Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Michelle Shocked controversy's hidden past

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Michelle Shocked
The controversy suddenly surrounding Michelle Shocked may seem to have come out of nowhere, but a look at past incidents suggests a pattern of ongoing insensitivities toward minority issues.

For anyone who hasn't yet heard about it, the once-celebrated alternative folksinger's profile has dramatically risen in the wake of anti-gay remarks reportedly made at a San Francisco performance on Sunday. The Change.org organization claims its petition launched by LGBT rights activist John Becker has resulted in promoters pulling the plug on nine of the artist's upcoming performances. (Colorado's Telluride Bluegrass Festival is still weighing its decision, citing a 20-year relationship with Shocked as reason to avoid a rush to judgment.)

Yet for Shocked, this latest outburst isn't as out-of-character as it may seem.

Early on in her career, the alt-folk singer and her then-husband Bart Bull stirred up considerable publicity by likening hip-hop artists to minstrel show performers.

And then there was her trivialization of slavery: In the mid-90s, Shocked filed a $1 million lawsuit against her label, invoking the anti-slavery 13th Amendment as justification for release from her record contract.

Fans of the singer-songwriter may also be surprised by her characterization of black speech patterns at the end of this excerpt from a 2011 New York Magazine profile:

"Shocked spent a few years living in New Orleans, where the congregation called her 'our unique sister.' They vaguely knew she was a singer but weren’t sure what type. Then one day, Shocked appeared as a question on Jeopardy!—Alex Trebek identified her as having sued her record company by citing the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The church’s phone started ringing off the hook: 'Pastor, pastor, Sister Shocked on Jeopardy!'"

And while it's less outrageous than the "God hates fags" statement Shocked supposedly made onstage this week, her views on the issue have been circulating since at least 2008, when Edge Dallas ran an interview with her headlined "Michelle Shocked believes being gay is a sin."

All that said, Shocked's disconcerting behavior still needs to be viewed in the context of a career that includes involvement in progressive events like the all-woman Lilith Fair, widely acclaimed Grammy-nominated albums, and collaborations with soul and blues legends like Pop Staples and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. It may also be worth noting that, according to her bio, the artist was committed by her mother to a mental institution and underwent a series of shock treatment that would subsequently inspire her stage name.

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