So Jason Webley and Amanda Palmer have formed a band called Evelyn Evelyn for which the two dress up as conjoined twin sisters. I wasn’t going to comment on the scandal that has erupted over the launch of their new album because it seemed too many people were screaming at the top of their lungs and the ones who weren’t had stuck their fingers in their ears. But I’m both a big Jason Webley fan and an advocate for more visibility on the issues of ableism in political discourse. And this is an excellent example of a common occurrence in the counter-culture that rarely gets talked about. Here are a few of my points, some of which have already been made by others, some of which haven’t.
One can love Jason and/or Amanda as artists and also believe that they’ve done something wrong. One can be in awe of Mick Jagger’s talent, and still gristle at his womanizing and the lyrics he sings advocating it. The adolescent idol-worship of these two singers that’s been revealed in the defense arguments is quite disturbing.
Even though I fiercely believe in intersectionality (i.e., if you’re gonna support the rights of one minority, you’ve got to support them all), being insensitive toward one group of people does not make you insensitive to all. Amanda Palmer is a fierce feminist and LGBT advocate, and both she and Jason like to sing about, as he put it, the experiences of those on the margin. This project does not nullify their previous good works and transform them both into misanthropic bigots.
As intersectionality often proves, a liberal identity does not make progressives like Jason and Amanda incapable of prejudice or sheer jack-ass behavior. I met student after student at Bard who would glare at anything remotely racist or sexist or homophobic, but who insisted that dwarf-tossing is fucking hilarious and cringed at individuals with facial deformities.
I admit that I didn’t consider the offensive implications the first time I heard of the project. When I read the bio on Evelyn Evelyn’s MySpace page, I did start to feel the thing reverberate with circus-freak retro-chic. More than anything, I didn’t see why the twins had to be conjoined. They have the same name and sing back and forth to each other; there isn’t anything about their record requiring them to be conjoined except to add a little freak-show flavor, realized by the sight-gag of the two singers performing onstage on a single accordion. If Evelyn Evelyn were merely identical twins, no one would have given it a moment’s pause and only the freak-show flavor would be lost. I happen to think “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” is a great ragtime song. I also enjoyed Jason’s solo rendition of “Elephant Elephant” using the audience for call-backs far more than his version with Amanda as his twin.
Bearing all this in mind, it is my opinion that both Jason and Amanda have handled this quite badly.
Jason’s apology on his blog is much less defensive than Amanda’s, his shock at the reaction seems genuine, but he nevertheless manages to keep stumbling. “I had some fear that the few conjoined twins living in the world might find the project offensive.” Ouch. Respect and human rights do not directly correlate to a minority’s numbers. Someone pointed out that conjoined twins are so few because their infant mortality rate is so high. Ouch.
As for Amanda, I don’t know why she tweets or posts so frequently only to be shocked about the fire she draws from her hastily typed statements regarding her often controversial projects. Let’s not kid ourselves – she obviously likes being an iconoclast, which is fine and in fact admirable, but she so far lacks the poise to handle the inevitable backlash each time she comes roaring onto the scene with another boisterous project. And, Amanda, you don’t need to let us know you’re PMSing. If you’d used the word “midget” on me and included that in your apology/excuse, it would not help to redeem you.
I originally wasn’t going to attend the Berlin show because it’s rather expensive, but now I’m considering proposing a boycott over this issue. Not because I hate these two for it (I don’t), but because the friends who were reluctant to go over the price would likely tell me to loosen up if ableist politics were my sole reason. And that could be a good opportunity to confront the prejudices lurking under the liberal badges we love to wear.
UPDATE: Any credibility Amanda’s apology had was swiftly obliterated by her performance on this Australian talk show. She may very well be a feminist and a radical and an activist, but first and foremost, Amanda Palmer is a narcissist. Possibly the least radical thing you can be in show business.
Note: This post originally appeared on February 21, 2010 at klompen.livejournal.com