Many in the room had no idea what Shocked had meant to say. "People misinterpreted her ironic comment," Colin Epstein told the Bay Area Reporter afterward. "She didn't mean it. It was her comment on hypocrisy." Others in the crowd were livid. "It was the most homophobic thing I've ever heard," Cindy Icke told the BAR. "It was not irony."

In context, though, it seems that by asking the crowd to Tweet "God hates faggots," Shocked is projecting what she assumes people will take from her words. Effectively, she created the controversy by predicting it. And she was right: Shocked's words, which anticipate a torrent of anger by assuming they'll be taken out of context, are themselves taken out of context. Meanwhile, she lets her original point slip into the vortex.

All nuance was lost when word of Shocked's comments hit the Internet. "Alt-folk Singer Michelle Shocked Goes on Homophobic Rant" became the stock headline. Here, the narrative went, was an artist with a large gay fan-base, a woman who once admitted to sleeping with other women, and a radical progressive who'd been arrested numerous times at protest rallies, who had flipped the switch on her old life so completely that she'd become a gay-hater. It was the kind of precipitous fall that the Internet loves, a storyline so deliciously entertaining that few bothered to really examine it. The storm whirled itself into a national controversy within days. All of Shocked's subsequent U.S. tour dates were canceled. She fueled the furor herself by retweeting her critics and showing up to a Santa Cruz venue alone, dressed all in white, and covered with inscrutable statements in black ink. ("Gimme Wet Not Spit" read the back.)

Then she began a national apology tour. On April 1, Shocked went on Piers Morgan's CNN show to explain herself, and did what the network itself described as a "rambling and confusing" job. Morgan had to ask four times if she was a homophobe before he got a clear denial. Four times! The picture of Shocked that emerges from that interview is of a confounding, crazy woman who relishes a fight. It ends with Shocked quoting her own song lyrics while Morgan tries to shut her up.

Her own written statements were somewhat clearer:

I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else). I said that some of His followers believe that. I believe intolerance comes from fear, and these folks are genuinely scared. When I said "Twitter that Michelle Shocked says 'God hates faggots,' I was predicting the absurd way my description of, my apology for, the intolerant would no doubt be misinterpreted.

But the narrative had been written: The once gay-friendly folk singer Michelle Shocked was now a cruel homophobe. Her attempts to apologize and explain herself were regarded cynically. Her career appeared over. And that's right about where most people — myself included — stopped paying attention.


I just could not believe that recording the interview with her would be such a big deal. People tell me plenty of ugly, unsavory things with the little red light on. Often they request that the juiciest details — the bar fights, break-ups, tenant-landlord disputes — remain off the record, and I respect their wishes. It's the price of getting people to be candid. But Michelle had a paralyzing fear of the microphone.

Or maybe she just wanted to fight.

The cover of Short Sharp Shocked, the singer's 1988 debut studio album, shows her writhing in the arms of riot policeman while being arrested at a protest rally. It's the quintessential Shocked image, illustrating both her activist roots and her love — displayed again and again throughout her career — of being at the center of conflict and controversy.

Shocked was born Karen Michelle Johnston to a Mormon family in Dallas in 1962, and had an upbringing she's described as "white trash." She ran away from home, but her mother had her committed to a mental institution until the insurance money ran out. Shocked left again and rambled around the world, living in Europe and even San Francisco for a time. An English record producer secretly taped her singing and playing guitar around a campfire one night at a folk festival in Texas, and released it; the recording hit No. 1 on the British indie charts. Her first proper album established her as a national star, and won acclaim for its illustrative lyricism and smooth, powerful vocals.

Always a fiery activist, it didn't take long for Shocked to become embroiled in more controversy. In 1990, confirming what many suspected based on her defiant attitude and short hair, Shocked admitted that she was, if not a lesbian, at least bisexual. "I was with my first woman lover about a year and a half ago," she told Chicago's OutLines. "To be honest, the real fear of coming out of the closet... had been if you had certain problems identifying yourself one way or the other." Though she would later marry a man, the writer Bart Bull, many others remember Shocked describing herself at the time as a lesbian.

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20 comments
bluedye33139
bluedye33139

The psychoanalytic term for Shocked's paranoid behavior is "projective identification," in which a person's personality functioning requires certain things from people around him or her, so the person behaves in such a way that pushes people into oppositional or condemnatory behaviour so that the person can explode into a self-defensive meltdown and shriek "You are persecuting me! You are attacking me! See! See!"

Vernet
Vernet

wow.... much worse than anything ms might have said or thought is how various people in this forum argue that not being mainstream makes you irrelevant artistically... citing zeppelin as a counter-example, as if there was any basis for comparison, as if zeppelin would have played yoshi's. these people actually believe that fame is some sort of quality approval seal. they probably own spice girls records and are swayed by catch phrases on special k and toothpaste. so much for the idea that the SF Bay is a place slightly less stupid than others. sad world we live in.

Vernet
Vernet

understandable that the journalist would want to record it and that she wouldn't, given the fray. it's a tough one. interesting how long this article was while mostly talking other written material. it's basically controversy analysis.  michelle shocked is still cool whatever she said, believes. she's eloquent and rambles on, she can confuse you and maybe herself sometimes, who cares? she's not only about making sense. her music gets to be really groovy like some songs on texas campfire tapes and kind hearted woman.  it was just a moment, a single aspect of her life that has little to do with her music overall. the public's feeding frenzy reminds you of the clinton-monica lewinsky scandal. americans are obsessed with sex and religion.  prince, and d'angelo are bonkers because of the sex & religion. jj rousseau supposedly was a wife beater. no need to condone that but no need to focus on it either. just like you don't focus on prince's megalomaniac born again ways or how he and d'angelo make a show of their typically christian ambivalence about sex in their music. shocked's music is not only dear to the homosexual community, the whole thing can be treated as a nonissue unless you've got (like me, obviously) lots of spare time. maybe she'll want to experience some general silence, a paradigm shift, get the verbal communication out of her head, focus on the music. be like the black keys, those guys seem to not get involved with too much analysis. and they're discreet, they don't spill out their guts too much, at least that's the impression they give. it's just a different style, it's not all bad to be a jello biafra or michelle shocked, in fact it's very cool too but it must be draining. maybe she could switch to the understated style of her country blues heroes, simple lyrics, simple metaphors for a while. communicate just through music. in her defense michelle shocked is liable to answer a listener's letter, albeit by hand. i once wrote to her asking something specific about kind hearted woman and she actually sent a postcard back in the mail, how cool is that?  hope this thing blows over eventually and she gets back to touring. she could put new music and videos on patreon.com,  reinvent herself to a new crowd for a while, and see what happens. 

JackJett
JackJett

I always wonder how much $$ a cult level artist like Shocked makes.  I found the story interesting since I have been fascinated with the relationship between media and their subjects since we were all lead to a war with chatter heads from all walks of media.  While in the world of Celebrity, Shocked is not even as relevant as the inventor of the Mood Ring, I found this story interesting as to how the media is even interested in getting in bed with another sexually confused homophobic christian.  Here in Texas, they are a dime a dozen and can be found often 1/2 off....their fucking rocker.

anon
anon

I saw another story about this when it happened, someone claimed that the secret recording of her around a campfire was not not done in that fashion - which if true, seems to fit with her apparent desire to be at the center of controversy


Rojotoro
Rojotoro

Apropos of nothing perhaps, but I remember reading a story about Siouxsie once, and how she said when she was a young English punk she and a bunch of friends had gone over to France I believe, and it was to protest something. Symbolizing her disgust with whatever they were protesting she had decided to dress or don in some form clothing, or a hat with Nazi symbols on it. 

Message being, the people or entity she was protesting were behaving like Nazi's.

But when she got to the protest, a large crowd had gathered and somehow people misinterpreted her reasons for the Nazi symbolism and she ended up getting her ass kicked.

Lesson, if there is one, is to always be careful when reaching for that third rail, what you say, and what you mean can get misunderstood and quickly result in unintended consequences.

All that said M.S. is an also ran, never was, third rate no one. This whole thing reminds me of Pelosi's response yesterday when asked to respond to Michelle Bachman's comments regarding DOMA:

She said "Who cares ?"

Indeed.




Wilson Ww
Wilson Ww

i read the whole article to try and understand the situation better. unfortunately, she still seems like a (difficult) nutter. as a good friend said about her (when the Yoshi's scandal broke) "I never liked that fucktard".

Dean Jones
Dean Jones

It's sad to see the trend of people being stupid and then claiming that their free speech is being impinged or that they are misunderstood. If people remember, Socked went through this back in the 80's when she tried to wear blackface on the cover of her album Arkansas traveler and then wrote a rambling letter included in her CD about the significance of Minstrel Music in the U.S. she's just a nut, and needs help.

Robert la Bohème
Robert la Bohème

Is anyone clicking through five pages of this nonsense? I'm not.

塞繆塞繆
塞繆塞繆

Blah blah! Fuck her! She want us to say it ok! She can screw her self!!!!!

Glen Jasper
Glen Jasper

Short, sharp, shockingly irrelevant.

studiesincrap
studiesincrap

Is it really Twitter's character limit that's the problem? Or is that Michelle Shocked and Todd Vogt, both professional communicators, somehow have no ability to understand how their words will be received by other human brains?

commun5
commun5

Njudah and Chipper:  Check out MShocked's Twitter page and you will see why such an article is necessary to convey the Byzantine qualities of this situation.

Chipper
Chipper

I agree with NJudah, "wow" is about that all that can be said in response to such a self-indulgent and self-referential piece.

Mr. Port should be writing academic semiotic analysis instead of attempting to be a journalist.

njudah
njudah topcommenter

Wow, first the Guardian has their writers writing about themselves, now the Weekly? What happened? When do we get back Actual Journalism?

emily577
emily577

As upsetting and frustrating as this sad chapter has been for myriad reasons, it's important for everyone commenting on it to stick to the facts. It's simply not true that Shocked was "an also ran, never was, third rate no one." You can call her third-rate if you want--that's your opinion. But she was not a "no one." She was big news for being a big talent, and she mattered.

Rojotoro
Rojotoro

@emily577 I guess my response would be relative to what, or whom ?She's hardly a household name, and likely generated the most publicity of her career only as it evaporated for something other than her music. 

I think Led Zeppelin was a musical act that was big, and mattered.

Michelle Shocked ? Not so much.



 

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