Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Politics of Polaris

Last night, Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up took home $20,000 when they won the Polaris Music Prize.

To Canadian indie rockers, rappers, or - in this case - punk rockers, this is probably the biggest award up for grabs. Not only is twenty grand a huge chunk of change to bring home and help pay the bills, winning Polaris comes with a certain, sometimes much needed, degree of notoriety.

Unfortunately for Fucked Up, the mainstream media won't even print their name.

The CBC called them F--ked Up, the National Post called them F----d Up, and the Globe & Mail went so far as to call them "the band with the unprintable name" (although in the web story, they did print Fucked Up).

How polite are we as Canadians that we can't dare to print or say their name?

Now, we can sit here and debate language philosophy. We could talk Wittgenstein and the merit of associating words with meaning, but let's instead talk about how this will affect the band.

Granted the shock value of their name will create waves and earn them some much-deserved press attention, but its all a bit bittersweet and ironic isn't it?

After winning an award that rewards them for excellence in artistic merit, they'll get the most attention because their name has a swear word in it.

The same thing happened to Holy Fuck when they were cited by the Conservative government in an internal memo as the reason for a slew of federal arts cuts. The attention they received based on their controversial name alone disregarded their grueling tour schedules, their ever-growing fan base, their contribution to modern Canadian electronica, or the fact that the band is representing our country on a consistent basis overseas at huge festivals like Glastonbury.

How many people will talk about Fucked Up as a band who, by winning this award, brought hardcore music to a more mainstream audience (maybe begrudgingly to hardcore fans), who opened critics eyes to the potential of non-radio friendly heavy music, who has the ability to rip shit up and still be invited to speak on FOX News. Probably not many.

Think about it, how much attention did Patrick Watson, Besnard Lakes, Caribou or Final Fantasy get from mainstream press for their Polaris wins - aside from the obvious winning $20,000 angle.

Now this coverage probably won't hurt Fucked Up. I don't know who said "there is no such thing as bad press," but if this is what it takes for Fucked Up to become a household name, fine. Sort of in the same vein as Kanye West's Taylor Swfit mic-grabbing incident, lots of people - including the media - will be talking about Fucked Up for the next week (at the very least).

It's just too bad that people won't be talking about how great The Chemistry of Common Life is, or why it deserved to win $20,000. They'll just be talking about the band's expletive name.

And that's fucked up.

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