This is the golden age for hilariously earnest declarations of “bravery” and “courage” supposedly displayed by those in the arts and entertainment industries who express the only opinion their peers will allow them to hold.

Smug conformism is nothing new in popular art, especially music. Edginess is like a muscle that atrophies from lack of use, and the social media age has terrified most public-facing artists into submission. But this year’s stunning and brave participants in the annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, may have reached a new high—or low—in this regard.

Many artists and other presenters are backing out of their commitments to South By Southwest fest over the participation and sponsorship by the U.S. Army and defense contractors. But such firms have been involved in the festival for years, so what makes this SXSW different from all other SXSWs? Like you even had to ask.

“For more than 30 years, the festival has been a platform for some of the biggest established bands, as well as up and coming recording artists,” reports NPR. “But this year, dozens are boycotting over the festival’s sponsorship by U.S. military contractors months into Israel’s war in Gaza.”

Ah. Then we get the most clarifying exchange we could ever hope to find, when reporter Andrew Weber talks to Eric Braden of the punk band Big Bill.

Weber: “For years, the festival has featured the CIA, the NSA and defense contractors on panels and in its programming during its tech portion. But [Braden] says nobody really ever talked about it.”

To which Braden explained, “I think there was kind of a turning point this year for me at least. It’s not, like, the first year that they’ve had some unsavory partners. But I think sometimes putting pressure on people, making people feel uncomfortable is important.”

And there it is. The festival’s “unsavory partners” aren’t a new phenomenon. But this was the first year that artists were told to object. So they have. As everyone knows, nothing’s more punk rock than waiting around for people to tell you what to do.

It’s obviously awful that, for these desperate people pleasers, the U.S. military can only cross their red line by helping Jews. But it’s hard not to get some amusement out of watching these wind-up toys work it all out in their heads. Ireland’s great love of Palestine has been the subject of a steady stream of articles recently, and the BBC has dutifully done a piece about the Irish acts boycotting South By.

The BBC quotes Charlotte Dryden of the Oh Yeah music center on the sacrifice: “Probably once they were made aware [of the festival’s sponsorship], their conscience and their ethics overtook any financial reasons.”

What does being “made aware” mean, exactly? Thankfully The Hill is here to explain it: “The avalanche of boycotts stems from an [Austin For Palestine Coalition] pressure campaign, launched Feb. 21, asking artists to apply pressure on SXSW over the participation of defense entities, Zainab Haider, the lead for the initiative at AFPC, told The Hill.

“The group has protested the Army’s heavy sponsorship of SXSW as well as the festival’s inclusion of military defense firm RTX, also known as Raytheon, and its subsidiary Collins Aerospace, which both make weapons and equipment used by the Israeli military.”

Once again, we have our answer. The U.S. supports a lot of countries a good punk boy or girl might object to, but how would they know what they object to unless someone tells them? Thankfully, along came the Austin For Palestine Coalition, who told them.

The AFPC will also “track,” according to The Hill, the artists who swear they can’t afford to quit the gig but promise they’ll say something super Palestine-y on stage. Normally they wouldn’t have known what to say, of course, but AFPC is here to tell them.

Beyond the irony that these drones refuse to share a festival with companies that make drones, there’s another element that makes this form of lemmingry particularly sad. One of the member organizations of this Austin For Palestine Coalition, for example, is the Democratic Socialists of America, which hosted a rally after Hamas’s massacre celebrating the murderous rampage at the Nova music festival. “And as you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time, until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters,” one speaker crowed.

Perhaps the bands boycotting South By will play elsewhere in Austin and make sure to pay tribute to those Israelis killed at the music festival by Hamas.


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