British rapper Slowthai is not in the least bit shy about his political views, either in his songs or on stage. However, his performance at the Mercury Prize ceremony may have gone a tad too far. Yelling ‘f**k Boris Johnson’ is one thing, but Slowthai also flailed around a severed head prop with the aforementioned politician’s likeness.
In May of 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency, comedian Kathy Griffin posed in a now infamous photoshoot with a similarly disturbing effigy, only it was Donald Trump’s image that had been moulded in plastic and dipped in fake blood.
Kathy lost her job at CNN, got placed on the no-fly list, and still gets harassed by strangers more than two years on. She’s been on Hollywood’s blacklist. Slowthai has faced the fury of the Twitterati and a handful of morning show hosts and… that’s about it.
Kathy retracted the photo and apologised. Slowthai is selling t-shirts.
So despite the similar circumstances, why are the reactions so different? Slowthai may have built his artistic brand around political commentary, but Kathy Griffin has also spent her whole career being controversial.
For a start, being hounded by the leader of the free world is obviously going to escalate things. For once, a Trump celeb feud was actually somewhat warranted, but still dude – you should know not to send your millions of devotees after one person. On the other hand, as far as anyone knows, the British PM hasn’t said anything about slowthai’s stunt.
Then there’s the two years of total political chaos creating the perfect storm for this kind of thing. There are plenty of op-eds out there lamenting the ‘normalisation of political violence’, and whilst the severed heads clearly have an artistic purpose, the world has definitely gotten a lot angrier.
There’s no question that brandishing a severed head – even a fake one – is shocking and distasteful. Most of us would agree on that.
Regardless of how you feel about the artists, or the world leaders they mock, or even how they go about it, it’s not exactly fair that one has to fall so much further and harder than the other. Cancel both or neither, cause there’s nothing great about a double standard.