In this column, Shawna Potter of War on Women documents their run on the Vans Warped Tour.
Warning: This article contains violence and abusive language.
The second week of Warped Tour has already brought a darkness with it. This week, as the long-running punk band The Dickies were doing their usual shock rock performance, in which frontman Leonard Graves Phillips made jokes about things like how much he loves teen girls and how he would love to snort Viagra off your asses and fuck your daughters, a female acquaintance of ours held up a sign in the front of the crowd that read: "Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men! Punk shouldn't be predatory!" What followed was a long, misogynist tirade directed at her from the singer.
"Kiss it, ya bitch! I have fucked farm animals that were prettier than you, you fucking hog," he shouted on the mic, his words traveling past the crowd, over the field. This elicited some laughs from the audience, who he then led in a chant of: "BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME!" before wrapping up with: "How does it feel? To get shouted away, you cunt? C.U.N.T. Can you spell? You're a fat cunt. Fuck you!"
A video of the rant started circulating online, but it only showed part of it. It went on for over a minute, and was delivered in front of kids as young as 12, teens, families, and an evenly mixed gender audience.
As I mentioned in my last column, I was anticipating this sort of behavior. It's why we agreed to do the tour in the first place. It's why we brought our friends in the organization we co-created, Safer Scenes, along. We want to help rid the Warped Tour of the ugliness it's been plagued with over the years, and to do that we must shine a light on it. But still, I was hopeful that nothing so threatening would happen, that I would have a boring, happy summer with nothing to write about. Expectations aside, having it actually happen was still jarring.
I wish I could laugh it off with some clever joke, like "the Dickies are just boys who are as immature as their name," but they're not boys, they're not immature; they are grown men. And the grown-man lead singer of the Dickies had such a problem with one single woman holding a protest sign during their set (not a group of friends, as he reported), that he threw a tantrum about it.
The anger that erupted in Phillips is always under the surface of men like this, even beneath their onstage characters. They do not like being challenged in any way, especially by women. And they definitely don't equate their right to free speech with anyone else's. In fact, they see others' right to free speech as an affront to their own, and in this case, one to be met with anger and hate. That's not punk. Maybe it used to be. Maybe "fucking shit up" at all costs was exciting and revolutionary in the conservative Reagan era. But now we have Trump, and while the white dudes in power are still conservative, they also look just like the Dickies or Phillips. Bands like this often look and sound exactly like the people they're rallying against—those who hate women and queers and people of color and refugees and people with physical and mental challenges, and they sound just like them to us.
The tirade made me sick in the pit of my stomach; it felt like he was yelling at me. I've been on the receiving end of this terrible anger, deserved only because I was deemed unfuckable to some strange man. To be clear, I am usually fuckable, until I disagree with this stranger or stand up for myself. Then I'm a fucking cunt who he didn't want to fuck anyway.
Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman tweeted that it "was a very unfortunate incident and the tour does not condone this at all, they will no longer be on the tour." I hope they are not booked for any future Warped dates, either. The silver lining in all of this? At a group meeting to discuss what transpired, we came up with a proactive, preventative solution with Warped Tour: to start training band members in bystander intervention while on this tour. Loud, angry men rarely realize that they actually fuel the fight for equality, tolerance, and social justice. So thank you, Dickies.
After blowback mounted, The Dickies also later addressed the situation on Facebook as well, saying in part:
"I finally let my anger get the better of me. I let her know what I thought of her ageist, nasty, Leonard-hating behavior. I used very rude language. I understand the word 'cunt' is inflammatory and that many women have been abused by this word. I should have called her an 'asshole.'
It wasn't my proudest moment … but neither was the time I urinated on the audience. I wasn't there to 'prey' on anyone's child. In all honesty, as fine as most of my audiences are, I'll pass on having oral sex with each and every one of them."
This incident highlights one of the often overlooked problems the music industry in general has been plagued with. While recent controversies at Warped have typically revolved around young male performers in their early 20s engaging in predatory behavior, there is a subset of older men, waving the "punk/rock/metal means free speech" flag as an excuse to put others at risk. This seems to always get shrugged off because they're elder statesmen of the genre and are connected to the right people. But how do you suppose they got that far? At one point they were all young men pushing the limits of what they could get away with, a cycle that repeats itself each time their friends turn a blind eye and victims are silenced or belittled because someone really liked that one song they wrote.
That's why it's so important that we call out bad behavior when it happens, especially with our friends, no matter what band they're in.