Saturday, March 26, 2011

And We Become What We Hate.

I feel like I should wait to write a post about Screeching Weasel, considering what's going on with the band but at the same time I feel like this is the perfect time to write about them. If you don't know what's going on, you could either do a quick Google search on "Ben Weasel SXSW" or just keep reading. But first, a few things out of the way:

I love pop punk and I love Screeching Weasel. It's not a ground breaking genre and SW sure as hell doesn't break into any new territory at all, but it's just something about the sound that's very basic and simple, which is why I love it. I also really enjoy the contrast between the music (which is often full of bouncy melodies and quick power chords) and the lyrics (which have a tendency to be very negative and hateful, especially in the case of Screeching Weasel). I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm a huge fan of both the genre and the band. In fact, the band's third album, My Brain Hurts, is one of my favorite albums of all time.

That said, frontman Ben Weasel is kind of a jerk. And by "kind of" one, I mean he is one. It's no secret and everyone knows it. He more or less talks shit for a living, but just because the band leader isn't very likable doesn't mean that the music is less enjoyable. So even though I might not enjoy meeting him in person, I'd still probably be able to put on a SW album and enjoy it.

Now, to the big stuff. Last week a reformed Screeching Weasel (given that mainstay lead guitarist John Jughead is not a part of this line up, some people doubt its authenticity as Screeching Weasel, but I'll overlook that part for now) played at SXSW. During the set, Ben began trading some choice words with an audience member after having beer thrown at him. Mere moments later, ice was also thrown at him, which got him to taunt the person to come closer to the stage threatening a punch to the face. After being spit on, Ben got off the stage and actually punched the person in the face. Acting quickly, one of the [alleged] club owners grabbed Ben from behind to stop the violence, which lead him to turn around and throw some more punches until finally the bouncers pulled everything apart. Did I mention that both the audience member and the [alleged] club owner were both women? Because every news story about the situation likes to stress that part.

I'm not going to defend what Ben Weasel did, because what he did was much too extreme, but I also think that the story is never presented very fairly either. I know it's frustrating to be heckled and have shit thrown at you and I sure wouldn't like it either but there are so many better ways to deal with such a situation. He was already throwing out insults, which probably made it worse but the security was there for a reason and if she was throwing ice at his face, they could've stepped in. Screeching Weasel also has a number of angry and insulting songs  (to name a few, "I'm Going to Strangle You," "Fathead," and "I Don't Wanna Be Friends" amongst others) that they could've played and dedicated to the heckler. All better solutions than to punch another human being in the face.

That said, I do not think that Ben Weasel is 100% at fault. Yes, it was his actions that crossed the line and I get that, but no news story I've read on it (as of right now) has mentioned that the female audience member was being incredibly rude. Did she deserve a punch in the face? No, of course not, but she probably deserved a visit from the bouncers to tell her to stop throwing things at the least. And speaking of the bouncers, what about them? Ben Weasel outright said "I'm going to punch you in the face." and they didn't do a single thing until after he had already acted. If they aren't going to stop a fight when someone says that, then what the hell are they doing in the first place?

About the [alleged] club owner. I believe that she was the only true victim in this whole thing. She was just trying to stop a fight and, in the process, got punched a couple of times. I haven't heard much of a follow up on what happened to her (or the audience member), but I hope (and I'm pretty sure) that she's doing much better now.

One thing that really bugs me about the whole situation though is how everyone is trying to paint a picture of Ben Weasel as a woman beater. I know that a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but some people have said that it's worse that he hit two women as opposed to if he had hit two men. I find that to be an incredibly sexist statement because it puts men and women on two completely different levels. What he did was wrong because he, a [somewhat] public figure lashed out physically at someone. I don't believe that in a case like this, gender really made a difference. Yet people are still treating him like Chris Brown (who is doing unbelievably well for a celebrity known for beating his ex-girlfriend almost more than for his music, what the fuck America?).

When Ben publicly released an apology, there were cries of it being insincere. Genuine emotion is a difficult thing to express via text, I understand, but this isn't the first time that Ben has made an apology online (I do believe that he also made one after insulting the Max Levine Ensemble and they released a 7" as retaliation). Does the apology make his actions right? No, I don't think they do, but I do think that it means he acknowledged that he overreacted and is going to work on his attitude. Given that every member of Screeching Weasel also quit, I do believe that he is going to do a lot of self evaluation and I don't even know if he'll continue performing music after this. I suppose that remains to be seen, but if the past week is any indication I think it will be awhile before anyone wants to perform with Ben, as Screeching Weasel or otherwise.

I know I've had my own personal history of violent encounters. But that's also why I can kind of relate to Ben's case in that it is hard to think clear in the moment. I think that he had plenty of viable options, just like I did in my own situations, and he just happened to choose the absolute worst one. That audience member, however, was also being completely irresponsible and for next year SXSW really may want to work on who they hire as security (the guards might not have been able to prevent the riot that happened during DFA1979's reunion set, but stopping a single person after announcing he is going to punch someone should be a job that they could have accomplished).

Anyway, that's my two cents. I just felt like I needed to get some sort of say on the subject because I don't really have anyone to talk to about it in person.

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