Marilyn Manson: Art Justifying Abuse
A legendary rock star and deeply controversial figure, Brian Hugh Warner, known publicly as Marilyn Manson, is currently facing multiple accusations of sexual and psychological abuse. The accusations started at the very beginning of February, this year, when the film actress Evan Rachel Wood, Marilyn’s former fiancé, spoke out against the rock star, saying that she has been abused for years and ‘manipulated into submission’. Her accusation caused a domino effect, and further disturbing allegations have been made since by several other women in the days since, which led the Los Angeles authorities to launch an investigation.
Facing the greatest scandal in his career, the rock icon denied all the allegations: “Obviously, my art and my life have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality”. While the first part of his statement can definitely not be denied, for the last part, no commentary can be made until the investigation comes to a conclusion.
Marilyn’s entire career is built on and defined by his desire to shock and his gothic theatrics, a style often described as shock rock. His public persona as a rock icon has often been named ‘provocative’ and his shows never hid this trait. From satanism, women dragged in dog leashes, stage scenes where female characters are brutally beaten, to self-introductions such as ‘I am the God of Fuck’, Marilyn Manson definitely created an image for himself. An image that has never been contested by the music industry. Consequently, a certain social understanding of ‘Manson is just Manson’ became accepted.
This type of understanding is emphasized by his representatives’ reaction back in 2009 when Marilyn Manson talked about having fantasies about smashing Wood’s skull with a hammer. A serious and alarming statement which has been quickly justified by his representatives by explaining that Manson was just deliberately provocative. While everyone seemed to accept ‘provocative’ as a form of art and expression, naming a threat to someone’s life as ‘provocative’ trivialises abuse and erases the victim’s testimonies.
A history of abuse and violence
Manson’s use of verbal and physical violence is no secret. In 1998, the rock star was reported to have sent a death threat to the editor of SPIN magazine in a dispute over the cover of the magazine. Three years later, Manson was charged with sexual misconduct for rubbing his genital area on a security’s guard head during a concert. Not to mention Manson’s autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell where he described the moment when he willingly physically hurt his mother and tried to kill her as a consequence of his suspicions of her being unfaithful to his father. His autobiography is full of explicitly violent stories where one can easily observe Marilyn’s abuse of his position of power, enabling him to adopt violent behaviour against numerous individuals. By making public all these experiences, Marilyn seems ambivalent about what is clearly self-incrimination. And he did so on multiple occasions: having interviews where he talked about having a room where he would lock up women, as well as by releasing a video of an unknown woman screaming and being tortured which can be found on YouTube. Manson took this video during his 1996 Dead to the World tour as a form of art but his lawyer advised him not to post the whole video as it may end his career. All this violence, aggression, abusive stories and self-incriminatory statements do not constitute the image of a rock star but one of an abuser.
Eccentricity, daring behaviour – a justification for abuse?
Adopting this persona in the name of art is an element that the rock music industry has accepted and promoted for too long. By enabling this kind of behaviour, the rock industry played a key role in normalizing abusive behaviour. There is a huge difference between being provocative and eccentric as an artist and using these elements to justify violence. In a conversation with a journalist from Classic Rock Magazine, Manson said that he is ‘scared of the possibility that art – and people’s freedom of speech – is going to be choked’, which naturally opens a debate about boundaries. We all cherish our freedom of expression, an essential foundation of democracy, but we should clearly distinguish this freedom from the fantasy of killing someone or using violence for artistic purposes. Manson once said, ‘If one more ‘journalist’ makes a cavalier statement about me and my band, I will personally, or with my fans’ help, greet them at their home and discover just how much they believe in their freedom of speech’.
Abuse of power which results in violence, emotional and psychological distress is, unfortunately, an issue that is all too familiar in the celebrities’ world. The MeToo movement exposed on numerous occasions the violence and misogyny embedded in the music and film industries and continues to do so with the controversial figure of Marilyn Manson. Given that the same story seems to repeat, what becomes more and more obvious is that the shield that continues to protect abusive behaviour has to be broken, and measures to provide a safe environment for victims to talk about their abuse need to be taken. The movement continues to be extremely important nowadays as it helps victims of abuse break the silence and speak against their abusers. Lastly but by no means the least, the movement can also be seen as a reaction to what some industries, unfortunately, choose to normalize.
All the accusations Manson is currently facing brought to light a much bigger issue than just one private problem- as some of his ‘defenders’ may see it. What we can all be certain about is that any culture which engenders abuse and violence cannot and should not be considered or viewed as a form of expression or art. It is not only an insult to art itself, in all its forms, but it also promotes behaviour that should have no place in society. If the allegations against Manson do not prove to be ‘horrible distortions of reality’, as he called them, then we should all take a moment and try to understand what this ‘reality’ is, and, most importantly, ask ourselves how we managed to arrive at a point where unjustified cruelty, coercion and abusive behaviour became justifiable when talking about artistic expression.