View From The Side: Tanner Ross, Ten Walls And Political Nightmares


Stonewall, widely considered to be the site of the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights.

We can’t dance around sexual prejudice.

June was an odd month for verbal escapades and political correctness in the dance music community, largely spurned on by the Ten Tanner Ross Walls incidents. Yet, in the aftermath, it feels as if it was just entertainment as usual, mostly people yelling at each other across the internet expanse in various text exchanges. Repressed feelings came to the forefront and it became kind of hard to watch. Some didn’t understand why they were angry, others didn’t realize why they should be, but everyone quickly moved on (or so we thought), until a new press release apology made the rounds with all the usual suspects, and the community was once again forced to confront the depressingly gray and somber image of Marijus Adomaitis (Ten Walls) and his beady black eyes in their feeds. Tanner Ross issued a more immediate response posing in a photo buddy-buddy with Derrick Carter, which was apparently enough to effectively forget about that instance and all was forgiven (kind of like progressive organizations making sure they always have that one black lesbian feminist consultant for style points). I’d previously written the majority of what follows bellow, but didn’t really feel like further rubbing in what was already a pretty nasty stain. It looks like the media were merely reporting it for its sensational news value, the same reason Donald Trump is sitting serious in any polls, without any of them providing much commentary of their own. They rather opted to air it out for the community to weigh in on and make it clear where they stand, a display which was overall heartening and seemed to have about as much consensus and head nodding agreement as the recent Democratic Debate: “Unacceptable,” noted… but with this second wave, it begs the question: is this really news anymore or is it just a well established source of contention, and therefor good traffic? It feels as though not much progress has been made and rehashing it again without any meaningful dialogue isn’t going to get us to the promised land.

So, in light of there still not being much intelligent thought given to the subject beyond the rare moment of grace in comment sections, there are some things we need to talk about, they range from the basics to the more subtle dynamics not everyone might be aware of. To be clear, my interest in both these artists prior to, and immediately after, their outburst was, and remains, nonexistent. What I do care about is the ideology they expose and the outdated social constructs the ones trying to defend them can reliably be seen enabling in their wake. It’s another instance of Kim Davis styled defenders to the rescue.

Let’s start with the basics: the dance music industry is exactly that, a very serious industry these days (estimated at $6.9 billion by some accounts — although SFX is making it look like a joke in the stock exchange). Like most large growth markets with so many jobs and money being pumped in, there are ethics and a standard of professionalism to adhere to. However, unlike most, dance music’s culture comes from a past engrained with certain deeply rooted values that go beyond such basic courtesies as not sexually harassing your industry peers — which makes for an uncomfortable work environment in any field — but we’ll tackle these more intrinsic ideas later. Social responsibility and conscious business practices are in vogue today and artists, like politicians (go Bernie Sanders, go!), would do well to make note. After all, they are businesses too and their large, public platforms make them a deserving target for being held to a higher standard. Because they deal in the human condition, any artist worth their salt should also be interested in a just and sustainable world, while functioning with a higher level of awareness and making sure their actions are of benefit to the world only makes them a better artist.

Ten Walls and Tanner Ross didn’t get the memo. For some reason, in the heat of summer, Ten Walls thought it worth everyone’s time to share an anecdote on Facebook about an experience with a colleague who was trying to get him to be more tolerant of the gay community, writing, “When I asked him ‘what would you do if you realized that your 16-year-old son’s browny (anus) is ripped by his boyfriend?’ Well he was silent.” Notice the triumphant emphasis on silence — actually the awkward result of being subject to harassment. In Tanner Ross’ case, he targeted a Resident Advisor writer on Twitter because of their bad review of another artist’s album. Juvenile statements like “I was doing my dissertation at Fabric with Craig Richards before you came in someone’s ass” and other sexually crass derivatives are an outright attack and there’s nothing acceptable about it (clearly if it led the recipient to reporting it on the platform for abuse). For those that are not a fan of Ten Wall’s music, the unintended irony of what Tanner Ross’ words implied when his apology acknowledged feeling caught up in the far more vile shit storm of his predecessor is worth a laugh, saying, “Being compared to Ten Walls deeply saddens me” (to which we’ll imply he meant musically too). Regardless of the content in Tanner Ross’ case, it’s still a despicable attempt to make someone think twice about exercising their right to voice a dissenting opinion without harassment. All of this plays out within the mass communications theory of the “spiral of silence,” posited by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974. Essentially, people are aware of popular opinion, avoid behaviors that lead to isolation, and are less likely to speak up when their opinion is in the minority out of a fear for the aforementioned aversion. At the most basic level, Jamie xx, the artist whose album was in question, is a media darling and that would place Resident Advisor’s rating in the minority. Social media has long been proposed as an alternative source for dialogue that would be more free from the spiral of silence, and this can be true where anonymity is concerned, but a Pew Research Center poll shows that people are less likely to speak out on social media when their view is unfavorable and that this even spills into their resolve during face-to-face communications, because of how they view it within their social networking sphere (nobody has told Trump and his xenophobic supporters though — or maybe America is just that racist). Why? “We speculate that social media users may have witnessed those with minority opinions experiencing ostracism, ridicule or bullying online, and that this might increase the perceived risk of opinion sharing in other settings.

As it is Andrew Ryce's (the writer who was targeted) job to give his opinion on music for various publications, this is a very real part of his livelihood. So at the very least, the irony is lost on the customary wave of commenters echoing that it is the media “ruining careers” that always seems to follow the reporting of these instances. The blame lies solely on the artist themselves for creating hostile environments for fans, media, and peers. Then there's always the reliable lot that feels a direct attack on the freedom of speech and are quick to voice their concerns that these bigots have the right to be vocally bigoted, and that anyone who would dare hold them accountable is the real demon. They certainly must be Americans trying to police and correct the rest of the world on their First Amendment rights (that don't even apply because that terminology is a United States thing). Basically, you look dumb shouting it on the World Wide Web, which is something we certainly have the right to do; we can say stupid shit as much as we like, but that doesn't stop people from questioning our intelligence and treating us a little bit slower, now does it? Maybe if you liked science as much as you claim to love freedom, you'd be able to apply Newton's Third Law here: every reaction… (even First Amendment ones!) equal and opposite reaction. Any ensuing peanut gallery only serves to reinforce that the voices of those actually emotionally affected by the content remain silent now, and in the future. Common knowledge provides that there will be professional consequences to your words and actions — Bill Clinton got impeached for letting off a load for fuck's sake. Artists should always conduct themselves with these repercussions in mind — or, you know, try being a better person in the first place. Even at the most innocent level, Ten Walls and Tanner Ross would still both deserve anything that resulted from their actions: all the contract pulls, the cancellations, and lost representations. Dance music is a political beast, so shape up if you're one of those who so choses to use your music platform for moral stumping.

Maybe if the artists’ apologies weren’t always so lackluster after these incidences, then it would be more believable that these were momentary lapses, but rather their retractions have only served to further hammer in just how wrong they are. It’s the same when Republicans are unwilling to admit that they can’t find the clitoris in regards to a basic understanding of the female anatomy when commenting on rape policy (looking at you Todd Akin). Ten Walls' second attempt at an apology months later was hilariously paraphrased by a commenter on the RA forum as, “I’m not homophobic, I just say homophobic things and don’t understand why I do it and then I feel sad when people get mad at me for them.” This same summation can be applied to Tanner Ross’ response too. Even if they don’t consider themselves to be a reflection of their poor behavior, both claiming their true self is not as what was depicted, they still exist in a society that encourages it and they’ve allowed themselves to fall victim. That’s an excuse and not a defense. If you think there’s anything justifiable about sexual harassment, then good luck on holding a steady job, much less an accomplished career. The appropriately named Representative Anthony Weiner got caught with his pants down in dick pics on social media in 2011 and the distraction was so big (the size of the scandal, not his cock) that he couldn’t continue to represent his constituents. Yet, he returned to politics and was back at it in the New York mayoral race in 2013, this time sexting much more craftily under the porn pseudonym of “Carlos Danger.” It seems old habits die hard (pun intended). With the basics firmly established, it’s time to move on to the deeper, far more meaningful contexts involved. The next level involves the ability to understand complex issues and empathize with others, but also shows there are some in society who clearly don’t have the capacity to do so.

In an industry with largely acknowledged gay and minority roots — two of dance music’s most indispensable figures, both Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles got their start at the Continental Baths — we’re all complicit in overtaking a culture that originally developed in shelters for these groups. We owe it to ourselves, and to them, to make sure that we uphold a community that harbors diverse voices, not one that silences, lest we welcome in uniformity and lose the vibrancy our music and clubs were originally known for. Here is an exact, and remarkably succinct, quote from a commenter on Facebook that we’ll use as a catch all for those who share the same sentiments (often less favorably): “Find something more significant to write about, this isn’t news! Way to ruin someone’s career. Move on…” Poor straight little artists’ rights activist, so tired of watching the evil media ruin their careers over topics of such little importance to your heterosexual world? Do you ever stop to think that there are those who have to spend a life time dealing with this kind of harassment and prejudice that has apparently only just now briefly interupted your regular scheduled newsfeed filled with likely mostly apparently truly mindless shit. Or the “everyone has said dumb shit every once and a while.” Exactly! So, using logic, if enough people are doing that, and it’s almost always directed at minority groups that society holds a stigma against, then it adds up and can be an everyday thing for those targeted. It’s all unwelcome in a community that formed originally as a bastion of freedom for people to be who they want to be (unless, of course, they’re assholes).

And here some will complain about such exposure being negatively driven as if, in doing so, they’re contributing to anything good? One can not help but to wonder how many of them skip over the positive examples of dialogue about these topics happening in the media, because if they were paying attention in the least bit they’d be far more aware of the plight of gay and minority communities. For instance, anyone with more than a passing interest (admittedly most comment with tabloid like abandon) about gender and sexuality in dance music should be well aware of Terre Thaemlitz’s work, better known as DJ Sprinkles, who is an outspoken artist on these issues. Her extensive documentation of her experiences regarding such subjects makes directing people’s attention to a singular sample of her ideas feel wrong. So make no mistake about the excerpt below, pulled from an interview used for what is by now an extensive and critically viral resource written by Luis-Manuel Garcia titled “An alternate history of sexuality in club culture,” this is merely a jump off point:

“Speaking from my own experiences as a youth, in which electronic music was often times the soundtrack for spaces of social and physical isolation, I am increasingly aware of how my own experiences with electronic music are largely incomprehensible to those around me. I guess that’s why I invest so much time and effort into documentation, texts, etc., to frame those less considered contexts that determined the peculiar ways in which audio media socially circulated around some of us.” —DJ Sprinkles [source: LMGM]

People whining of media lynch mobs seem to fall into this bubble, incapable of seeing the reality of others’ experiences as being different to theirs. Possibly they’re harboring fears that one day they might be next to be exposed for their own functionally hidden bigotry. Their insufferable need to chime in with misplaced sympathies is not really baffling if you look at it under the spiral of silence theory. The only thing that’s a threat to society’s climate of opinion is reference groups. These explain how Ten Walls, coming from a backwards Lithuanian country as far as LBGT rights are concerned, and Tanner Ross, a slight product of America’s “bro” culture, can act out in ways that go against the majority held opinion that prejudice towards gays is something we want to put behind us. Within the theory, they’re classed as the “hardcores,” those that hold onto their existing ways despite a shift in social norms. Any change itself was caused by “avant-gardes,” those who challenge the paradigm with new and unpopular opinions — a word and practice that could be tied to much of dance music’s earliest beginnings. Gay rights didn’t magically go from minority to majority, a lot of hard won battles had to ensue in the fight. This type of stiff resistance is a standing monument to the past acceptance and prevalence of these prejudiced thoughts, the remnants of which are still only recent history.

Here’s some real news for them: people of privilege better get used to being made aware of the marginalized's plight until the stigma changes. It’s 2015 and marriage equality has just passed, but as a friend recently remarked, “Laws don't change mentality.” I even previously called it when I compared Ten Walls to the Ayatollah of Iran and the Lithuanian producer's deeply rooted hatred of gays to the Iranian's denial of Israel's legitimacy to exist, these are things that can't, don't, and won't just change despite political concessions that they should or could. Just look at Kim Davis and her clan who still believe they hold the power to prevent two people from expressing their love within a free nation's framework of law, that such ignorance is a rallying point proves opinion is tough to shift.The battle against the mindset that allows us to deny others rights, to even fight against them in their requests, is far from over, it’s just been largely driven beneath the surface by a reversal of the spiral of silence (and good riddance to the overt hatred!). Those that are unable to see beyond their narrow experiences of the world, pawning it off as “other people’s problems” as if it were a Naughty By Nature song, are the very ones that make the media’s hyper-focus necessary. The forced discussions provide small building blocks of progress that can hopefully be used to create opportunities that draw attention to the much larger problems plaguing us. There’s always cries of “clickbait” and even “dirt bag journalism,” two things we equally despise, but this is far from that; this is giving shame to those that have none, shining light where there is ignorance, and holding a mirror up to the dominant groups tightly gripping their unequal social power whilst making them realize their subjugation of others will simply no longer slide in the far more just world we’re heading towards.

The last thing that needs to be addressed is the hang up of definitions surrounding what is or isn’t homophobia. The responses to the outbursts of Ten Walls and Tanner Ross proven that the word is misused and certainly contentious. The hate Ten Walls spewed was as close to homophobia it gets — his prejudice against homosexuals lead to a hypothetical fear of their “breed” molesting little boys. There are some that have focused on Tanner Ross’ attack and tried to justify it as wrong, but something other than homophobia. And they’re right, to an extent. What Tanner Ross did is undeniably a result of heterosexism and flat out sexual prejudice, but not homophobia. He clearly doesn’t suffer from a clinical and debilitating fear of homosexuals, if anything he was obsessing over and even “unknowingly” soliciting one in admittedly creepy fashion. Yet, this is only if we’re going by the shift in terminology being adopted by the more scientific community for analysis purposes — which the majority are not, so, colloquially put, it’s homophobia. But it’s safe to assume that those standing in the corner with indignation at these instances being called cases of homophobia don’t know what’s distinguishing the exception they’re trying to make; they just don’t want to see others from backgrounds like theirs, with views they once shared or possibly still do, torn down in the public court of opinion. In an informative discourse on the definitions of homophobia, heterosexism, and sexual prejudice, a faculty site featuring the work of Dr. Gregory Herek, professor of Psychology at the University of California at Davis, lays out the differences and specifically explains the dynamic at play:

“Heterosexism began to be used as a term analogous to sexism and racism, describing an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community (Herek, 1990). Using the term heterosexism highlights the parallels between antigay sentiment and other forms of prejudice, such as racism, antisemitism, and sexism.”
[source: UC Davis]

For those falsely concerning themselves with being politically correct in regards to what is or isn’t homophobia, the whole site deserves a read. At the societal level, the world we live in is overrun with the type of heterosexism which allows someone like Tanner Ross to stigmatize homosexual sex acts and use them to put someone else down, and still be defended by significant numbers of people. When speaking about specific cases though, we’re dealing with an instance of sexual prejudice, a hostile attitude towards a specific social group. Given the power structure of our current society, this is usually reserved for heterosexual biases against homosexuals. Still referring to Dr. Herek’s definitions, the biggest reason for calling it sexual prejudice is that, “Unlike homophobia, it conveys no a priori assumptions about the origins, dynamics, and underlying motivations of antigay attitudes.” This means any defense of the artist becomes absolutely moot, as trying to qualify assumptions about Ten Walls or Tanner Ross’ motivations, something we can’t truly know of with out having personal experience, is merely an unnecessary source of debate distracting from the point.

The simple fact of the matter is that all prejudice is unacceptable; even more so when considering the open, welcoming community that the whole of dance music considers itself to be (but does not always live up to). In recent years it seems the culture has grown too big, attracting a lot of the wrong crowd, the very same people it had previously once served as a safe haven from for many. Let this be a reminder that the “house nation” involves a pledge of allegiance, or a pact as Rennie Foster has previously put it. It is not an all-inclusive community, and it honestly never has been, its roots are as a shelter for the marginalized, those without a voice. So clearly our parties have been infiltrated and there are some that need to be stamped out, much like the Tea Party segment of the Republican caucus, lest they’re okay with losing any semblance of credibility. Club culture and the dance music community doesn’t need to be rid of its LGBT, but of its hateful. Get to learning or get off the dance floor, you’re wasting valuable space.

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