In the year 2015, we have something that our parents never dreamed of: unfettered access to all of our favorite bands, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. With a simple keystroke, the swipe of a finger, the click of an app, and we can see where they are, what they're doing, and what they're listening to. With this sort of voyeuristic approach to modern music fandom, it begs a question that has yet to be answered.
How much do we want to know, and how much can we really handle?
Sure, you can scroll through your Facebook timeline right now and walk away with more knowledge than one would expect. Metallica is in the studio. Wes Borland's guitar was stolen while on tour. Dream Theater are releasing a double rock opera in 2016. These are all objective pieces of data, that is to say they are not malleable and prone to dispute. They happened. They're real and true. They are also safe.
Social media, however, has gone a long way in the quest to humanize musicians beyond their stage name and persona. It gives them the opportunity to share personal details, anecdotes, or even just remind you, the listener, that they are a living, breathing, human being, with bills, troubles, and maybe even a family. We say this is an opportunity because it is, largely, optional. Many artists don't find it important to open themselves up in this way, while others do it often and consistently. And while many of us have grown up with this as the norm, we are still, by and large, unprepared for that side of a performer.
It leads us to an uncomfortable side of "fame," one where political, societal and religious views are not universal; they aren't objective truth. So when an artist we admire reveals his or her self to be inconsistent with our own views, how do we reconcile fandom with human respect? More importantly, do we want them to speak out? I'm not talking about the Republican/Democrat-type decisions we make, the ones that while certainly bringing about uncomfortable and often contentious conversations, are relatively light weight in the grander scheme.
The idea of choosing not to unsettle the apple cart isn't new; Michael Jordan, arguably the most famous athlete in the world, once refused to back a black Democratic Senate candidate in his home state of North Carolina, because, as he reportedly told a friend, "Republicans buy sneakers too." The icon and businessman chose to leave politics to the politicians, something that he has been admonished for in the decades since. His lack of a stance was seen as a waste of his celebrity and exposure, and an unwillingness to bring attention to a cause. His goal, though, was much more obvious: don't risk alienating the people who pay for your jersey, your sneakers, or your cologne (as bad as it smelled).
And this is where that unlimited access to our favorite bands can become tricky and cumbersome.
Mayhem drummer Hellhammer once quipped that "black metal is for white people."
Varg Vikernes has been linked to Neo-Nazi groups and has served time in prison for murder.
Phil Labonte of All That Remains and Frankie Palmeri of Emmure love to use the word "faggot."
Ted Nugent may be the most openly homophobic, sexist and racist man to ever hold a guitar.
So, again, I ask you: How much information do we really want, and how much can we really handle? Can you convince yourself that, when you buy an album from a known racist, that your money is going to the artist, and not the bigot? When you buy the t-shirt from a band that routinely uses racial and homophobic slurs, can you be sure your money isn't supporting their hatred?
Before we go any further, it's important to point out that we support free speech, even of the hateful variety. I would never ask anyone, famous or otherwise, to censor their beliefs for the sake of not upsetting any one group. In fact, I implore them to speak their minds openly and honestly. If there is anything their fans and supporters deserve, it's the truth. If you're a homophobe, say so. Racist? Go ahead and be who you are. Many will agree with your twisted viewpoints. The listeners, the readers, the sponsors, and the labels can sift through and decide to whom they care to give their hard earned money. And that is the biggest tool we have.
The only variable left in this equation is us. How will we handle it when someone we respect says something deplorable? I'd like to think that today, in the all-access, voyeuristic 2015, that when someone reveals themselves to be hateful or ignorant, that we can make the hard, tough choice and unfollow. Vinnie Paul supports Donald Trump's run for the Presidency? You can laugh and scroll right by. But when Labonte, Palmeri, or any other musician begins to casually and carelessly use hate speech? It's time to jump off that ship.
In the internet age there is no reason not to know anything you wish to know. But do you really want to?