“FUCK THE ORWELLS” was the phrase emphatically capitalized across the vast expanses of the internet over the past week after an indieheads subreddit exposing the alleged sexual misconduct, rape, and acts of violence committed by three out of the five members of the Chicago band went viral. This was followed up by subsequent twitter threads and a google doc compiling testimonies, screenshots of personal conversations, and photos from varying accounts and venues that support these allegations. This all came to light after Chicago venue, Metro, announced they were hosting the band this November. The announcement was immediately met with responses like, “Don’t book abusers,” and “The Orwells are rapists!” (which is also graffitied in many a Chicago women’s restroom stall). Members of Twin Peaks, who are former tour mates of The Orwells, also took to Twitter to stand as allies to the survivors of the band’s abuse and condemning The Orwells and their actions. The Chicago music scene as a whole has shown their full-fledged support in the exposure of this open secret they’ve been keeping within their community for the past few years.
If this was common knowledge for years though, why did this all come to light now and so suddenly? And why had nothing been done about it previously? We’ve seen a few bands and artists take the fall for their actions (Brand New, R.Kelly (but did he?), Sorority Noise, Ameer Vann from Brockhampton, Melanie Martinez), but there is clearly much more of this abuse occurring behind the scenes than we hear about publicly. Since the information regarding The Orwells started to go public, several more artists have been called out for their actions including Summer Salt, The Symposium, members of Walk the Moon, BØRNS, Atlas Genius, Jared Leto, and Mac Demarco. It’s like we’ve been silently protecting the rotting remains of these pieces of garbage and we finally decided it was okay to light them on fire.
Sexual assault happens in the music industry because the culture allows it. It’s similar to when sexual assault occurs in frats — there’s this boys’ club, this “brotherhood,” that turns a blind eye to what is going on because that’s what is the most convenient. I was scouring the internet while this was all coming to light and was deeply disappointed when I would come across bands or photographers whose work I greatly respect and find their former tacit endorsement of The Orwells, whether that was through blog posts or Instagram photos of them together. Music photographer CJ Harvey (@cjharvey2) reposted a screenshot (original source unknown) on her Instagram story saying,
“To the men who road the coattails of the abusers: stop making this about yourselves. If you want to express your sympathy to actual victims and renounce your affiliation, then be prepared to admit and apologize for being a bystander/supporter in the past. I suggest every person reading this reflects on their own actions and on how they can make women feel safer in the music scene and in daily life.” (“also trans/nonbinary/poc!!!!!!” was added by another reposter).
It’s not just men within the industry either. There are a lot of butt-hurt white men on Twitter who are mourning The Orwells disbandment and screaming about the lack of “due process” and how this is a result of the “new McCarthyism” we’re living in. This is obviously part of the problem. Some people would clearly rather support certain musicians because they made one half decent track in 2014 that they want to occasionally listen to on the iPod shuffle that’s collecting dust in the space between their nightstand and wall instead of dealing with the uncomfortable reality that they assaulted countless underage girls and young women. The fact that there are people who would rather live in their uninformed, distorted version of reality, allows artists to get away with this shit. Like I sure as hell didn’t hear anything about Mac Demarco filming his friend jacking off in front of minors several years ago and the rest of his fanbase is acting like they haven’t either.
There’s been a great deal of inaction and a drastic delay in action in regards to the callout of The Orwells and their respective company. Although from an outside perspective, these sort of things might seem clear cut, there’s a massive grey area about what our individual roles are in these situations. You can’t come forward with a survivor’s story until after they have made it public information or given you permission, but then are you complicit in allowing potential assault to continue if you say nothing about someone who you know to be a threat to the well-being of others? What can we do as bystanders to protect both survivors and people who could be in danger of potential abuse?
If anything, the demise of The Orwells has proven that the internet has leveled the playing field — there is no barrier to entry between the fan and the artist anymore. If you have a platform or influence, whether that is as a band, a venue, a publication, or a fan, you can stop supporting artists who are pieces of shit. Don’t book them, don’t review their record, don’t tour with them, don’t go to their shows. You can say nothing and say a lot by your actions and refusal to associate with certain people or groups. We have more power as individuals than you’d think.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, there are resources like RAINN as well as the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault where you can call directly and talk through your experience with a trained staff member, get medical information, legal information as it pertains to your community, and information on local resources where you can find longterm support for healing and recovery.