The "Michelle Shocked Thing": How SF Weekly Got Swept Up Into a Media Maelstrom

It began as no other story in this newspaper: With Todd Vogt, the publisher and president of SF Weekly's parent company, walking into the office SF Weekly shares with the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Bay Guardian and announcing an idea. Michelle Shocked, the lauded alt-folk singer who'd become a persona non grata after making some homophobic-sounding comments at a Yoshi's S.F. show in March, wanted to buy an apologetic ad in our special Pride issue. Vogt proposed asking Shocked to do a free concert along with it. My editors and I saw an opportunity to follow up on a local story that had exploded into a national controversy. Any conversation with her was likely to be difficult, but certain to be interesting. And somewhere in there, Shocked would, presumably, apologize and explain herself.

The package, seen as a whole, had about it the air of a stunt — for SF Weekly, and for her — but my interest was in the story. It wasn't my job to make Shocked look sympathetic, or to apologize for her telling an audience to Tweet that she said, "God hates faggots." I just wanted to interview the woman and write about it.

Shocked and I began discussing plans for an interview. Her first email to me contained a long list of research I was ordered to conduct before speaking with her: radio interviews to listen to, TV interviews to watch, the full transcript of her March 17 comments to read. "I accept that you may be daunted by the workload involved in giving fair consideration to the muckraking and pillory which I have endured," she wrote.

The issue of recording the interview quickly emerged as an obstacle. She wanted me to take notes only, but I insisted on taping it. I wasn't going to interview Michelle Shocked without getting a full, objective account of the conversation. The story of her homophobic rant began with a flurry of charged Tweets and conflicting interpretations. It bloomed from there into a now-familiar Media Controversy, long on emotion, short on reflection. Those who didn't get caught up with the story checked out of the whole thing, assuming she was either a homophobe or a nut and, either way, at the end of her career. For her part, Shocked had been on Twitter three hours every weekday for months already, defending herself. To shed any new light on this thing, I thought the conversation had to be expanded from the bite-sized rhetoric of social media.

Shocked wasn't having it. "Ok, so let's assume you don't really want to go on a pilgrimage for truth," she wrote back. "Soundbytes are your 'talk in trade' [sic]. Fine." Here was a woman whose career had been shattered by 140-character summations of what she'd said over a 23-minute performance and who has been defending herself on that same forum. Now she was claiming that to record an interview was somehow less honest than scribbling notes on the fly. It seemed she had not a desire for truth, but for control.

"I promised Todd I wouldn't be a pain in the ass," she wrote in that email. "You, not so much."


It's worth recalling what actually happened at Yoshi's on March 17, the event that offended and alienated many of her fans, and threw Shocked's already weird mental state into the paranoia I encountered. After a normal show, she came out for an encore, and began by going through the feed of Twitter comments and song requests from the audience. In the full, 23-minute recording of her encore (first posted by our officemates at the Bay Guardian), those are the statements she's reading and responding to. People are laughing. Shocked responds to a Tweet by saying, "Truth be damned, let's go with reality, just for a while." That statement will turn out later to be important, at least for her.

Shortly thereafter, Shocked tells a story about Georgia O'Keeffe, a nonbeliever who brings up God in the context of a mountain she painted. "So it's not too late," Shocked, a born-again Christian, tells the crowd. "You can jump into this Jesus game anytime you want." Then come Shocked's most incendiary comments:

But I was in a prayer meeting yesterday, and you gotta appreciate how scared, how scared, folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point — and I really shouldn't say "their," because it's mine, too — we are nearly at the end of time, and from our vantage point, we're gonna be, uh — I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method — once Prop 8 gets instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint, and forced to marry the homosexuals. I'm pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.

Nervous chuckles. Someone says "What?" Shocked continues in a sweet tone: "You just said you wanted reality. If someone would be so gracious as to please Tweet out, "Michelle Shocked just said, from stage, 'God hates faggots.' Would you do it now?"

The audience is stunned. Voices ask Shocked to clarify her comments: Is she speaking for herself, or voicing others' point of view? Shocked tries to do that, albeit poorly. She goes off-mic (you can still hear her in the recording) to seethe, "I am sick of Christians, filled with hypocrisy, hiding behind the cross!" Then she says a prayer in Spanish.

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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 topcommenter

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

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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