Consequences for abusers in the arts should remain swift and certain.
Madison venue/promotion company Majestic Live acted swiftly last week to cancel a planned November 9 show by the duo Crystal Castles, after former member Alice Glass came forth detailing years of sexual and emotional abuse by the project’s co-founder, Ethan Kath. The story broke early Tuesday afternoon. By the end of the work day, local opener Chants had announced he was removing himself from the show, and the Majestic’s cancellation announcement followed shortly after.
A couple of weeks earlier, actor Tom Wopat’s holiday show at the Stoughton Opera House was canceled in the wake of accusations that the former Dukes Of Hazzard star and (for some reason) cherished local son had assaulted a 16-year-old girl. (“We have reached a mutual agreement with Mr. Wopat that it is best to cancel the show as he focuses on resolving some personal affairs,” read the delicately worded announcement.) The Overture Center, whose awards program for high-school theater performers is named after Wopat, took a little more time but eventually came around and also cut ties with him.
Additionally, a few weeks after Ducktails headlined WSUM’s annual Snake On The Lake show at The Frequency, several women went public with accounts of being sexually assaulted by founder Matt Mondanile, formerly of the band Real Estate. The day that information came out, WSUM said on its Twitter account that had it known about the allegations, Mondanile would not have been booked on the show.
These aren’t isolated incidents or aberrations, and more and more people are fed up with treating them as if they are. The work has barely begun on rooting out toxic and abusive behavior in the arts. It’s hardly taken for granted, even in 2017, that people in the public eye who abuse women, LGBTQ people, or otherwise vulnerable populations will be held accountable and face consequences, and the underlying societal structures that empower abusive men remain intact—in this respect, the music community might be doing a bit better than, say, our political system.
That said, it’s becoming more routine, and expected, that these kinds of allegations will get you and your tour dates and professional relationships canceled pretty swiftly. When the Crystal Castles news broke, there was a collective certainty among folks I knew in the music community that yeah, OK, the show, and likely much of the Crystal Castles tour, and maybe even Kath’s career, was over.
I can remember an instance when there was no such certainty and the allegations were also of great magnitude. It was just three short years ago after all that Bill Cosby came to town.
Cosby played the Overture Center in November 2014, as public outrage had begun to mount over the multiple women who’ve accused him of sexual assault over the years. At that point it wasn’t quite clear that his career was screwed (multiple new allegations would begin coming to the fore later that month, and shows would start getting canceled), but things had reached a tipping point where I had a hard time believing that Overture hadn’t canceled the show or somehow addressed Cosby’s increasingly unsavory public image. Ahead of the show I checked in with an Overture spokesperson, who reported that tickets were selling well, and that Overture hadn’t considered canceling the show. (Tickets sold out.) This week, with the Majestic there was no such prevarication.
Of course, these aren’t entirely the same circumstances—Bill Cosby is a household name, with a mass audience that isn’t always paying attention to his behavior, and likely a much older and wealthier audience. With a modestly successful act like Ducktails or Crystal Castles, the audience is younger, smaller, and a bit more focused on that particular artist, more likely to feel hurt and angry and disappointed when it turns out the artist has a record of monstrous behavior. Morally it should all be on the same playing field, but the nature of fame and the attitudes of different audiences can still warp people’s judgment.
When it comes to music and other cultural communities, of course, the problems here go far beyond the artists themselves. In a Tone Madison survey launched last fall (and still open for responses), female musicians and audience members in Madison reported widely varying experiences with harassment, but revealed some persistent patterns—male audience members getting way too aggressive in women’s personal space with behaviors including groping, venue owners and security staffers not taking issues of harassment seriously, men verbally abusing women who stand up for themselves or reject unwanted advances.
Some survey respondents credited local venues and projects like Queer Pressure for taking steps to improve the situation, but the results convey a clear sense that women still feel they always have to be on their guard. Predatory behavior is a real threat, whether it comes from a close collaborator or a total stranger. Earlier this year, one local musician had her drink drugged at Mickey’s Tavern, setting off a personally witnessed Facebook thread in which some people blamed her for not being more careful.
I think it’s too soon to declare that we’re seeing a new normal emerge. What I do know is that right now, people are starting to treat these matters less as a moral tit-for-tat and more as part of a much bigger over-arching problem. And maybe that means the music community, in Madison and elsewhere, can continue to make real progress on accountability.