In 2010, Amanda Palmer attended the Golden Globes with husband Neil Gaiman, whose film Coraline was nominated. She was criticized by blogs for her unconventional dress and unshaved armpits — absurd complaints, to be sure. But her response, a blog post titled “Fame Whoring,” was also irksome. “I do not ever go to the movies,” she wrote. “I have almost no awareness of famous Hollywood people. when I’m in my chiropractor’s office I will occasionally read a tabloid, or I will get wind of some cultural phenomenon through links that people send me. … No offense to Neil, but if I hadn’t been his main squeeze, the chances of me seeing it would have hovered close to below zero.”
Her condescending attitude rubbed people the wrong way, particularly the way she seemed to dismiss celebrity culture while also participating in it. As one commenter astutely pointed out, “You’ve mentioned before, and you mention in this blog that you don’t watch movies, you don’t move in the Hollywood world at all, and so this is all foreign to you. I get that. Yet you go to that world and proceed to take every opportunity to make fun of it, complain about it, and criticize it without actually trying to take any of it in, it seems. It felt like the equivalent of an American going to another country and wondering ‘why they don’t speak goddamn English!’”
In 2007, Amanda Palmer recorded the song “Oasis” with Ben Folds. It’s about a girl who is date raped and gets an abortion but says she doesn’t care because the band Oasis received her fan mail. “Oasis” includes the lyrics, “When I got to the bedroom/ There was somebody waiting / And it isn’t my fault / That the barbarian raped me.” She was criticized for making light of rape, and she again responded with a blog post. She defended the song, writing, “Humor and darkness are opposite sides of the same coin. There is a reason that our funniest comedians have usually had bizarre and fucked-up childhoods. We can’t afford to abandon the disposition of humor, if we do….we’re lost.”
Many did not agree, including some victims of sexual violence. One fan responded, “I love your album but I can’t listen to Oasis. It makes me feel panicky and upset (possibly triggering from what happened to me, I don’t know). I think a lot of this rests with the black-and-white argument that things are either funny or sad and in order to get through the darkness you have to laugh. It’s not true for me… I do laugh at myself some of the time but there are some experiences in my life that I don’t ever want to feel like I should laugh at and I think being raped is one of them.” The “Oasis” music video was banned in the UK.
Also in 2007, Amanda Palmer formed the duo Evelyn Evelyn with Jason Webley. She constructed a fictional backstory for the group: conjoined twin sisters Eva and Lyn were said to be “Parapagus Tripus Dibrachius twins, conjoined at the side and sharing between them three legs, two arms, two hearts, three lungs, and a single liver.”
Disability advocates were angered that Evelyn Evelyn played into stereotypes, and that Palmer was using conjoined twins for shock value. As Annaham wrote, “The stereotypes about disability here are pretty well-worn: according to this (fictional) backstory, the twins were ‘discovered by’ and need ‘help’ from two abled individuals, Palmer and Webley, to realize their musical potential. Add to this their ‘inspiring’ origin story — which is fodder for a graphic novel tie-in — and you’ve got yourself one hell of a three-ring circus of disability stereotypes.” Moreover, she pointed out, the project did nothing to point out the real-life issues people with disabilities face on a day to day basis.
Long before the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff Kickstarter controversies, Amanda Palmer got her own share of Kickstarter-related flak when she raised over a million dollars to put out a new album. At the time, it set a record for music fundraising projects on the site.
Since she raised so much more than she’d asked for, Palmer was asked to account for where she’d spend the money — to her credit, she did. But many weren’t satisfied by her explanations. Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett left a comment on Palmer’s Tumblr calling into question her spending: “I am having a hard time reconciling your assessment of your Kickstarter obligations with your current claims toward being unable to pay for yours and Jherek’s string quartet. For example: $100/unit for a 7” is 500% more than any 7” per-unit cost that I’ve ever heard of. $300/unit for an art book is frankly preposterous. The most expensive art book store in Switzerland would maybe sell a couple books for that price, off the rack. Even if these figures are genuine, I believe that I could help you source some less expensive (but still luxury) manufacturing options.”
Part of the reason people were so ticked off by Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter is that she soon asked for more. After receiving $1.2 million, Palmer invited musicians to come play for free — “The deal: you’d need to show up for a quickie rehearsal (the parts are pretty simple) in the afternoon, then come back around for the show! We will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.” The idea was that the opportunity of playing with her would make up for the lack of monetary compensation. Palmer’s critics didn’t see it that way.
Steve Albini notably called her an “idiot” in a message board post, in which he also said, “If your position is that you aren’t able to figure out how to [be self-sufficient], that you are forced by your ignorance into pleading for donations and charity work, you are then publicly admitting you are an idiot, and demonstrably not as good at your profession as Jandek, Moondog, GG Allin, every band ever to go on tour without a slush fund or the kids who play on buckets downtown.” He said that Palmer had “found her audience’s threshold.” Not quite.
When Lady Gaga used epic amounts of product placement in her videos, Amanda Palmer took to Twitter, making a very unfortunate joke: “ironic product placement is only ok if you take no money & beyond that give all the income to something ironic. like the Klan.” Of course, she wasn’t actually advocating giving money to the KKK, but the comment still didn’t get many laughs.
Tiger Beatdown covered the issue well, explaining that while yes, it’s obviously that Palmer was using irony in an attempt to be “outrageous,” she missed the mark. “You really have to be careful, especially when so many people are listening to you and framing you as some sort of ‘feminist’ ‘role’ ‘model,’” Sadly wrote, “because there’s a thin line between making a cutting and insightful comment which relies on using offensive language, often to point out the offensiveness of the language itself, and just like BEING OFFENSIVE and trivializing things that ARE ACTUALLY IMPORTANT, and it’s a lot easier to cross that line when you’re not really FUNNY at all.” Incidentally, Lady Gaga never responded.
Amanda Palmer’s latest transgression is the already infamous poem for alleged terorrist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. While she insisted “A Poem for Dzhokhar” was about more than just the Boston bombing suspect, reaction was largely negative. She was accused not only of sympathizing with a mass murderer, but also of making a national tragedy about herself. It didn’t help that her site’s built-in donate button appeared below the poem.
In addition to the standard backlash, there have been some parody poems in response, including the hilarious “Poem for Amanda Palmer” by Thom Dunn. Mimicking her style, he writes, “you don’t know that there are ways of responding to tragedy without being narcissistic and self-serving / you don’t know how a national crisis and the death of at least three innocent people could not be about you.” Palmer herself wrote a follow-up blog post, saying, “It is always very interesting when people misinterpret art, and then get angry about it.” Weirdly, that seems to happen to Palmer a lot.