Stop Telling Me What To Listen To

by Dom Ford

Earlier this week the Home Secretary Theresa May took it upon herself to tell me that Tyler, The Creator is bad for me, and that should I want to see him perform live, it would not be on her doorstep and I’d have to leave the country to do so. “Your presence here would not be conducive to the public good,” Tyler was told in papers given to him by the Home Office, “you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviour by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK.” He is banned from entering the UK for 3-5 years – not the duration of the ban, but the amount of time before it will be reconsidered. This is decreed based on a set of guidelines drawn up in 2005 to prevent suspected terrorists entering the country. This is said to a man who was last in the UK eight weeks prior. As far as I’m aware, all Tyler did on his last visit was play a show or two and rent out a movie theatre to show some of his favourite films. If he’s a terrorist, it’s quite the long con.

It’s hard to tell music listeners what to do. When the Internet began to allow fast, non-physical distribution of music, the industry told people they weren’t allowed that for free. Listeners gave them an inattentive middle finger as they loaded up LimeWire or Pirate Bay. Only now is the industry catching up with the streaming compromise in Spotify, Apple Music, etc. In fact, people involved in any art form are typically very resistant to restriction or censorship within that medium, and with good reason. To restrict art is to restrict expression, diversity, cultural growth.

With a ban of this nature it’s impossible for it to be consistent. On the grounds Tyler has been banned, the list of other musicians (let alone any other art form) who would also have to face this ruling is unimaginable. Thousands of rap artists who’ve written lyrics comparable or worse in shock-value than Tyler’s – Eminem, Earl Sweatshirt, Wu-Tang Clan, Azealia Banks all come to mind. Artists from many sub-genres of metal whose lyrics include murder, torture, church burning and so on. I don’t mean to single these areas out, however, as the list of those who would have to be banned for this ruling to be consistent stretches across almost every conceivable genre.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Blurred Lines controversy, which led to multiple bans including at Exeter University. It’s ultimately a band-aid solution. Blurred Lines was not the first, the worst, and will not be the last song to portray a wildly sexist view. It’s attacking the symptom, not the issue at heart. Rather than suppressing anything that springs from deep-seated sexism and gender imbalance (and it’s important to remember that suppression generally has the opposite intended reaction – remember the Streisand effect?), efforts should go into tackling the issues that create that problematic content.

That said, I think it’s dangerous to start labelling Tyler’s music as “harmful” or “problematic” in the same way. The Home Office believes that Tyler’s music “might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK”. It’s a laughable prediction at best and has time and time again been proven void of reasoning. It stinks of baseless claims that video games cause violence, and I’m yet to see any evidence that any art form makes a person more violent or less moral. There must also be a degree of separation between art and artist. Vladimir Nabokov is not a horrible person for writing Lolita, and The Canterbury Tales isn’t made a worse piece of work because Chaucer was accused of rape.

In a somewhat clichéd phrase by now, Oscar Wilde said in his preface to Dorian Grey that “there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Finding Blurred Lines a catchy song does not make me sexist. Thinking that Tyler’s Yonkers is a great song does not mean I want to see Hayley Williams and B.O.B. go down in a plane crash, or Bruno Mars being stabbed in the throat. Listening to Burzum will not alter my subconscious into wanting to burn down a church. Stop coddling people like children who cannot think for themselves, and stop telling them what art is “good” for them.