As a young man, it was easy to fall for Adams' me-against-the-world act. But we should all be vigilant about how art can conceal abuseby Caspar Salmon / February 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
Ryan Adams performs on stage. Photo: PA This week has brought a fresh round of revelations of abusive behaviour by men, like an overspilling bucket drawn from a bottomless well. From the French media figures who participated in the self-described “Ligue du LOL,” a Facebook group dedicated to the sport of online harassment, to the article in the New York Times about Ryan Adams’ alleged coercive and controlling behaviour towards a child and several exes, these new stories are helping to extend and modulate our understanding of abuse. I listened to Ryan Adams’ music endlessly when I was at university. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” evokes memories of writing essays at 3 a.m. in my bedroom. “Houses on the Hill” can move me to tears; “Goodnight Hollywood Blvd” is still a staple in my shower-singing repertoire. I say this not to mourn the artist that I have lost—Adams is not the victim, and nor am I— but to recognise my part in a cultural culpability which overlooked and encouraged Adams’ arrested development, his self-mythologising as a tortured artist and the lazy misogyny, too, in many of his songs, spewing disdain for women who didn’t “get him.” The creepy and noxious behaviour he is said to have displayed, and the apparent abuse of the power he wielded, stem in great part from the allowances our culture constantly makes for the gifted man-child. I bought into that nonsense: the mythos of the folk hero as a glowing, booze-addled Rimbaud figure; the troubadour outlaw, wrecking a different woman in every new town and moving swiftly on. I’ve listened to the podcast, too, of Henry Michel, one of the men whose name was this week on the list of participants in the so-termed “Ligue du Lol.” The members of the group harassed and doxxed a number of people, mostly women, with the aim of amusing each other. Essentially a group of French lads up for banter, the group contained more or less active and bullying figures. Michel claimed before leaving Twitter that he was very inactive in the group and had long since quit it. He is, however, mentioned this week in a stomach-churning testimonial by Benjamin LeReilly which talks of his ordeal when a member of the group targeted him with doctored homophobic videos online. He says he begged Michel and a few other people for help; they told him to sit it out, saying there was nothing they could do. Again, Michel is someone of great talent, and yet again the signs are there in his broadcasting, which sidelines and sexualises women, trading in a kind of boorish adolescence. These stories give the lie to the idea that in the wake of #MeToo, all offenders are simply being “cancelled” or lumped in together, as we have seen a range of nuanced and thoughtful responses to these reports. They have, hopefully, expanded what we consider abuse, bringing perhaps more nuance to the popular definition of it. From the Adams story, we can consider how men have preyed upon, belittled, gaslighted and manipulated the women in their lives and workplaces, using their position to dangle rewards and recognition. The Ligue du Lol affair gives us men harassing people online, mostly younger and less powerful people, mostly women: there’s bullying and intimidation here, and there’s collusion in the case of Michel if it’s correct that he simply stood by. What is notable is how often the attacks go hand in hand with scuppering other people—women—professionally. Threats relating to money and advancement, as we see when Adams allegedly affects to support the artist Phoebe Bridgers and then withdraws his support on a whim, are taken straight from the abuser’s handbook. Men need to question this behaviour, which is studded into the very fabric of these people’s output, rather than lazily go along with it. We should recognise perpetual adolescence for what it is, a shirking of responsibilities and often a screen for questionable behaviour whose collateral damage is women. We should listen to the women involved and boost them instead: Phoebe Bridgers, Mandy Moore, Megan Butterworth, Courtney Jaye; Florence Porcel, Mélanie Wanga, Iris Gaudin, Benjamin LeReilly, Florence Desruol, Lucile Bellan, Daria Marx, and Capucine Piot, to name but a few. We should look within and search ourselves for ways in which we overlook and propagate everyday, basic misogyny, creating a world in which abuse can blossom and grow.