Power and Professional Conduct In the Anti-Establishment

The power of capital has many faces, whether monetary, social, or emotional. Those without capital often find themselves at the mercy of those who do and are frequently searching for what little the “haves” are willing to give to the “have nots.” In almost every music scene, artists hold the most valuable cards in these three realms of power. Whether or not it is the artists’ intention, fans come seeking this power.

Alternative scenes tend to be far less lucrative in terms of monetary power than pop, rap, and country. However, for many young punk/pop-punk/hardcore fans, the mere ability to survive on your own or interdependently with peers is enough monetary power to finally escape your home town, get out from under your parents’ roof, and start living the dream of independence, which is a reality they may find very appealing.

Seeing bands “make it”, especially when their members are close in age to their fans, is one small glimpse into this capital as a way of breaking free of whatever is perceived to be holding someone back. If fans are able to see people who look like them succeed, it opens the question “Why couldn’t I do that?” or at the very least the thought of “I wish I could do that”.

Social capital is a major part of any music scene but is the backbone of DIY and independent music. “Who you know” can determine your ability to even put together a band and certainly has a hand in whether your band gets to play shows and who you get to play with. With the explosion of the internet and social media, “knowing” someone takes an entirely new meaning. Bands are able to gather virtual hordes of fans on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter without having any real interaction.

However, having in-person interactions is still highly valuable. This exchange of social capital forms a two-way street where bands depend on people attending their shows for tours to be productive and fans can gain huge social boosts in their own circles if they are able to interact with band members online or on a more personal level.

Emotion is also a star player in punk/hardcore/emo/pop-punk scenes and manifests in many ways. The music of these scenes can make fans cry, rejoice, rise arm-in-arm against injustice, and laugh in the face of “the man”. Emotion gets tricky when fans pull so much from the music that it becomes a path of survival for them and fans start to view bands as the only people that truly understand them. Likewise, many musicians pour their hearts and personal experiences into their music and find that there are hundreds and thousands of fans that identify with their experience.

On one hand, this can be an incredible bonding experience for both musicians and their fans. On the other, it can also create situations where fans see the musicians as above themselves, their best friends, or as the only people who truly understand what they are going through, even though they have no real interaction with the artists beyond their art.

These faces of capital come together to form three sides of what artist-fan relationships can be. Power plays a major role in any type of relationship but is especially important in romantic and sexual relationships. Especially when looking into relationships between younger bands and their fans who are similar in age, it adds another layer of complexity.

Many stories have surfaced recently that address inappropriate conduct between bands and younger fans. Some writers and commentators suggest that even if an artist and a fan are close in age, the artist should be held more responsible for their actions and be more aware of the dynamic between themselves and their fans when thinking about romantic or sexual relationships. Should this be the case?  If so, at what point is a line drawn? What elements determine this?

Age of consent within the United States has some elements of federal jurisdiction as well as state authority. This accounts for the varying ages of consent across the United States. Broadly speaking, the age of 18 marks adulthood and the power of legal consent across all 50 states.

For the sake of discussion, the age of 18 can be considered as a base point. Applying this base point to the fanbases of pop-punk/punk/hardcore scenes, it is fair to regard these fan bases as being comprised mostly of people who are 21 and younger. The age of a band’s fans can vary, but for a general discussion, younger fans groups can be considered the norm.

Many popular bands within these scenes are themselves 21 or younger. Taking this into consideration, alongside younger fanbases, a general age of consent of 18, and the power capital dynamic between fans and artists, a complex situation arises around romantic and sexual relationships.  One realm in particular is that of a relationship between two people who are of high school age (14-18/19 in the United States).

There are examples of romantic/sexual relationships between every combination in this age group, regardless of legal age of consent. Most of these relationships go unchecked and, as far as consent, are treated the same as relationships between two people who are under 18.

When analyzing these types of younger relationships through the lens of power capital, does it change how we see them? Should artists be held more accountable and responsible for their actions on the basis of their status as artists? Does the monetary, social, and emotional capital of being an artist with a fan base allow fans to hold artists more accountable than they would other peers their own age?

What about relationships with individuals who do not enter as fans, but know the artists outside of their status in a scene? And therefore may enter on a more even power playing field than an individual participating in the power dynamic as a fan? Does the power dynamic determine the level of accountability for both the artist and the fan?


Tasha Ostendorf is a social neuroscientist working in the field of
public policy and language access for juvenile justice, substance use,
child welfare, and mental health services in  Arizona and a supporter of
safer scenes for all.
She can be reached by email at tasha.ostendorf@gmail.com


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are of
the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Safer Scene

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