Be Bold, Part Seven: Amanda

Everyone hates Amanda Palmer.


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Even Amanda’s fans hate Amanda Palmer.

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But…everyone loves Amanda Palmer. Especially her fans.

When still signed to record label Roadrunner, and the sight of her slightly rounded belly in a music video led to the label wanting certain scenes cut, her army of devotees called for a ‘rebellyon’ and bombarded Roadrunner’s social media with pictures of their own squishy, and perfectly normal, tummies.

She one of the biggest artists on Patreon, a ground breaking new method of art patronage, and receives a donation of anything from $1 to $1000 from each of the 11’000 fans who have signed up to support her every time she releases a new ‘thing’ (be it song, album or performance art film).

Palmer is divisive in a way like no other artist. You may not have even heard of her. If you have, it may be for her TED Talk on The Art of Giving (if you have 13 minutes to spare, I highly recommend it, it’s a great watch), or it may be as “Neil Gaiman’s wife”. In some circles, the very fact that a weirdo American art-punk chick with hairy armpits had the audacity to marry handsome British million-selling author Gaiman was enough to draw vicious internet ire. To be fair, Gaiman is himself a black-wearing weirdo gothy-punk writer (with, I imagine, hairy armpits also). But men are allowed to be weird. Women are just supposed to be pretty, right?

Is she simply misunderstood, or an attention seeking narcissist? Or both?

Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is affectionately known, former member of punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, now solo singer/songwriter and one woman Twitter storm, is a true social media pioneer. From her early DIY days, hand-pressing CDs and updating mailing lists by email and message boards, she has always been directly accessible to her fanbase. She was the first artist to break the $1 million barrier on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, and then drew widespread condemnation in the music industry for putting out a call for musicians to play on her tour for “beer and hugs”. There is no barrier, no security, no filter. She tweets back, she follows conversations in her fan groups on Facebook, she organises ‘ninja’ gigs on street corners, she takes the time to sign, hug and take selfies with the long queue of devoted fans after every live show. To celebrate her Kickstarter record, she even stood naked and let fans sign her body. Her body is something that bothers a lot of people. Her proud nakedness, her body hair (letting it grow under her armpits or shaving it off of her eyebrows), dyeing her hair whilst breastfeeding her son, Palmer has taken criticism for all of these and more. And, in typical post-modern, self-referencing style, she wrote a song about it.

I say grow that shit like a jungle

Give ’em something strong to hold onto

Let it fly in the open wind

If it get too bushy you can trim

They don’t play the song on the radio

They don’t show the tits in the video

They don’t know that we are the media

They don’t know that we start the mania

We Are The media has become a battle cry for Amanda Palmer fans (myself included). Palmer has shown that you don’t need to be part of the music machine to make music. She got her record label to drop her mid-contract, and now releases what she wants, when she wants, direct to the people who want it. Social media, crowdfunding, genuine contact with fans, these are things that she tried telling the record execs were vital to her success, but back in the early Noughties they didn’t want to listen. Website? Who needs a website?

Art is great that way, you can do anything

You can make pop music

You can paint ducks

But if you’re a pop star and you’re a woman

Then it’s much more likely that

People will say your art sucks

There is no denying that her body of work is, at times, problematic. Her “Poem For Dzhokar”, written hastily in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, was both badly-timed and ill-conceived. Her Evelyn Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley drew condemnation from disability groups for their stereotypical circus freak show performance as conjoined twins. Often criticised for being a privileged white woman who likes to shoot her mouth off, even though plenty of white male rock stars shoot their mouths off in equal measure without drawing half the vitriol.

Prolific and ever changing, like a Madonna for the Buzzfeed generation, Palmer keeps coming back, ignoring the critics, using the media obsession with her body to nourish her art (see her supposedly NSFW video for the beautiful Pink Floyd cover ‘Mother’ where she breast feeds a Trump lookalike), refusing to conform to the traditional role of wife and mother (though she is both). Amanda Palmer is a true autonomous artist.

Her music.

Her body.

Her art.

Her way.

Those who don’t build must burn

I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time last year. Ray Bradbury’s small but perfectly formed novel hit me like a brick through a window. At first, I wished I had read it sooner. But would I have appreciated it? Would 16 year old me? 25 year old me?

I guess these things are all about timing.

The future of Bradbury’s cautionary tale is now dangerously close to our present. The constant feed of reality TV, the death of intellectualism, war raging in the skies somewhere far away from the ignorant insulation of the four walls of the home.

Where did this all start? How did we find ourselves in a world teetering on the brink of a dystopia where books are burned and questions are not asked? Where the illiterate hoards are subdued with bland mass media.

“How it is we have so much information, but know so little?” – Noam Chomsky

I am trying to understand how America in particular has come to be in the state it is in, for make no mistake, whether you’re are pro or anti-Trump, Republican or Democrat, left or right, rich or poor, black or white, the States are not United. Trump becoming POTUS is not a sudden, isolated moment of madness. Politics does not exist in a vacuum. We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world was turning.

But I guess these things are all about timing.

Did it start with Brexit? Trump said on his campaign trail ‘We’re gonna have our own Brexit’. When the UK voted to leave the EU, there were bitter recriminations and mud-slinging on both sides. People who voted to Leave were called racists and bigots. Remainers were branded city-dwelling liberals rah-rahing over their artisan coffees, isolated from the real experience of modern Britain.

Did it start with the 2008 banking collapse, when the greed, arrogance and sheer don’t give a fuck attitude of a tiny group of men in suits lead the world sleepwalking into the biggest global financial crisis since The Great Depression?

Did it start with 9/11? The first time war had come to American shores since the War of Independence. Is this when the American psyche shattered? When fear and patriotism became toxically intertwined.

Did it start with Reagonomics and Thatcherism? When rampant consumerism became the new religion.

Did it start with The Cold War and McCarthyism? The Communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 50s seem so dark and absurd. An historic oddity, never to be repeated in a Western democracy.  Who would have thought only fifty years later, the U.S. government would be not quite in bed with but certainly making doe eyes at Russia. Reds under the bed are no longer the enemy, it’s the liberal elite and fake news and intellectual leftist conspiracies.

“There’s more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” – Ray Bradbury

Did it start with The Civil Rights Movement? Did it start with slavery? Did it start with The British Empire? Did it start the moment the Mayflower landed at the shores of The New World. Did it start with the very fact that America was never truly a state of unity, and never has been? 

Or could it be that everything is a result of complex, interconnected historical cause and effect systems, and that while it is the modern way to reduce everything to ‘this’ or ‘that’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘them’ and ‘us’, that is just another way to keep the masses from really understanding the world around them?

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”  – Noam Chomsky

Is the world doomed to follow the second of thermodynamics, in that all systems are moving towards irreversible entropy? It is in human nature to destroy ourselves?

“There was a damn silly bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

We didn’t start the fire.

But it always stays lit.

How we keep it burning is up to us. Your flame can be fed by ignorance, hatred, greed.

Or knowledge, understanding and tolerance can be your oxygen.