By Elise Kei-Rahn
Trinity College has set a precedent for artistic censorship on our campus by removing Action Bronson as our headliner.
Trinity College had the opportunity to turn the contention of Bronson’s 2011 songs, “Consensual Rape” and “Brunch” into a meaningful discussion on our campus. You see, Bronson wrote these songs from an absurdist viewpoint: they aren’t meant to be taken at face value, and they actually address difficult topics that we often don’t discuss. “Consensual Rape” is an oxymoron—rape is never consensual. Bronson wrote this song in 2011 and has never performed it live to date. He’s made public, formal apologies regarding the content of some of his work, stating that he does not condone sexual violence, and he was also under contract to not perform during his time at Trinity. After the George Washington University revoked an invitation for their 2016 Spring Fling concert, Bronson and his team issued a public, formal apology regarding the content of some of his work, stating that he does not condone sexual violence.
To state that Bronson is a misogynist is a difficult issue to discuss. Was I uncomfortable watching Bronson’s “Brunch” when he calls his dead ex-girlfriend a “stupid c–t” and “scumbag b—h” before he stabs her, tears out a lock of her hair, spits on her, and yells at her again? Yes, this behavior is misogynistic. On the other hand, the majority of Bronson’s work is relatively tame compared to most rappers. Examining Bronson’s public reveals a jovial rapper and chef who cooked and performed his way across the country. I encourage you to watch an episode of his show, “Fuck, that’s Delicious,” produced under the auspices of VICE media, or his appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers; this is the Bronson I’m a fan of. By removing Bronson, Trinity has also made a statement that we believe people don’t have the capacity to change.
Some students have been vocal about Bronson’s removal not being an issue about free speech or censorship. Rather, they argue that Action Bronson being asked to perform at Trinity is a privilege. Bronson’s performance would have been a privilege because Trinity is a private institution. He is not Richard Serra, being told to remove “Tilted Arc” because public workers at a federal building didn’t like the statue’s aesthetic. I wouldn’t even label Bronson’s artistry even close to the level of mastery of any such censored artist. At public institutions, restrictions on speech and expression violate the First Amendment, but at most private institutions like Trinity, these limitations only reduce students’ academic freedom.
There has been a recent rise in the college community to inhibit such expression. This past year, my own short film featuring a friend’s rap song was censored in our class’s presentation at Vernon Social because it contained the word “b—h” and “f–k.” Other than these two words, my professor did not have an issue with the content of the video. I argued that by eliminating these words from the song, the artist’s intent would not be accurately conveyed. Ultimately, I was only allowed to show my video to our class, not at a college event. This decision can be seen as in line with Trinity’s “Yellow Light” rating from the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education. This means that our college has policies that “restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.” Conducted in 2005, their most recent survey of college and university policies reveals that approximately 55 percent of American institutions have speech codes in place that can prohibit what should be protected speech. FIRE has also counted about 260 such “disinvitations” of speakers invited to college campuses since 2000, with half of these cases occurring before 2009. Some speakers chose to withdraw themselves due to threats, while others’ invitations were indeed revoked by institutions. At least 40% of these efforts were successful—this means the speaker did not give his or her intended speech after said contention.
I applaud those who came forth with a petition that elicited such a strong response. I understand the points of your own petition and I don’t discredit many of the points you’ve made. Women’s stories regarding sexual assault or mistreatment can be easily manipulated and embellished by the greater public, the media, and sometimes the schools themselves. Media expectations of women discredit self-esteem and create hyper-censorious association between one’s self and their manifestation. Women are under constant scrutiny as sexual objects or toys. We patrol each other’s attractiveness and behavior to the same degree that men evaluate females based on their looks. Thus, every pair of eyes is always directed towards women.
Trinity had a rather brazen reaction to this petition—Bronson was removed as our headliner within 24 hours. Many students have raised the question of how many Trinity students—not alumni, faculty, staff, or friends of the school—actually signed the petition. This information has yet to be calculated, but Trinity could have conducted its own official survey sent out to each student’s email to try to gauge the campus’s climate. My opinion is that Trinity failed to handle this in a manner that addresses every student’s right to voice their concerns regarding Bronson. Trinity’s response to Bronson’s invitation cultivated self-affirming groups on campus that have polarized each other’s opinions. It’s this polarization that will do harm to the advancement of a college that I know has the capacity to effectively deal with and discuss consequential societal affairs.