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? Am I a hypocrite if I do, or am I acknowledging that disagreements do not have to break down all bonds?
This is an issue I've struggled with, being a Republican who leans towards liberal artists. My favorite TV show was MASH, for heaven's sake, one of the most politically left-leaning shows ever. 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 me about most issues. It's confounding for me that the artists with whom I connect on one level, I am at odds with on so many others.
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 Michael Stipe lambaste the Republican nominees for president for over a quarter of a century, even two years ago 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 or 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.
It is a two-way street -- they have a right to speak, and we have a right to respond. But what shape should that response take? While I have the choice whether or not to support them by buying their music or attending their concerts, I don't believe that I am necessarily obligated to make my decision solely based on politics. In some cases, I can enjoy and appreciate the messenger and not the message. I can embrace the artist detached from their extra-curricular activities.
On the flipside, I've wondered, would these artists be shocked, horrified or just bemused 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. I was glad to hear that.
But others realize that with taking a political stand comes a risk and may not be able to be separated by their fans. 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 to turn me away.
The one example of an artist that did go too far was one of the members of System of a Down, whose anti-semitic, anti-Israel spewings at a 2005 concert were so hate-filled I could not separate the message from the messenger. The concert T-shirt was tossed in the trash can, the CDs never listened to again, the songs switched off from the car stereo. To me there is a bright line. I can support artists with whom I disagree about issues, but not those who come from a place of hatred.
"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. But, I respect their right to express themselves and wouldn't want to live in a country where that right would be denied.
By the same token, it is sad that Republicans in Hollywood -- yes there are some, they just for the most part, keep a really low profile -- fear retribution were they to come out of their political closet.
Philosophically, extremist liberals are my political enemies and, to them, I'm the enemy as well. But isn't it a part of the Christian belief system to love your enemy? Even though I'm not a Christian, it's something I've been willing to do -- at least when it comes to artists I love.