Odd Future banned, why not Eminem?

Last updated 11:13 17/02/2014
Odd Future

CONTROVERSIAL: Odd Future collective members Earl Sweatshirt (L), Taco Bennett (2nd L), Tyler, The Creator (R) and singer-songwriter M.I.A.

WELCOME TO NZ: Eminem performed his first New Zealand show at Western Springs Stadium.

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As someone with an abiding interest in the social sciences, as well as hip hop music, Odd Future being denied entry visas to New Zealand by immigration officials really captured my attention.

Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form."

This would lead me to assume Odd Future should have been allowed to perform at the Rapture festival, unless there was an overreaching threat to our national security or system of governance if they had been allowed to perform their incendiary brand of music.

As someone familiar with Odd Future's music, I find this really hard to believe, but to gain some more understanding of this case, I did some research.

Hip-hop music is implicitly written in a stream of consciousness style, with heavy poetic licence and a widely understood history of trying to offend.

Anybody with even the most minor understanding of the genre is aware that large tracts of the music are absurdist and in no way meant to be taken literally.

Sometimes the lyrics are steeped in irony, sometimes they are an intentional affront to our Western-bourgeois sensibilities.

It emerged from a marginalised urban culture that had legitimate grievances with the status quo, and this style of chiding and picking away at authority has remained a central aspect of rap music.

The two strains of thought that appear to have blocked Odd Future's entrance to New Zealand this time is that; their music promotes rape, and their concerts incite violence.

This is not the first time  Odd Future have been banned from performing here.

Last time they were banned from New Zealand it was blamed on their homophobic lyrical content, notably their (obviously comedic) overuse of the word f..... .

Since then, two members of Odd Future, Frank Ocean and Syd tha Kid, have come out of the closet, and Odd Future's clear tolerant attitudes towards homosexuality have been illustrated in both their behaviour and in a broader musical context.

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They use the word f..... to shock, as an affront to our sensibilities and as a reflection of the values that others hold.

They are discussing homophobia in a confronting manner, not being homophobic themselves.

This time, with Odd Future's pro-LGBT views firmly entrenched, the moralisers require a new straw man to destroy.

That new straw man is rape. Not one mention of homophobia has been made in the press in 2014, an achievement of almost Orwellian proportions.

A campaign by anti-sexual violence group Stop Demand sought to have the group pulled from the show at Western Springs - a council-owned venue - due to explicit and sexual content in their songs, some which reference rape.

The picture that these people have painted to the uninitiated is that Odd Future regularly and literally encourage people to commit rapes and sexual violence specifically.

I casually listen to quite a lot of Odd Future. I don't own any albums, but I really like Earl Sweatshirt and I will occasionally play their songs on Spotify or attend parties where their albums are being played. At no point in any of my time listening to them have I been consciously aware of a reference to rape.

However, they do make reference to burning things and killing people. Why is there no outcry about their support of murder, arson and anti-educational views? I wonder whether the moralisers have also neglected to mention this as it would help the public put the occasional rape reference into a broad context with the remainder of the intentionally outlandish stream of conscious ramblings of these teenagers?

It's an interesting insight into the minds of these people that they should have chosen to raise the obscure rape references rather than the more obvious views on murder and arson.

These moral panics have been taking place in society regarding the music that youth are listening to since the birth of rock'n'roll, but I think we need to examine the sort of person it takes to attempt to ban this art.

These moralisers (whose opinion matters more than the thousands who have paid to watch Odd Future) have trawled through the Odd Future back catalogue and have decided to selectively highlight the occasional reference to rape, before starkly copying it in print and acting as though it's literal.

The enormous white elephant in the room in this whole debacle is Eminem, the headliner of the event.

Every hysterical allegation that Odd Future have had thrown at them in the past week has also been thrown at Eminem over the course of his career.

In fact, I listened to an Eminem cypher before the concert, where he clearly enunciated some equally controversial views regarding sex and rape.

Why has nobody called his spot at the festival into question? Because they understand Eminem has never committed a rape. His lyrics are a nod to Freudian psychology and a humorously overplayed reference to his "bad boy" image, all done in beautifully rhythmical, rhyming manner.

All the same, Eminem is doing exactly what Odd Future have been banned for and nobody has raised any concerns with his attendance.

What sort of hypocrisy is this? It's certainly a double standard.

Eminem is the highest selling musician of any genre in the 21st century. He has sold more albums in the 21st century than U2, Beyonce ... any musical act ever.

If he is an advocate of rape, so are a huge proportion of young people worldwide. To target Eminem as illogically as Odd Future would be to invite certain ridicule from the public.

This is an obvious moral panic and Odd Future have been weirdly singled out.

Aside from being alleged rape enthusiasts, the other issue in denying Odd Future's visas is their potential to incite disorder. This is "evidenced" by one reported event in Boston. They have played thousands of concerts and the only event that is referred to repeatedly is at a signing in Boston where a police officer was injured.

This is telling. While I don't dispute that a potential fan of Odd Future may have injured a policeman, surely one incident in the thousand-plus public appearances is within the norms of probability? If you are banning people for inciting chaos among their fan base, how were Rage Against the Machine ever allowed to tour here, a band with a significantly worse record for public safety?

Again, this argument hold no water.

Further, why are Odd Future responsible for the actions of their fans? Once you start apportioning blame for alleged influence, you are again entering very repressive territory.

What sort of wild hypocrisy is this that Odd Future are held to different standards? This argument is so ridiculous it's making my head spin.

Either you believe in the right to free speech or you do not. There is no halfway house in this issue, and we should not be prepared to compromise.

The moment we begin censoring views that we don't agree with (or in this case fundamentally understand), we are opening ourselves to a very dangerous precedent.

Free speech is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society. It should be restricted only in extreme, compelling circumstances. Banning views that are objectionable and offensive is the slippery slope to censorship and to the closing down of open debate.

It is also counterproductive. It risks making martyrs of people with bigoted opinions and deflects from the real solution to hate speech: education and rational debate.

My view on this topic is that the moralisers should be free to express their opinions on Odd Future. They should write articles decrying them. They should be allowed to say they believe that Odd Future should be banned from performing.

In response to this, I would simply quote Voltaire and tell them that; I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

At least this is going to be something we laugh about with our children in years to come I guess. 

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