The Banality of People

Many days I get up and turn on the internet machine and don’t want to be complicit in its hyper-tribalism, or the thousand shocks your individual conscience suffers if you stray from the movie times and museum hours pages. The internet promised breath-taking horizons of information, but social media presents them to us through prisms whose value  and accuracy we question at our own peril. Messages with any nuance, that pay respects to ethical gray areas, get shredded by rhetorical yes-no questions.

Today, I’m guessing Leslie Rasmussen feels the same. She’s the drummer for an underground rock trio of sisters from Dayton, Ohio called The Good English. The Good English’s website is down right now, and a web search about it shows a series of similar news items: Show cancelled. Show cancelled. Dropped from the bill.


Rasmussen happened to grow up in a suburb of Dayton, and knew a guy named Brock Turner since elementary school. When Turner got convicted of the rape at Stanford this spring, Rasmussen wrote a letter to Judge Aaron Persky to vouch for Turner’s character, to try making a distinction between Turner’s crime and a woman “getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car,” to blame the crime on binge drinking of both perp and victim, and to ask for leniency. Why? Because that’s what friends do.

After the sentence was announced, the extraordinary victim’s statement made its way around, a document that will be read and re-read for years, and rightly so. It made people angry and wishing they could do something, and just then Rasmussen’s letter got released (She says she never thought it would be public.), and now people are parsing the lapses in her moral reasoning to try to determine whether she’s fit to play drums at the Rumba Café in Columbus.

It came to my attention this morning because a friend approvingly posted the news that several clubs in Brooklyn that are holding a music fest this weekend have announced that they won’t be letting The Good English play. I guess that was inevitable given the climate full of comments like this: “Please cancel your upcoming performance of rape apologists The Good English. Women are not safe around women who think rape trials are a political stunt.”

“Since when did girl bands start supporting rapists? They are an embarrassment and offense to your line up. I look forward to seeing you’ve resolved the situation, aka dropped ’em,” said one Yelp-esque customer. “I hope your career crash and burns.” “Fuck this band of no-talent rape apologists!” “Who brainwashed them into thinking rape was okay?” “I really hope the Ballroom [Beachland Ballroom & Tavern, in Cleveland] cancels the Good English concert. I love the values of this venue and I know her words can’t possibly align with those values.”

Where do we start unbundling the ironies? What kind of people are we if we need the bar where we throw back a few beers and listen to indie rock to “align with our values”? Do we look to rock and roll – not just rock and roll, its drummers! – for moral guidance? And is it really necessary to heap public shame on a 20-year-old woman in the name of protecting women?

Watching this clip from a show The Good English did in Nashville last year…

…I wonder how my own 20-year-old self would have reacted, to the rape issue, and to Leslie Rasmussen’s letter, not to the music.

At 20, I admit, I’d have joined the shaming. It feels good to be in a mob. At least it’s something you can do when you’re on the political losing end, and people who take women’s rights seriously do take the Stanford verdict (a lenient sentence for a privileged defendant) as a big loss. So what do we do? We purify the tribe by ostracizing those who’ve stepped out of line. We can’t change the sentence, but we can register our disapproval by preventing a drummer who put her friendship before social justice from taking the stage in Greenpoint.

By 25 I’d have had a deeper answer. I’d have heard enough hard luck stories, had morning coffee with mentally ill people enough times, and had a few epiphanies in theaters, cinemas, and yes, rock clubs to know that life is complicated. It isn’t right, I’d have reasoned – I mean, the victim was unconscious, after all – but they are childhood friends, and you’ve got to make some allowances for that, and she didn’t think it was public, so where’s the shame button for people who violate trust by leaking documents?

This many years later I see one big difference: when I was 20 there was no internet! Typing a letter to the editor was a real pain in the ass, and the public reaction time allowed for a lot more breathing room. There was political correctness, to be sure, and a pack mentality that set in extra hard when scrambling for consolation prizes, but the mechanism for creating that pack was a lot less efficient, and its effects less absolute, than it is today.

I’m guessing that by changing their band name The Good English will figure out some creative path forward from this, and I wish them a good time playing some rock and roll at home this weekend. Surrounded by their sisters. And most of all I wish them time.