some thoughts on the abuse of power + the burden of belief

a frustrated and demoralized collection of thoughts on talking about abuse and other bad behavior.

some thoughts on the abuse of power + the burden of belief

I feel like I've written about bad, dangerous behavior by musicians and other celebrities and how people deal with those allegations too many times. I talk about it all the time out of a feeling of obligation. We'll return to that feeling of obligation in a little bit.

In fact, I've written something similar to this in the past that was even also triggered by news about a youtuber (David Dobrik) and a music figure (Ezra Koenig) using public reputation to cause harm. Today I'm also going to talk about a YouTuber and musical figures. last time I was mostly focused on who the impetus of discussion falls on, today I'm returning to that idea as well as some other thoughts on power.

A couple of weeks ago, a YouTuber I've been peripherally aware of was accused of sexual assault and he ended up making a very long video in response where he shows his face publicly for the first time. The only thing I really knew about him up to this point was that 1. he made some videos with some people I used to watch on YouTube about four years ago and 2. he never showed his face. I did some searching on Twitter to find some background info on what happened then did watch the video to see what it was all about. I'm not gonna recap the whole thing because it's not really the point, but it's relevant that it was a pure refutation of events from the perspective that this accusation was targeted harassment by someone who had been abusive toward him over years. Fans have seemed to side with the YouTuber. I won't dedicate my time to litigating that situation, but the thing that I found interesting (and alarming) was the aftermath.

First, on Twitter young people were getting in arguments with each other over apologizing for posting that they immediately believed the person making the accusation. Second, when I watched a couple of videos about the situation by YouTubers I am more familiar with, the predominant narrative was, "Twitter is crazy! Judge, jury and executioner! Guilty until proven innocent! This is a fucked up world we live in you MUST wait to react until you GET ALL THE INFORMATION!"

This is, obviously, obnoxious and ridiculous. One, because it doesn't really impact anybody to express support for someone when faced with their story of being harmed by a person in a position of power. Cancel culture isn't real. The YouTuber I was talking about lost then immediately regained hundreds of thousands of subscribers. His career will be fine. Few YouTubers don't recover even if the consensus is that their bad behavior was real and did cause harm. Two, because these reactions ignore the obvious. It's the other side of the self righteousness they purport to hate so much. The people who immediately believe an allegation are believing it, usually, because they feel a level of sympathy or empathy with the person making the accusation– someone with less power, someone they see something of themself in, someone who is begging you to believe them.

You can see all through the comment sections of the videos expressing disappointment in feeling lied to by the allegations distinctly because the people who believed them have been sexually assaulted or abused themselves. Of course they believe the allegations. I wrote about the sorts of people who talk about these things before so I'll just quote myself:

Conversation matters if we want to change anything in the way young women especially are treated and it can’t just be between people who can see themselves in the victim. I know it viscerally hurts me more to think about an 18 year old being preyed on by a 30 year old because I was an 18 year old girl who was made uncomfortable by men in their 30s. I know it viscerally hurts me more to think about a young woman being raped after a group of men got her drunk. But it’s frustrating to feel like all of the pressure of critical conversation falls on people who need to qualify their criticism with being because they have some closer, more personal connection to the harm done.

I could not find anything but anger inside me as I was watching men tell people they need to look at things objectively just in case it's a lie. People who don't know what it's like to be targeted and hurt in a way that will change you for the rest of your life. People who cannot imagine what it's like to be just desperate to be believed. To be believed in these situations is everything.

There are so many men obsessed with believing the myth of their own objectivity to the point that they cannot maintain empathy.

The other thing that went on is the owner of Sargent House was accused of abuse and misogyny and all around creating a toxic, horrible environment for some of her artists and employees.

You can watch Henry Kohen's full statement below and see more statements from former interns and employees on the Mylets Instagram post of the same statement:

I've written before about how DIY and "punk" do not indicate anything real about the way people actually treat other individuals. Beyond that, being associated with those ideals ("you can't be punk if you're racist/homophobic/transphobic" type sentiments) or with something "cool and alternative to the corporate" can be enough to create an environment ripe for abuse.

I often talk about this stuff in a gendered way, but it's not that clean because this kind of behavior is really about power. It's just that so often men have the power. White women (particularly older, privileged white women) are often not allies in a significant way because they are looking for the power that the patriarchal society we live in didn't give them, but instead of taking that and aligning with people who are less privileged than them, they just want to wield that power for their own benefit. I can see it in members of my family, I can see it in the older women I've known professionally who are relentlessly unkind to other women, I can see it the way white women vote in American elections, I can see it in gen x punk feminism.

Cathy Pellow benefits from assumptions– being a woman in the music industry, not working with Daughters after abuse allegations were made against Alexis Marshall, the sheer style of heavy music her label releases, the "artist paradise" vibes the Sargent House compound attempts to put off. Obviously these things don't preclude her from (allegedly) causing harm and it's obvious Henry Kohen's experiences are not the first to ever be discussed. I've never had knowledge of other incidents, but that's kind of the point.

The open secrets of the music industry stay open secrets because people talk about them in their insulated circles, but don't do anything about them. People don't get believed and shown that people don't care and it never comes to the public in a real way. And why would you try to make a big public statement if you haven't been believed by the people who have been in the spaces where you've been harmed? Why would you bring it to the public if you're the only one who will suffer– professionally, personally, socially?

The impetus of discussion is put on victims alone until it's truly public, then the impetus of discussion is put on people who have to identify more with the victim than the accused, then maybe something can be done. Probably not though. It's all the same. If the people who cause harm look like they're doing something cool enough, well, people don't always give a fuck. Those people who don't give a fuck then pontificate over whether or not we're discussing all of this fairly.

These abuses of power will not always come out– there are many more happening as I write this– but as always I'm left feeling just powerless. I typically try to end these things a bit more cleanly, but I don't think there's a way to.

As with things far beyond the stuff I've talked about today– the mass passing of legislation aimed at the eradication of trans people, addiction and poverty ravaging communities, young Black girls who go missing without national attention, police violence– it is a privilege to not give a fuck. It's a privilege to get to say, "well I just don't care about these terrible things because they don't harm me and it will be better for my career/social experience/belief that I'm an objective person to say nothing." It's an indicator of privilege to identify more with being someone who could be accused of misconduct than someone who has been harmed. It is an indicator of callousness to not be able to identify with people who are different from you.

We can have a nuanced discussion around rehabilitation and how to handle people who have caused harm, but the act of believing harm has occurred still must happen for that conversation to start. These conversations shouldn't need to be public, but arts industries are built to exploit the creators of the art and benefit those who already hold the most power. It's tiresome. It's frustrating to see people talk about how they've tried to discuss harm being done before to an audience of nobody. It's not the responsibility of fans to dig up bad behavior or make assumptions about the morality of people and it shouldn't take a public plea to be taken seriously. The impetus of this discussion must fall on more people, but I fear it never will.

Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter: @mirandareinert. You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. As always, thanks for reading!