There is a website called boycottliberalism.com and it lists, among other things, the top 25 liberal musicians. Sadly for me, my favorite band, REM, is there along with other bands I enjoy. I've been thinking about this conundrum for some time -- what if your political beliefs are radically different from your favorite artist? Do you reject them or just agree to disagree? Do you support them with your dollars -- buying their CDs, going to their concerts, seeing their movies, watching their TV shows?
This is an issue I struggle with quite a bit, being a Republican who leans towards liberal artists. I had originally considered naming this blog after one of REM's song lyrics, instead it's named after a play by Lanford Wilson, who, based on his writings, I can only assume would disagree with almost everything I write. It's confounding for me that the artists who I connect on one level, I am diametrically opposed to on another.
So what to do? In the past twenty-five years I've gone to too many REM concerts to count and have had to put up with anti-Bush Sr., pro-Clinton, pro-Gore, pro-Kerry, and rampant anti-Bush Jr. orations in the middle of most of them. I've sang along to Ignoreland, realizing it was an attack on the Reagan and Bush administrations. I've listened to him denounce the Republican nominees for president for over a quarter of a century, even just last year threatening to leave the country if McCain won.
I'm sure over the decades, some percentage of all the money I've spent on REM has gone to support some candidate I oppose, some cause I don't believe in. I've indirectly furthered the Democratic agenda by supporting one of their most staunch allies, one of their most fervent banner carriers. Yet boycotting them because of differences of political opinion seems un-American to me. They have a right to their wrong opinion and they have a right to express it.
I also have a right to express my opinion by not giving them my money. It is a two way street -- they have a right to speak, and we have a right to respond. I wondered, would they be horrified to discover that some of their fans may be -- gasp -- Republicans? Conservatives, even?
I was actually heartened to see Stipe say that there was no inconsistency in his mind behind a "right-winger" liking the music of a liberal group, addressing the rumor that Tory leader David Cameron and former Bush ally Tony Blair were fans of REM. He dismissed as silly the idea that a liberal artist should be displeased to discover they had conservative fans.
But others realize that with taking a political stand comes a risk. Death Cab for Cutie's frontman Benjamin Gibbard told Morphizm.com back in 2004, "I think art and politics are directly related to each other, and people that deny the cross-influence are kidding themselves. So I can understand why people tend to be annoyed by people like ourselves getting up and taking a political stand."
Similarly, REM's Mike Mills said during the pro-Kerry 2004 Vote for Change tour, "We may alienate some fans over this. I don't like that - I prefer to have music stand apart from political feelings. But this is so important, it's worth it. If I piss a few people off, good."
Now, I was surprised to see liberal artists worry about taking liberal positions. To my knowledge, the only recent artists who risked anything by their liberal stance were the Dixie Chicks and that was because country music is thought to be more of a Red State thing. Usually, being a liberal artist is redundant and not likely to inflame any negative passions.
So where does that leave the conflicted fan? In my case, REM's music means more to me than anything this side of the original liberal-musician, John Lennon. So do I sacrifice my love of their songs, or Lennon's, because of jarring political disagreements? How far would they have to go for their politicizing to outweigh their music? I'm not sure, but I know they haven't gone too far. Yet.
"Take away their money and you take away their power" is the motto of the boycottliberalism.com website, and I know that there is some truth to that. I do worry about financially supporting those who want to take the country in a direction I'm opposed to. And I worry about giving too much power and voice to those who argue against what I believe to be best for the country.
Philosophically, they're the enemy and, to them, I'm the enemy as well. I don't want to sound like a Christian, especially since I'm not in the least bit religious and if I were I wouldn't be slanting in that direction, but maybe there is something to loving your enemy. So, for now, I continue to agree to disagree.