Should artists like Eddie Vedder and Selena Gomez speak out on war?

07.21.14 3 years ago 16 Comments

Should artists express their views on the Israeli/Gaza conflict? Or on any divisive political matters at all? A number of artists have commented on recent current events and had to either back track or explain their messages.

Should we be looking for them to comment at all? To catch up on two recent examples:

Over the last several days, Pearl Jam”s Eddie Vedder has used the stage as a pulpit to express anti-war sentiments. He started during a Pearl Jam show in London on July 11 when he declared, “There are people out there who are looking for a reason to kill!,” before going into a cover of Edwin Starr”s ‘War.”  They”re looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn”t belong to them. They should get the fuck out and mind their own fucking business.”

Though Vedder did not mention any countries by name, the timing coincided with Isreal and the Gaza/Palestinian conflict rising up again, and some accused him of taking an anti-Israeli stance.

On Thursday (16), Vedder took to Pearl Jam”s website to address that he was still anti-war and he, again, did not mention any specific conflict. “With about a dozen assorted ongoing conflicts in the news everyday, and with the stories becoming more horrific, the level of sadness becomes unbearable…War hurts. It hurts no matter which sides the bombs are falling on.”

Vedder referenced a line from John Lennon”s “Imagine,” to open up his post on the PJ website and then this weekend, he performed Lennon”s “Imagine” at a solo show.

Now, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has jumped into the fray to defend Vedder…and Novoselic is naming names. On his blog Sunday night, Novoselic posted a long letter that starts by thanking Vedder for speaking out “about the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis,” and then uses that as a launchpad to give his views on the issue before concluding, “It is the knuckleheads on both sides that should be criticized and not the singer from a rock band.”

So now even if Vedder wasn”t addressing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (and it”s hard to imagine that he wasn”t-even if he didn”t name names), Novoselic has completely outted him.

While it received much less publicity, Selena Gomez posted on Instagram last week, “It's about humanity. Pray for Gaza.” She was criticized for taking what was seen as an anti-Israeli stand and then switched her message to “I am praying for peace and humanity for all.”

It”s tempting to note that comments from an artist who has spent a great deal of his career speaking out about certain injustices and issues and a phrase quickly dashed off by a pop star should not necessarily carry the same weight, but then that would just be naive, given how social media works. Plus, Gomez”s now-deleted comment may have caused one of her young fans to ask her parents about the issue or to follow the news a little closer and that”s a great thing.

There does seem to be some kind of non-published handbook here to go by: Rock artists' fans seem to be much more tolerant to their expressing controversial views. The Dixie Chicks have never regained the ground they lost  (not that they have tried) with the country market after lead singer Natalie Maines' mild remarks about then President George Bush in 2004 and country artists are notoriously shy when it comes to stating any political opinion other than they love the U.S. and they support the troops. Pop artists have definitely made progress when it comes to publicly supporting gay rights, but otherwise stay pretty quiet.

Having said that, it feels like it”s a land mine for any artist to risk the wrath that comes with having an opinion these days given how polarized we are on everything. Add in that the 24/7 news cycle is constantly trolling for content. Combine that with Twitter, which tries to distill messages into 140 characters-that is an insane thought when it comes to commenting on things of such import at world conflicts- or Instagram and the media”s desire to conflate even the most benign statement into something that will translate into page clicks and you have a recipe for lots of misunderstanding.  

And when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian issue, it is so complex and so politically and religiously charged, it is nearly impossible to say anything, other than, as Gomez learned, “pray for peace,” without igniting a controversy.

(A little sidenote: Having spent some time four years ago reporting from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, I will only add for anyone interested in this extraordinarily complex issue, I found it instructive to see how media outside the U.S.covered the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts as well for a broader range of perspectives).

So should artists stick to entertaining? As I read a number of James Garner obituaries/appreciations over the weekend, this comment from Garner- who marched in the 1963 March on Washington in 1963 and was a staunch advocate for human rights- made me think about Vedder and Gomez”s comments a little more. Garner felt he had a responsibility to speak out, adding, “If my celebrity draws extra attention to the cause, all the better.” Maybe I”ll let him have the final word… for now.

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