit about Swedes and Europeans in front of us and the other support act Jag Panzer, whose drummer [Rikard Stjernquist] is of Swedish descent. The drummer said 'What are you saying? I'm half Swedish,' to which he responded, "Yeah, but you've lived in America for a long time, so we're not talking about you."

Schaffer's comments and his appearance during yesterday's siege on the Capitol tell you everything we need to know about him. I cannot listen to Iced Earth or Schaffer's side projects in good faith anymore (not that I did much anyway).

But why can't I listen to Nugent and Schaffer? Am I participating in the 'cancel culture' Atkinson was talking about?

I don't think so. There are differences of political opinion and then there's harmful rhetoric. Nugent's outspoken racism and Schaffer's allegiance with domestic terrorists trying to fight democracy make them both people that I don't want to give a platform to. The stances they take are dangerous and the further those takes spread, the more dangerous they become. Trump represented them while he was President and his claims of a fraudulent election are what led to the scenes at the Capitol. Make no mistake, the assault was the direct result of giving a platform - in Trump's case, the damn Presidency - to people with extreme views.

This is why I choose not to support them. Some criticise artists for being vocal about their politics, which is itself a stance I disagree with. Artists are humans and they are entitled to express their opinions. However, we don't have to like them or support them once those views are aired. Nugent and Schaffer have every right to express their views but due to how I vehemently disagree with them, I choose not to extend their platform. That's the bottom line of it.

There will be music fans who agree with Nugent and Schaffer and quite simply, 'cancel culture' doesn't exist anyway. Though artists and creators often trend due to their controversial behaviour (think of the Paul brothers), the fact remains that their careers remain alive. 'Cancel culture' does not exist and if it does, it's ineffective.

In the future, then, let's steer the conversation away from 'cancel culture' and allow people to challenge artists they disagree with, without generalising it under that banner. Set your own line and choose who you listen to - but don't shame others if their line differs from yours.


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