Australia, Let Tyler the Creator Play

Rapper Tyler Okonma, better known as “Tyler the Creator,” made headlines July 27, when he announced via Twitter that he had been banned from playing shows in Australia. The Australian Department of Immigration has denied this, and states that Tyler’s visa is still under consideration. The alleged ban was blamed on the anti-sexism organization Collective Shout, whose members petitioned the government to deny Tyler entry into the country. In a letter writing campaign to Peter Dutton, Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the group states, “While his activities are commercial, the content of the product [Tyler] sells propagates discriminatory ideas about women and other groups, and represents a danger to a segment of the Australian community on the potential basis of incitement to acts of hatred.” Australia would join New Zealand in refusing Tyler’s entry.

While I oppose Collective Shout’s enlistment of government force against Tyler, they do have a point. Tyler’s rhymes are often dark and violent. Kidnapping, rape and murder of women are frequent themes. While there is little to no evidence to suggest he advocates the violence he describes, those who believe Tyler’s lyrics glorify misogyny and rape have a legitimate bone to pick. Their condemnation is the appropriate response to ugly rhyme-making.  Government bans on individual freedom of movement are not.

In a free society, all people must be able to move, associate and speak freely. Using the force of the state to stifle the rights of unsavory individuals is counterproductive. Collective Shout’s strong-arming of Tyler via the Australian government is a setback for opponents of sexism.  Such means make anti-sexists appear censorious, fascistic and violent. They lend credence to all the worst things that men’s rights activists and misogynists say about anti-sexists, and they allow that boorish segment of the male population to falsely claim victimhood. If you oppose misogyny, by all means, speak up and raise awareness of these issues. The state cannot and will not change attitudes, and they shouldn’t be called upon to do so. Attitudes change through social progress, by voluntary means.

While I identify as a feminist and think Tyler’s work can certainly be criticized on feminist grounds, I wholeheartedly reject the Australian government’s restriction of his ability to tour. I also believe people like Tyler who push the limits free speech serve an important role in reinforcing our commitments to protecting unpopular speech. They also broaden the conversation as to what is acceptable and what has artistic merit. In addition to violence, Tyler’s songs feature a great deal of surrealism, immaturity, absurdity, wordplay, and support for outcasts and nonconformists, making him a more complex figure than his detractors often suggest. That said, he still deserves criticism for doing nothing to discourage his fans from sending death threats to Collective Shout members and making their identities publicly known. These are never acceptable tactics. Tyler’s fans have been horrible advocates for his cause and their online behavior may ultimately cost him his visa. The same goes for his reputation for causing riots.

Ultimately, however, none of this justifies denying Tyler’s entry into Australia. It is time to move past the failed logic of banning things we do not like. Measures such as dialogue, criticism and freedom of dissociation as these are far better methods of producing social change. One can condemn Tyler on numerous grounds, yet still support his basic rights as a human being.

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