The issue doesn’t end with Marilyn Manson
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual assault, emotional abuse, paedophilia, grooming, kink culture
OVER two years ago, Evan Rachel Wood testified in front of a House Judiciary Subcommittee in an endeavour to pass the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights in all 50 states. Although she did not state a name at the time, she described in detail her experience of domestic violence and sexual assault: “Toxic mental, physical and sexual abuse which started slow but escalated over time, including threats against my life, severe gaslighting and brainwashing” from a man who had claimed to love her. At the beginning of this month, the American Gothic actress finally named her abuser: Brian Warner, or as we might know him, American musician Marilyn Manson.
Warner and Wood’s relationship became public in 2007; they had met when she was 18 and he was 36 years old and engaged in a three-year relationship and engagement. Yet Wood’s description of Warner – alleging he “started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years”, how she was “brainwashed and manipulated into submission” – struck a chilling chord with many. So much so that several other women have come forward with similar accusations against Warner. “I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives”, Wood announced in her Instagram post.
Naturally, as is the case when women speak out about sexual assault, Evan Rachel Wood was faced with the usual harmful questions. Why only speak out about this now? If it was so bad, why did she not leave sooner? Surely, she knew what she was getting herself into when in a relationship with someone like Marilyn Manson?
Of course, this refers to Warner’s controversial “aesthetic” as Manson. This is something Warner himself referred to in response to Wood: “Obviously, my art and my life have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality.” There was something quite twisted about Warner’s reference to his “art” and “life” in response to such allegations, playing into the image he has cultivated for himself as this obscene shock rock provocateur. Just as his lyrics dealt with sex, violence and anti-religious sentiment, it seemed almost inconceivable that Warner might be anything different to his public persona. Furthermore, why should his public persona affect his ability to ask his sexual partners for consent?
In an interview with Spin in 2009, Warner spoke of his relationship with Wood stating: “I have fantasies every day about smashing her skull in with a sledgehammer.” Last year a representative of Manson brushed this off as a “theatrical rock star interview” with no factual value. There is this implicit suggestion in how Warner deflects to his Manson persona that he might even be absolved from the sexual violence he promoted. Yet, with more women coming forward telling of how Warner has practiced the same violence he has portrayed in his music, I question whether we as listeners can even stomach the persona of Marilyn Manson as art. It feels important to mention that a year after the Spin interview, Wood and Warner broke off their engagement.
Manson once preached “sex, sex, sex and don’t forget the violence” and has often played up kink culture in his persona. Even in his response there is this unspoken implication of an unorthodox approach to intimacy – referring to his “art” and his “life”, the emphasis on “like-minded partners” and “entirely consensual” relations. There is this unsettling sense that Warner could just as easily deflect any misconduct not only onto his persona but his engagement in kink culture, which would be tremendously damaging to the importance of consent in such activities of the kink community.
Evan Rachel Wood was only 18-years-old when she entered a relationship with Brian Warner. In her own account, I could not help but reflect on my own experience, although I feel mine was certainly not to the same degree. When I was 19-years-old, I was regularly subjected to sexual harassment from older men, and at one point was being groomed by a significantly older man. I was also assaulted by this man. I did not realise any of this until a year later. At the time, as an inexperienced teenager, I was just happy that someone was paying me attention. No one told me that there was anything wrong – after all, I was legally an adult and surely I was aware of the man’s intentions. It was only retrospectively that I understood the uncomfortable power dynamics of the situation.
Unfortunately, I know that I am not the only woman who could find parallels in the experience that Evan Rachel Wood recounted. The time it takes to come to terms with the trauma – with situations that are often hard to put into words – varies for everyone. Often enough, many women do not realise they have been sexually assaulted purely because the assumption is that the term can only refer to rape. However groping and non-consensual kissing are some other forms of assault that are often brushed off as harassment. Such vagueness around the definition of sexual assault only contributes to hazy attitudes towards consent.
Many women do not realise they have been sexually assaulted purely because the assumption is that the term can only refer to rape.
While it is early days as to whether Brian Warner will be charged for any of the allegations against him it once again seems the music industry is revisiting the #MeToo movement it never really had. Years after 2017’s revelations of the sexual misconduct rife in the film industry, mainstream media has speculated as to when the music industry might receive its own reckoning. R Kelly currently faces 22 federal accounts including child pornography, kidnapping and forced labour as of 29 January 2021, having been indicted of ten accounts of aggravated sexual abuse in 2019. Yet this is one rare example of potential justice being served to sexual assault survivors in the music industry.
When Kesha spoke out against producer Dr Luke, engaging in a court battle to be released from her contract with Sony Music after discussing her experiences of abuse at the hands of the producer, the judge refused to release her from the contract. Chris Brown pled guilty to assaulting his girlfriend at the time, Rihanna. He still has a successful music career. Rick James was convicted of kidnapping, and assaulting numerous women, yet people still listen to ‘Super Freak’. It is in the music industry that listeners have often found it easy to separate the art from the artist, and that is why the BBC announced the recent death of Phil Spector as a “Talented but flawed producer” rather than the murderer he was.
While Warner’s distributing record label Loma Vista, and his manager of 25 years dropped the artist, the jury is out as to whether Warner might receive any commercial or judicial consequence. However, with ten more women revealing their own stories alongside Evan Rachel Wood, and alleged trafficking now being brought into the discussion, this will not be the last we hear of Brian Warner’s alleged sexual misconduct.