August 04, 2014

Natives protest at Flaming Lips concert

Native American Rights Group Protests the Flaming Lips at Waterfront Park

Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry also plans to protest Ted Nugent at Portland Expo Center on Tuesday.

By Matthew Singer
The free Flaming Lips concert at Waterfront Park last night drew more than just fans of the psychedelic rock veterans: A small group of activists were also in attendance, protesting the band over incidents involving frontman Wayne Coyne and the appropriation of Native American iconography.

Spearheaded by the national organization Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, about 20 protestors gathered near the venue's entrance, brandishing signs reading "Culture Is Not a Costume" and "You Still Owe Us An Apology" and handing out photos from Coyne's Instagram account of a dog and friends wearing feather headdresses.

"We wanted to make a statement, and make it clear we haven't forgotten," says Jacqueline Keeler, founder of EONM, which recently led a protest outside a Flaming Lips show in the band's native Oklahoma. In April, the group also protested outside Nike headquarters in Beaverton, demanding the company stop selling merchandise emblazoned with the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo. "Basically, we want to hold accountable anyone who appropriates our culture and shows genuine disrespect to our people."
BAD DAYS: The aftermath of the Portland Flaming Lips protest

By Louis Fowler"The mood was upbeat and the energy strong in a good way. Jacqueline had it well organized,” Creel said.

“Personally, I am frustrated that we are in 2014 still teaching what racial/cultural good manners are. I saw a lot of frowns from the people but also so curiosity expressed. When I held up my sign, "Lips Frontman Wayne Coyne disrespects Native Americans”, there were a few nods of understanding.”

The mood inside, however, wasn’t as welcoming.

First, the Flaming Lips were introduced by acolyte (and former Saturday Night Live errand boy) Fred Armisen (Portlandia), who had quietly come under fire from Natives in the past for his “hipster-racism” comedy stylings, most notably for his Native comedian character featured on Weekend Update, Billy Smith, which was basically three to five minutes of the laziest Indian stereotypes thrown together to get cheap laughs from the cooler-than-thou SNL audience.

But, even more egregiously, protesters Luis Figueroa and his brother made their way into the concert with signs, upon which eyewitnesses say—and live video shows—that Lips fans not only taunted them with various slurs and insults, but also grabbed the signs out of their hands and destroyed them. Security then conveniently escorted the brothers out.

Why were the Flaming Lips protested? Native American activists speak out

By David GreenwaldAt the Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Sunday night, across the bowl from the venue’s VIP entrance, a handful of activists held signs protesting Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne. Two of them made it inside, one holding up his message—“Culture is not a costume”—even as Coyne rolled over him in his crowd-surfing bubble. According to Jeff Ward, an attendee at the show with his family, the peaceful protester was verbally abused by the audience around him before the abuse escalated: they tore apart his sign before he was removed from the area by event security at the MLS All-Star event.

"I was not proud of my fellow concert-goers abusing this guy like that," Ward said. The sign-tearing moment was captured on video by the MLS broadcast (pictured below). "He was doing what we’re supposed to do in this country and he was vilified for it.”

I saw a second protester, holding a green sign, escorted out of the audience by security as well, and an MLS representative did not respond to a Sunday night request for comment.

Why were they there? It’s a long story, but in the short version, Kliph Scurlock, the Lips’ former drummer, stirred up controversy in May after claiming he was fired for criticizing Christina Fallin—a friend of Coyne’s and the daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin. The younger Fallin had posted an Instagram photo of herself in a Native American headdress, leading Coyne to post a photo himself with three people and a dog wearing a headdress. Fallin’s also in a band, Pink Pony, which reportedly mocked Native Americans at the Norman Music Festival as Coyne watched.
Coyne apologized, then brought out a man in a headdress on-stage, leading to this response:“Native people pretty much regard it as a faux apology,” Jacqueline Keeler of activist organization EONM told me on Twitter after Sunday’s show, though she was under the impression that Coyne himself had worn a headdress. She organized Sunday’s protest, and in our interview on the grounds, she explained that the headdress played an important symbolic role in her culture.

“It’s not meant to be used to wear at a music festival. It's not meant to be worn in a light-hearted way," she said. “It’s really a sign of the head of state of our nation. It’s completely inappropriate to be used that way, particularly without any knowledge of our culture or even desiring any knowledge of our culture.”
And more broadly, why these protests will continue:Thanks in part to social media, American culture has shifted quickly in recent years as marginalized groups assert themselves more publicly, leaving many artists—from Coyne to Katy Perry to Miley Cyrus to Iggy Azalea—under fire seemingly every week over questions of appropriation or discriminatory behavior. It’s not just race or culture: online pressure led to Rick Ross being dropped from Reebok in 2013 after rapping about date rape, lyrics he later called “one of my biggest mistakes and regrets.”

In short, behavior that musicians and celebrities once routinely got away with—Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku dancers, for one, never inspired a trending topic—has become unacceptable.
American Indians Protest Flaming Lips Lead Singer Wayne Coyne for Disrespecting Regalia & Attacks on Native People

Comment:  I didn't know about the Fred Armisen connection. Somehow it's not surprising that a comedian who does ethnic shtick would be a Wayne Coyne supporter.

For more on the Christina Fallin controversy, see Fallin Suffers Fallout from Stereotyping and Scurlock Explains Flaming Lips Firing.

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