The recent news of the rise and sudden, swift and dramatic fall of PWR BTTM has me extremely disappointed and irritated, and is symptomatic of a larger issue.
For those unaware, the band just released their second album, Pageant, last Friday to critical acclaim. I highly recommend it as music you should check out. The band was about to head out on tour with several sold out dates. 2017 appeared to be break out year for the band. And then…
A post appeared online, shared from a private FB group, accusing band member Ben Hopkins of being a sexual predator and antisemitic. See the post, via a NPR article, here. It’s a pretty accusatory and damning accusation, conveniently timed prior to the release of the band’s album. It also showed a pic of a younger Ben next to a swastika, and he was laughing. The pic had already been addressed by the band late December, and was chalked up to young ignorance. The sexual assault allegations were met with a statement that had band members Ben and Liv Bruce saying that ‘These allegations are shocking to us and we take them very seriously’. The entire FB post is below:
Then an anonymous woman was interviewed by Jezebel online and described the alleged assault committed by Ben on her. You can read the Jezebel article, posted on Friday May 12, here. It alleges that they (Ben, as the band chooses to use non-gender descriptive pronouns) attacked her more than once, and when she spoke to others about the assault, it was met with more stories of Ben’s predatory behavior.
This all began last week, three days prior to the band’s album release. In the subsequent days following these allegations, the fallout was swift and decisive: all of the opening acts on the tour, one by one, quit; a PWR BTTM touring band member left the group; on Saturday, the day after Pageant‘s release, the band’s label, Polyvinyl, dropped the band and stopped selling the album, then went as far as starting to issue refunds; streaming services, including Apple Music and Spotify, stopped streaming the album, and the album is no longer available digitally; videos are gone from YouTube; and the tour has been subsequently cancelled. For all intents and purposes, the reaction was swift and crushing: the band’s 2017 story turned from success to catastrophic in a matter of three days.
So with all the information as we know it on the table, you can see my disappointment. I like the band’s music, and Pageant is an awesome album. And I find myself torn, as I absolutely do not condone sexual assault. No means no. Period. And like Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly before them, Ben needs to be called out as a predator, and there does need to be consequences for shady actions.
But then I look at the information provided. Unlike the two Bills, the allegations against Ben are just that: alleged, and anonymous. It’s absolutely the right of this ‘Jen’ to remain anonymous, but so far she is the only person to state this happened to her, and other than some suggestions that previous behavior support the allegation that this assault occurred, no one else has come forward to show this repeat predatory behavior. Was it an isolated incident? Perhaps it was even the first time Ben took flirting to this level, and it got out of hand. Was Ben intoxicated or high and that enabled this behavior to evolve to a point where they took things too far? The band isn’t talking, which doesn’t help their case and is increasing the appearance of guilt. Or maybe this is a point of shame, as Ben has been in denial that they do this, and need to seek counseling and help to stop this behavior. Then again, perhaps Ben really is a creep in the making and needed to be stopped. There are so many variables in play, and no one really knows.
What I find alarming is that the timing of all of this. It’s extremely calculated, that all of this just suddenly appeared in the week leading up to an album release and major tour. Nothing concrete has been provided or substantiated, it’s a bunch of hearsay and rumor, yet the reaction is condemning and brutal. I mean, unless Ben leaves the band, PWR BTTM is essentially over. There is no way of coming back from this. This band’s career is tainted and destroyed. If what happened is all true, then rightfully so, as in the case of the two Bills. But if this is not true, if these allegations are really not true, then a talented queer core band has been crushed right as success was about to arrive. Seems somewhat too convenient and damning.
Again, I cannot trivialize the accusation. No means no. Sexual assault is real. But so is character assassination. As the band notes in their statement, we do live in a ‘culture that…normalizes violation of consent’. We also live in a society that political correctness has moved to a point that every thing we say is now subjected to scrutiny, that words and phrases once considered simple adjectives are now racist and defamatory. It’s frustrating when you want to stand up for what you believe in, only to have group X, Y, or Z come back screaming “that’s racist” or “you condone assault against women.” It’s a no win situation.
And there in lies there larger issue at the heart of all this: In the internet age, anonymous trolling and fake news is a thing, and calls into question everything that is out there. What’s the joke, if it’s on the internet it must be true? Please. You have to sift through the morass out there on the web, trust in what you believe in and what can be substantiated, and hope that you land on the side of what’s right. I am not calling Jezebel a proprietor of fake news, but as Rolling Stone can attest, unsubstantiated accusations can be proven to be exaggerated or even made up. By the time that is realized, the damage has been done and there are no take backs. That’s true of anything, whether it’s a band being accused of sexual misconduct, or a man getting elected to President of the United States due to Russian interference.
In this story, there are no winners, but a unintensional casualty emerges: the fans, like me. It’s frustrating and disappointing to think an artist or personality could do such a horrible act and yet create fantastic art. It’s also troubling to think that maybe the whole thing isn’t true, and the world is just a little bit less of a good place because a talented artist’s voice was silenced by false accusations. The fact is, that unless anything is proven in the public eye one way or another, we will never know what’s truth… and that’s a limbo I fucking hate having to live in.