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On misogyny, public spaces, and responsibility

Cancellation of Action Bronson performance should set a precedent
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Action Bronson @ Flow Festival 2014 by J. RISTANIEMI is licensed under CC BY 2.0​
Action Bronson @ Flow Festival 2014 by J. RISTANIEMI is licensed under CC BY 2.0​

Shortly after North by Northeast (NXNE) announced its programming for a weekend of free shows at Yonge and Dundas Square (YDS), Torontonian Erica Shiner launched a Change.org petition urging for the cancellation of hip-hop artist Action Bronson’s performance on June 21.

The petition, “Stop Action Bronson from Performing at Yonge and Dundas Square,” urged the city of Toronto, NXNE, Now Magazine, and Vans to pull Action Bronson from the Sunday line-up, explaining that Bronson is an artist who “glorifies gang-raping and murdering women.” As proof of this claim, Shiner cited lyrics from Bronson’s unreleased song, titled “Consensual Rape.”

NXNE initially urged listeners who were offended by Bronson’s lyrics and music to “check out other Festival showcases.” They later announced the cancellation of Bronson’s performance.

It is important to note that “Consensual Rape” not an isolated case, and that misogyny and transphobia are recurring themes in Bronson’s music. For instance, in May 2012, Bronson uploaded a photo to his Instagram account with the caption, “Close up of Drunk Mexican Tranny after Bes poured a Bottle of water on its head.”

In a NOW Magazine review of the Danny Brown and Action Bronson show, Julia Leconte recounted a moment during Bronson’s performance where he “brought a woman onstage, threw her over his shoulder, put her down in front of him, and proceeded to grope and shake her breast for…like, a long time. Then he tossed her away like a piece of trash.”

This is not to mention the cover art for SAAB Stories or the music video for “Brunch,” in which he uses a dead woman’s body as a prop. Do I need to say more?

Bronson, of course, has denied being a misogynist, but his actions speak differently. With that in mind, Bronson isn’t the only one who has to claim ownership of their actions. People should also look at the role and responsibilities NXNE has as a festival organizer and promoter.

With regards to an artist like Bronson, who has a very well-documented history of saying and doing things that are visibly misogynistic and transphobic, institutions like NXNE have a responsibility to take these actions into consideration, regardless of how popular the artist’s music may be.

Bronson’s supporters have defended his behaviour by telling those who are offended to simply avoid YDS during Bronson’s set. Unfortunately, avoiding YDS is not as simple as one might assume.

YDS is centrally located directly across from the Eaton Centre. It will be especially difficult to avoid the week of NXNE because that also happens to be the week of Pride Week and the Luminato festival. That’s without taking into account how the summer season will mean that the area will be loaded with tourists.

Regardless of the difficulties of avoiding the square, as a public space, everyone is entitled to be exist within it without obstructions of any kind.

Public reaction would have been very different if Bronson was booked for a private venue where there would be some protocols in place to filter who gets to see Bronson and doesn’t. As NXNE mentioned in their initial press release, artists are entitled to their opinions. But when these opinions are extremely hurtful to individuals of marginalized groups, it is also NXNE’s responsibility to ensure these free, public performances contribute to making such public events a safe space for attendees.

The hip-hop genre isn’t one that is especially starved for talent, and we can do better than showcasing Bronson’s overtly misogynistic work. Let this cancellation set a new precedent for future bookings at YDS and other public spaces in Toronto.

Sofia Luu is a fifth year student at Victoria College studying diaspora studies.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Sofia Luu is studying humanities.