Ben Weasel/ He's an asshole/ Ben Weasel/ He punches Girls

Public celebrity meltdowns sure are fun, aren't they? Listening to actors from 80's movies say racist things or berate their child via taped telephone conversations made by someone trying to extort money from them and then sold to media outlets and then reposted on the Internet so we can never be free to enjoy Lethal Weapon 2 again is truly one of the greatest pleasures electricity can afford us. Or glaring at photos of former child stars stepping in or out of vehicles and showing the entire world that Tuesday must be laundry day and clubbin' commando is all a girl can do is possibly akin to watching a child take it's first steps. Fuck celebrities. They're the modern monkeys of the futuristic zoo that is the Internet. Their very being is to entertain us, whether it's in dope movies we taped off TV as kids or for us to judge and label as bitches, skanks or raging douche bags, their public personas are the reoccurring characters in the greatest ongoing drama in history and the number one distraction from our own lives that is the personal lives of interesting people we don't know!
Friday night, punk rock legend Ben Weasel punched two women in the face while performing as part of the South By Southwest music festival. It was filmed up close on video and immediately posted to the Internet. You've probably seen the clip, where he places the microphone in the stand clip, steps from the stage and clocks a female who had been heckling him and then turns and hits another woman twice as she tries to stop him before being restrained by a security guard. The whole thing is essentially over after 10 seconds and is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. As one of the first bands to change my life (yes, I consciously do maintain that cliche) and someone who've I've been a fan of for half of my life, I literally felt nauseous as I laid in bed and watched this clip on my iPhone maybe 60 seconds after waking up Saturday morning, seeing as someone who's been a hero, committed a deplorable, vile act and possibly ending a career that had just launched a revival.
Ben Weasel punching two women in the face has become one of the most talked about things of SXSW 2011. Pretty much any online database for punk rock or even indie-leaning music has mentioned it and used it as an indication that the festival is getting out of control, despite the show appears to have been attended by only a couple hundred people and has overshadowed most of the artists way more famous than he is making surprise appearances at the festival (I suspect Kayne West is very upset at not only the attention this has garnered, but the fact that's he's been out-douched. And by a fellow Chicagoian!) . The punk rock community has also deemed Weasel's actions as characteristic, unforgivable and essentially the work of a terrible person who we're all supposed to hate because we're all about high school-grade solidarity. I mean, we've all seen the clip. Ben Weasel punches women. That's what he does because he obviously thinks that women should be punched because they deserve it for coming to Screeching Weasel concerts, right?
Right now, Ben Weasel is up there with Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson as a celebrity douche bag you must hate if you consider yourself an intelligent human being. As of this writing, four major contemporaries have dropped off future SW shows, citing "the events that occurred in Austin". Weasel did issue an apology on his website Monday morning, but as we all know celebrity apologies hold zero weight of sincerity, especially when held against video footage.
Now, it's not like he was known as a friendly guy before this happened. For the past 25 years, he's been known as one of the most opinionated assholes in punk rock, from the liner notes of his records to his MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL columns, decrying major record labels and the bands who record for them to his many, many, many feuds with bands including members of Screeching Weasel. But that was part of the persona of Ben Weasel, and part of what came with liking his band.
My honest opinion of this incident is that it's an overall tragedy on many levels. It's essentially ended the career of Screeching Weasel, made people regret they ever liked the band and has perennially villainized Ben Weasel and labeled him a woman beater. And I think that it's fucking great that this judgement call has come from a community of people who consider themselves to be the smart and educated ones.
When looking at all the facts and my final judgement, I take more into consideration than the punches that were thrown and the people who received them. First, I must state that I don't know Ben Shaffer (his real name) personally. I shook his hand once at a show and asked if I could get my picture with him, and he gave me a lame excuse why not and then proceeded to hang out at the other end of the bar. I know some people who know him and they describe him as stubborn and opinionated. But from listening to his music and reading interviews with him where he states hating everything from touring to protools to My Chemical Romance, I don't get the feeling that he hates women. Many of his songs are written from feminist and pro-gay perspectives, which I don't find characteristic of your average misogynist. In fact, just before he called the woman heckling and spiting beer on him a skank and punched her, he was praising the band Matt & Kim, a duo who features a female drummer named Kim.
Something else that I feel should be taken into consideration is the main factor that he's given to the reason to why Screeching Weasel has broken up so many times over the years which is an anxiety disorder and acute agoraphobia which was the focus of a 2001 Spin magazine article. I've heard accounts over the years of him having crippling panic attacks that have caused tour cancellations and have lead to all those break up, including in 1995 which caused SW offshoot The Riverdales to drop off an arena tour with Green Day and preventing the 16 year old me from seeing them.
Now, I will restate that I don't know the guy and I'm not going to go on record as judging him, his action or his feeling, but I feel that this anxiety disorder should be taken into account when judging what went down. Anxiety attacks are something I take seriously and identify with because I suffer from them personally and try to cope with them unmediated. I've been caught in situations that (without going into too many details) have escalated very quickly and resulting in me yelling at people I shouldn't have yelled at because I felt trapped in a situation, my adrenaline kicked in and then convinced me I was under attack. I've never go so far as to hit anyone, but that's also because I've never felt it reasonable to resort to violence in any aspect of my life, but if I did I possibly could have.
I feel some other facts should also be taken into account, namely the fact that Ben's now married and has recently born twin daughters, possibly born around the time of the band's recent reforming. Could it be possible that he's revived a much loved band from a past era who has accumulated a growing fan base over the years, most of whom have never seen the band live and then formed a new line up while still using a widely recognisable name in order to cash in on it's popularity as a means of supporting his new family? Is it also possible that he's attempted to power through his disorders in order to perform live despite the fact that doing so with his disorder is the equivalent of swimming through shark infested waters and trying to ignore the sharks? Could someone who suffers from anxiety attacks have one triggered by being in an entire city overrun by cynical people and then turned into a place of sensory overload, and then being personally heckled and singled out by an individual in a room full of people, then making that person think they're under attack causing them to strike out at the people around them?
Don't get me wrong, it's not OK to for a man to hit a woman and what happened was wrong, but I don't feel that Ben Weasel is the kind of guy who goes around hitting women or ever has remotely condoned such an action. I also feel it's irresponsible and ignorant for the punk "community" to have taken the stance it has taken. Ben Weasel is not Chris Brown (a guy who beat the shit out of his more famous and talented girlfriend and then recorded an album about how he's the real victim) and not a single word Ben published in his apology points the finger anywhere but to himself. I feel that people who consider themselves as educated, open minded and intelligent should look below the surface of an incident like this before making a judgement and throwing someone under the train. Also, while still maintaining an anti-violence stance, I would also like to point out that Henry Rollins personally accounts assaulting female fans in similar situations during Black Flag shows in Get In The Van, but has never been widely labeled a misogynist for doing so. This could have a lot to do with the fact that the evidence here is printed transcript as opposed to video, but as everyone knows, watchin' TV is way better than book readin'. Charles Bukowski is also regarded among the learned for his frankness and honesty, but can be seen kicking and insulting his wife in the documentary Born Into This, but I'm assuming that was cool because being an alcoholic is pretty fucking awesome.
I guess I'm just disappointed in everyone. I'm disappointed that Ben let his emotions get the better of him, disappointed that a Screeching Weasel fan would be so belligerent as to provoke someone who I assume they like to do something like that and disappointed that celebrity judgement and gawking isn't only reserved for the slack jawed yokels I assumed were the major consumers and producers of it, but that swift judgement is also an aspect of the punk community as well, which is fucking great.
So remember kids, don't get too attached to your heroes because one day you may literally wake up to find them doing something terrible, and just like blasphemy that is stem-cell research, nobody's mind should be big enough to accommodate any sort of educated reason to not make quick judgements. Also, don't punch girls.


Blogger A T W A R W I T H I N said...

You have some valid points in this post. You know the guy is up to no good with a last name like "Weasel". No Weasin' the juice! but really- punching two "ladies"?
No matter the problems, the drugs, the "DSM - IV official title for the mental illness", or anything---- There's never an excuse to hit a female. Follow Chris' example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6onrfJJe_-I

8:03 PM  

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