In reports that shocked exactly three people, it was revealed by Teen Vogue and Afropunk that Philip Anschutz, the CEO of AEG, which owns and operates many of the major venues and music festivals in the U.S. donated more than $190,000 to anti-queer groups over the course of four years. They also revealed that Anschutz and his wife have, over their careers, donated vast sums to conservative Republican candidates and super PACs.
Additionally, the reports also revealed that Anschutz, through his personal foundation, has donated a combined $190,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Christian Foundation and the Family Research Council, which, if you remember, has been classified as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
That a former oil magnate turned entertainment emperor would act in accordance with his nature as a shitty, rich, white, old man would not normally be striking. But AEG has made bajillions off events and venues that host primarily liberal artists, many of whom have incorporated their politics into their work, and have, by extension tapped into a certain amount of cultural cache predicated on their political leanings. Specifically called into question was Anschutz’s ownership of Coachella, the mecca of summer music festivals, whose recently announced lineup includes a host of outspoken liberal artists. It’s almost difficult to come up with a trio of headliners more antithetical to Anschutz than Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead, all of who have advocated for liberal causes throughout their careers.
When pressed, Anschutz’s released this tepid statement:
“Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news — it is all garbage. I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us — the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.
“Both [t]he Anschutz Foundation and I contribute to numerous organizations that pursue a wide range of causes. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of The Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”
Interjecting my own view of the situation, it seems highly unlikely that Anschutz simply had no idea that these donations, made by a foundation that bears his name, were occurring. Are they just donating money to whomever? Is there a big-ass wheel in the office that they spin to decide where to send their $30,000 checks? If so, how do I get my name on there? If he truly didn’t know until it was too late, I’m not sure how that also excuses the massive donations Anschutz and his wife made to Republican or right leaning political candidates in 2016, many of who echo the views expressed by these extremist groups.
The reason I’m primarily interested in this Anschutz situation is not because I’m shocked that an old, white, Republican man with a butt-load of money turned out to behave exactly like old, white, Republican men with butt-loads usually do, but because it presents an interesting case study in a dilemma that artists are often faced with. Should we expect any of the number of outspokenly liberal bands on this year’s lineup to recuse themselves from playing considering Anschutz’s allegedly bigoted politics? Transcending Coachella (as we all should) should artists, particularly those who have maintained an explicitly political stance in their music and careers, be expected to make economic decisions based on those principles?
Perfect example: Tacocat, local pop-punx and Seattle’s coolest export, are playing Coachella. They are also a band whose work, since their earliest releases, has often contained explicitly political content. Lead singer Emily Nokes recently posted her thoughts about the situation to Facebook. Calling it a “statement” seems unfair, since she made sure to point out that the post reflected only her own personal views on the situation. But I think one piece in particular is worth reposting because I think Nokes gets at the heart of the larger issue at play here.
Via The Stranger:
“…I wish we had the luxury of turning down a show that will greatly help subsidize our collective rent and ability to tour and continue to exist as working musicians. If we were a bigger band perhaps that would make a difference, but withdrawing our spot in protest as one in the small percentage of womxn (let alone queer/feminist ppl) playing this festival that has (for better or worse) a big cultural impact? A better “choice” I think is use the platform. Rather than the microscopic boycotting the gigantic, I actually look forward to using large platforms to say things that may not have been said in those settings before.”
The idea that all artists should be able to operate within an orthodox ideological framework is noble, but as Nokes points out, deeply unrealistic. The state of the music industry is not one in which smaller, indie acts are not often allowed the economic luxury to turn down a gig as big as Coachella. Even if the owner is allegedly a homophobic troll-man.
I’m not sure if I have a real answer to this specific dilemma. Certainly there are massive structural issues at play here. But what this episode has forced me to continue considering are the way in which I tacitly support a fucked up system. AEG operates Bumbershoot, which I attended and at which I spent money. AEG operates stadiums and theaters whose events I’ve attended and whose massive ticket prices I have grudgingly paid. As much as I would like to believe that I am innocent of maintaining the status-quo, I’m just not.
So where does that leave me, and by extension all of us? Personally, I think it means we need to make a renewed commitment to contributing resources to systems which support and sustain independent artists. Instead of spending a thousand dollars and your first-born child on a Coachella ticket, spend your money seeing artists at local venues. Stop listening to everything on Spotify, pony up and buy music from local artists you love. Proselytize to your friends about bands you think are worthy of attention, then drag them all to Chop Suey (or wherever) to see the band play. Maybe just literally donate money to local artists whom you know and love–they probably have bills that are going unpaid so that they can continue to do what they do. In short, tell the status-quo to take a fucking hike. In a capitalist society, consumption can be the same thing as protest. Please consume responsibly.
Later in her post, Nokes continues, “Let’s all hope we will someday live in a world where folks with limited income won’t have to concede to some remote billionaire or odious parent company in order to do things like buy non-oppressive clothing, food, movie tickets, gasoline, alcohol, cellphones…”
I couldn’t agree more. So let’s get to work.