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CMU Beef Of The Week #271: Theresa May v Tyler, The Creator

By | Published on Friday 28 August 2015

Tyler, The Creator

So, if there’s one thing we learned this week, it’s that having Tyler, The Creator play the Reading or Leeds festival would not be “conducive to the public good”, because, just in case there was any doubt whatsoever, the Odd Future rapper simply does not respect our “shared values”. All in all, it was a close shave. Thank you Theresa.

So yes, Tyler, The Creator revealed earlier this week that he was cancelling his planned appearances at Reading and Leeds, and gigs in Belfast and Dublin, because UK Home Secretary Theresa May didn’t want him to get on a British stage. May, of course, has no power over the Irish gig, though presumably it wasn’t commercially viable for him to fly in for just the one show.

Tyler himself took to Twitter to declare “BASED ON LYRICS FROM 2009 I AM NOT ALLOWED IN THE UK FOR 3-5 YEARS (although I was there 8 weeks ago) THAT IS WHY THE SHOWS WERE CANCELLED”. While his manager, Christian Clancy, revealed in a Tumblr post that: “Tyler has been banned from entering the UK for somewhere between three to five years per a letter from the Secretary Of State for the home department of the United Kingdom. The letter specifically cites lyrics he wrote six to seven years ago for his albums ‘Bastard’ and ‘Goblin'”.

A spokesman for said home department – or the bloody Home Office, as we call it – said they couldn’t comment on any one visa application, but that: “Coming to the UK is a privilege, and we expect those who come here to respect our shared values. The Home Secretary has the power to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good or if their exclusion is justified on public policy grounds”.

Now, it’s not the first time a musician has been refused entry into the UK for a gig, though usually such visa issues relate to criminal charges back home, where as this seems to be all about certain offensive lyrics the Odd Future man once wrote and rapped. And while Tyler, The Creator has written, and said, and rapped some silly – and at times offensive – stuff over the years, it does seem a bit extreme to ban him from the entire country as a result.

And that’s before you consider the fact that the lyrics that seem to have led to this ban are over five years old. As Clancy said, that means the Home Office has ignored Tyler’s entire output, and change in tone, in the intervening time. Plus it raises the question why the rapper has been let into the UK so many times since releasing ‘Bastard’ and ‘Goblin’ if the lyrics on the records were really so harmful.

But ignoring all of that, there is, of course, a free speech dimension to all of this. Perhaps Tyler, The Creator did rap and say some silly and offensive and inappropriate things five years ago. Perhaps he rapped and said some silly and offensive and inappropriate things much more recently than that. But is the solution to deny the rapper entry into the country? And if so, do you not have to also ban any other artists who have said or sung similarly contentious things?

Of course any artist who is deliberately or inadvertently controversial should be challenged, by journalists, campaigners, opponents and, preferably, allies and fans. Protests can be staged, both online and in the real world whenever the offending artist performs.

But to protest in a way that stops a performance, or which results in an actual ban from a venue or a festival or even a whole country, well, is there not a danger that you just end up opposing illiberal ideas with illiberal actions? And do you really change opinions and attitudes by just shutting up those who offend you? Do you not risk giving those who share the opinions and attitudes of the offending artist – or the character the artist has chosen to play – a firmer resolve to hold their bad beliefs?

So, like Clancy himself said, “I’m not defending [Tyler’s] OLD lyrics”, but I don’t see how a blunt ban, let alone a belated blunt ban, achieves anything for anyone. Whatever Theresa may think.

Though, all that said, British radio should still have banned ‘Blurred Lines’. And if you want to know why, well, you’ll have to wait until I restage my Edinburgh Fringe show in London, and then I’ll tell you.