Amanda Palmer refuses to take a stand on Jian Ghomeshi

Palmer has a history of courting fake controversy, but this is a bad idea

By Erin Keane

Editor in Chief

Published October 31, 2014 2:01PM (EDT)

 Amanda Palmer      (Facebook)
Amanda Palmer (Facebook)

Musician and walking controversy Amanda Palmer has a new book out. “The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” expands on her now-infamous TED Talk about the liberating effects of raising more than $1 million on Kickstarter to make a record, which she then toured behind, paying local backup musicians in hugs, t-shirts and beer, presumably because local backup musicians are not as skilled in the art of asking as Amanda Palmer is. For her book tour, Palmer asked other famous personalities (they can afford the time, I suppose) to join her on stage. At her November 25 Toronto appearance, her scheduled “chat guest” is alleged woman-abuser Jian Ghomeshi. She booked him before his firing from CBC and allegations of violence against women came to light, but she’s standing by the man, at least for now.

When Ghomeshi posted his creepy self-defense on his own Facebook Sunday night, Palmer shared it on hers, adding, “of course he will still be guesting at the Toronto show.” Since then, as more women have come forward and shared similar disturbing stories about violent encounters with Ghomeshi, most early defenders have quietly distanced themselves. But “quietly” is not Amanda Palmer’s style.

Her fans, understandably, are angry and hurt. Palmer is seen as an outsider-feminist icon who creates a “safe space” at her shows and in her fan community, an iconoclast who goes her own way. But often those rebel impulses are shallow and attention-seeking, bordering on trollish, not meaningful. Her “A Poem for Dzhokar” Tsarnaev, published in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, is one of the most egregious examples. She builds up heaps of goodwill with her fans by being very interactive and sending all the right “i care about you” messages, but she’s also a savvy self-promoter. (See: garnering $1 million on Kickstarter to fund a $100,000 record.) If Amanda Palmer can make something about Amanda Palmer, she will.

Jian Ghomeshi, who now stands accused of violently abusing eight different women, is not the kind of guy Amanda Palmer fans want to see at her show. This is a very basic fan-relations decision that anyone with half a lick of sense would have handled with quiet dignity and a brief announcement: “I have asked Jian Ghomeshi to not appear at my Toronto show. We will announce a new guest soon.” It’s actually pretty easy to be a reasonable adult and professional about these things.

But that wouldn’t be any fun.

Palmer’s drawing it out, pleading on Facebook for time to process this super-tricky decision. I can’t imagine the mental gymnastics it takes: what if we’re all being too hasty to judge this influential and admired public radio celebrity accused of hitting and choking a series of much-younger women? What if all Jian needs is a little love and understanding? What if I could get #wereallbroken to trend?

Palmer downplays the situation, says she’s still “figuring out what to do about this,” but in the meantime asks her fans to just be patient and nice about it, because, you guys, if you haven’t noticed, it’s her “personal style to never shut down a conversation or run away from the fire.”

“just a request: while i try to figure out what to do about this situation, let me remind you that HATE HAS NO PLACE HERE IN THIS COMMUNITY. it's just not what we do. i have so much pride in this place we've built, and have always been overwhelmed with gratitude for this community's ability to converse without yelling or harsh judgement, for our ability to stay open and thoughtful and kind. please, let's keep it that way.”

Palmer’s fans are not having it, and they’re calling her out on her sanctimony and hypocrisy. And they’re right. Palmer’s response is the adolescent desire for “fairness” in a situation that actually calls for adult wisdom. Her willingness to call accountability “hate” is a teenager’s response to a very serious situation.

Palmer might be hoping to ride this controversy all the way to Toronto with a sold-out Ghomeshi-flavored sideshow, complete with protests and heckling. She could dine out on that one for months while pretending that it was all in the name of #hatehasnoplace. But condemning violence and predatory behavior would actually be the thoughtful and kind thing to do for those fans who built her $1 million platform ten bucks at a time. These are serious allegations of violence against women, not random haterade gossip, and by refusing to take a business stand on the matter, Palmer is coming dangerously close to offering tacit approval instead.

By Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Chief Content Officer. She is also on faculty at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University and her memoir in essays, "Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me," was named one of NPR's Books We Loved In 2022.

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