Few have witnessed the perils of public criticism as directly as Gabe Saporta has during the past few weeks. During a mid-May show in Kansas City, Missouri, the Cobra Starship frontman was heckled by an unruly crowd member who allegedly shouted at the band and used obscene gestures throughout Cobra's set. Saporta returned the favor by singling out the perpetrator and went on a three-minute tirade spewing insults like, "You're fat, no girls are going to talk to you, go home." Video of the verbal beatdown immediately landed online and Saporta practically provided the scene with its answer to the infamous Michael Richards rant that went viral in 2006. Saporta was then inundated with comments and messages from viewers who disapproved of his temporary lack of restraint, forcing him to write a lengthy blog in which he said, "I might be onstage, but I'm still a person. You can't come and talk shit to me and not expect to get it back."
Negativity is nothing new within our scene. Just ask Gym Class Heroes vocalist Travie McCoy about his run-in with an angry fan during Warped Tour in 2008. When TERA MELOS guitarist NICK REINHART encounters hecklers during live performances, he's developed his own countermeasure. "I will turn my amp up as loud as it can and turn on every pedal I have," he says. "I'll make the most earache-inducing noise I possibly can and let that ring out for literally minutes, even if it clears the room. I should subscribe to the 'don't let it bother you' mentality, but when somebody is actively trying to ruin our show, my instinct is to flip it around on them. I just kind of snap."
But thanks to the rise of the internet, negativity now exists within the scene in a way that is much more tangible, permanent and anonymous. Message boards can seemingly be a breeding ground for contempt and often the most belligerent critical voices are the ones that receive the most attention. It's become so bad that Circa Survive guitarist Colin Frangicetto wrote a blog last month announcing that any hurtful comments posted on the band's website or social networking sites would be deleted. He wrote, "It is simply us taking action to clear negative energy and bullshit hate mongering within our digital homes. We have always been a band that thrives on love/positivity and is in this game to bring joy to others so it kills us when people are using hurtful/misogynistic/racist/homophobic language towards each other while supposedly discussing our music." In an interview later that day, Frangicetto clarified, "That blog was strictly about people being respectful of each other. It's like the same thing if [we] were playing, and people were beating the shit out of each other. We don't like being a catalyst of negative energy.
Frangicetto brings up an interesting point: Should the rules be the same online as they are in "real" life? Although hundreds of users berated Saporta's impulsive response to this one event, nothing that the heckler or the vocalist said or did was illegal. For musicians, dealing with criticism is part of the job description. Heckling has likely existed as long as music itself--or at least since Lynyrd Skynyrd released "Freebird."<
This already tricky territory would be much more treacherous if one bad move on a band member's part could result in legal repercussions, and a proposed Louisiana state law could be a harbinger of change to come. The cyberbullying bill declares that "any internet communication with the intent to coerce, abuse, torment, intimidate, harass, embarrass or cause emotional distress to a person under the age of 17" is punishable by law. If the Cobra Starship incident had occurred in the state of Louisiana, if the heckler had been under the age cutoff, and if Saporta would have ranted online at the heckler instead of onstage, he may be subject to a fine up to $500 and could have been in prison for up to six months.
ATTACK ATTACK! drummer ANDREW WETZEL is another artist who has been in the middle of heated online flame wars. "With MySpace and Facebook, there's an environment where you can literally say anything about anybody and not suffer any consequences," he says. "If people want to talk shit on you, they're going to do it. But you will never ever win. If you try to have a battle of words with a kid on the internet, it goes nowhere." Attack Attack! have arguably received more negative attention than positive due to mixed views on their "crabcore" genre and also a nasty online battle with their former vocalist, Austin Carlile. "There will always be people who really hate what you're doing," says Wetzel. "And they'll always tell you because it only takes 10 seconds to type, 'Your band sucks' and then hit send."
In the case of this particular law, Wetzel is skeptical of any enforcement, saying, "There's no police officer standing on every corner of the web." It would then ultimately make pressing charges a move that would be directly linked back to the band. "Seeking revenge of any sort is pointless," Wetzel says. "The only way to fight [negativity] is to not let it get to you and turn that energy into motivation to play better and do whatever you do better than you do it now."
But should there really be laws against online harassment while doing the same thing in person is perfectly legal? Should there be any restrictions on free speech at all? Wetzel thinks that regardless, nothing will effectively stop negativity--especially within music. But he offers a viewpoint to other artists who encounter online hecklers. "There are really only two people involved in a negative comment: the person who leaves it and the person who it's aimed toward. Of the two of us, who is the one traveling the world doing what they love and who is the one using their mom's computer to try to hurt somebody's feelings so they can feel better about themselves?" alt