When To Put Your Admiration Aside: Marilyn Manson, Buffy And Toxic Fandoms
I was nerdy growing up, with all the uncomfortable horror that entails. I was exceedingly awkward, in a constant state of humilation, and would spend most of my time daydreaming about being a different person entirely.
As anyone who has ever felt like a round peg in a square hole can tell you, finding your ‘things’ feels hugely important during your formative years. A tentative form of self-expression, even if you’re the sort of kid who can’t even raise their hand in class without trembling.
For me, this included emo music à la Fall Out Boy, Tim Burton movies and endless books where shy young girls discover they have supernatural abilities.
I know what it’s like to delibrately seek out things that feel a bit different and off-kilter; to furnish your inner world with strange jigsaw pieces of fantasy, sci-fi and glossy black nail varnish.
There were so many touchstones for noughties kids who felt uncomfortable in their own skin. From Emily the Strange backpacks to Gerard Way’s eyeliner.
But of all the idols of the teenage misfit’s bedroom, Marilyn Manson loomed large and unmissable, a gruesome figure of suburban rebellion with full horror movie make-up and compellingly subversive lyrics.
I remember all too well the thrill of those parental guidance warnings in HMV, the knowledge that you could hold in your hands – and spin in your CD player – something adults probably didn’t want you to listen to.
Like those who admired him, discussed his album art and music videos like budding auteurs, Manson felt made up of his own eclectic jigsaw pieces.
Manson’s work, his appearance, his very name, felt crafted from an eye cast critically over the more obvious, duller facets of Western pop culture, with a constant undercurrent of the macarbe. Serial killers and cults and all things that tug at a teenager’s restless eye.
The creepiness of it all – from the nightmarish Tourniquet girl to the eerie use of circus music – felt like safely-contained bubbles of £9.99 freakiness. The mp3 player equivalent of giggle-shrieking at fake blood spatters across an IMAX screen.
As the years went by, many of us in our late twenties and early thirties still held a nostalgic – even grateful – soft spot for Manson, marking out a place out for him on playlists alongside ever-changing bands and tastes. But then the allegations against him began; first a trickle, then an avalanche.
In an Instagram post shared February 1, actor Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) named Marilyn Manson as her alleged abuser, writing:
The name of my abuser is Brian Warner, also known to the world as Marilyn Manson. He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years.
In her statement, Wood claimed she had been ‘brainwashed and manipulated into submission’, vowing to ‘expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives’.
Wood dated Manson when he was 36 and she was 18, and the couple were briefly engaged to be married in 2010.
Although Wood had previously opened up about having been in an abusive relationship, this was the first time she named Manson as her alleged abuser, a catalyst that encouraged multiple other women to come forward.
Following Wood’s post, at least four other women came forward with their own allegations against Manson, with some sharing their traumatic accounts with Vanity Fair.
One accuser, Ashley Walters, detailed how she continues to ‘suffer from PTSD, and struggle with depression’, while another woman, Ashley Lindsay Morgan, spoke of ‘night terrors, PTSD, anxiety, and mostly crippling OCD’.
Manson, who has now been dropped by his record label, has since denied the allegations made against him in an Instagram statement of his own:
Obviously, my art and my life have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality.
My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners. Regardless of how – and why – others are now choosing to misinterpret the past, that is the truth.
Many of those who’ve read the horrifying allegations have been forced to readdress their admiration of Manson and his music, with the knowledge that they could have been misled and betrayed by the singer’s theatrical image – his strategic positioning as an outsider.
Whereas Manson’s shock factor lyrics and interviews once felt more like gothic image-building, they now leave many fans cold in retrospect, as the case against him continues to unfold.
I spoke with Benedict, a former Manson fan who once regarded the singer as ‘a hugely influential person’ in his life.
Benedict told UNILAD:
Almost ironically, my abuser introduced me to his music. It helped me find a way through the abuse and opened my eyes to so much more music that I hadn’t really explored yet. I felt like I identified with a lot of the music and the feeling of being cast out.
Once Benedict was old enough, he followed Manson on his packed-out tours, sometimes queuing in the freezing cold for up to 15 hours to get a front row spot.
He loved the sense of community and the discussions with other committed fans during the build-up to the show. He would travel to gigs all across Europe, along with the same seven to 10 people.
However, Benedict knew he felt a ‘little uneasy’ about Manson when he decided against getting a tattoo in homage to him:
I felt a gut instinct that it wouldn’t be smart. I went digging a bit deeper and I found some articles and although it wasn’t as concrete as the accusations we have seen lately, it was enough to really throw me.
Benedict had been too young to have been a fan back when Manson and Wood were involved, so he hadn’t been aware of the more troubling press surrounding them at the time.
After reading Wood’s testimony, Benedict looked deeper into the media coverage of the relationship, and was horrified by what he saw:
When I saw the articles where he proudly talks about calling her 158 times and cutting himself each time, it reminded me of one of my more abusive exes. I cut all ties there and then.
UNILAD also spoke with Natalie, who first got into Manson as a teen in the mid nineties. Antichrist Superstar was the first album that grabbed her interest, and she particularly loved ‘the glam rock style of Beautiful People and the look of the band’.
Natalie told UNILAD:
As an angsty teen, the creepy videos and heavy riffs really fitted my aesthetic as a ‘grunger/mosher’. I enjoyed the band and their music up to and including The Golden Age of Grotesque and Lest We Forget, but after that I felt as though I grew out of them – despite continuing the aesthetic from my teens into my adult life – as I’d gotten into other bands.
Natalie will no longer be streaming Manson’s music in light of the allegations and stands ‘with the victims who have already spoken out, and those who might speak out in the future’.
Many former fans have expressed similar sentiments, putting aside their own positive memories of fandom in favour of listening to those who are speaking out. However, there are those who continue to stand by Manson, refusing to put their obsessively loyal fandom aside.
With such serious allegations, factors such as loving someone’s music should not instantly translate into arguing their innocence. Such matters are trivial next to crimes such as rape and abuse, and someone’s supposed talent or enigmatic stage presence should never be used as a counter argument.
Despite this, time and time again we have seen how successful, gifted and wealthy men will be believed and given the benefit of the doubt in ways a non-famous man would perhaps not be.
Indeed, as per a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, the perception of a perpetrator as a successful person would predicted whether respondents labeled the incident as rape, as well as ‘how the perpetrator’s reactions were judged morally’.
As per this study:
This is not to say that they were not affected by the consequences of their offense, but against popular belief, rape accusations do not always mean the end of the perpetrator’s career and popularity. These people stayed popular and successful despite broad public awareness of their sexual misconduct.
This sense of affected perception was all too evident following the #MeToo movement, with many actors having opened up about sexual abuse and misconduct by major figures in Hollywood.
We heard repeatedly from those who’d heard rumours or felt uncomfortable around monsters like Harvey Weinstein, and yet the abuse was able to continue unchecked – generations of young actors left traumatised and unheard.
When allegations are made against figures such as Manson, who has amassed an enormous fandom over his lengthy career, there’s an additional layer to the way the case is discussed, online and off.
Many former fans are now having to contend with hearing friends spring to Manson’s defence as readily as they once bought his tickets and merchandise, unprepared to reconsider this part of their identity and history.
Benedict told UNILAD:
I have many friends who have stood by him and defend him because of what his music has done for them. I guess I understand the instinct to stand your ground and hope there’s more to the story. But our enjoyment of his musical output, in no way overrides the pain and suffering he’s put so many people through.
He’s abused fans, bandmates, tour staff and partners, he’s openly gloated about it for years and we let him. I am truly disappointed with myself for not peering behind the curtain more back when I felt uneasy about his actions. He showed his true colours for years and we let him pass it off as theatre
I hope those defending him find a way to appreciate the way his music helped you, without appreciating or supporting the man himself any further.
Even before you delve into the dedicated fan forums, a quick scroll through Twitter shows many are sticking defiantly by Manson, expressing their support with the hashtag #IStandWithMarilynManson.
The defensive tweets roll on endlessly, with many fans recalling their own experiences of meeting Manson at gigs. ‘Sensitive, caring and loyal’ is how one fan described him, while others gushed over his talent, the feeling of having listened to him live for the very first time.
Tellingly, many defiant fans felt they owed Manson their unwavering support for the times his music helped them navigate their way through difficult times, with one woman claiming he had given her ‘hope in living’.
Another fan wrote:
That man saved my life with his music, more than once. I won’t turn my back on Marilyn Manson.
The most troubling tweets attacked those have come forward, accusing them of carrying out a ‘smear campaign’ against their idol.
There are repeated mentions of ‘witch trials’, with Wood accused of being a ‘liar’. Many have drawn shaky comparisons to the time when Manson was accused of inspiring the Columbine massacre, inaccurately regarding this case to be another debate over censorship and artistic expression.
This sort of reaction isn’t surprising to Natalie, who has ‘often encountered sexism in the scene’, noting that this is particularly prevelant ‘at gigs or when discussing music with men’:
Lots of victim blaming and misogyny, rather than listening to the victims and respecting their stories. Of course I understand that it can be heartbreaking to find out that someone you may have idolised for years turns out to be an awful person, but at the same time I think that the victims deserve to see some kind of justice.
Of course, this ferocious fan loyalty in the face of serious allegations also stretches to other mediums, such as television.
On February 10, mere days after Wood gave her public statement, actor Charisma Carpenter opened up about her time playing Cordelia on iconic fantasy show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Another firm favourite among teenage misfits, Buffy felt like a show about weird people for weird people, and it was dismaying to hear allegations of creator Joss Whedon’s abusive behaviour on set.
Taking to Instagram, Carpenter spoke of ‘disturbing incidents’ involving Whedon, alleging he had constantly threatened to fire her while subjecting her and other actors to verbal abuse.
Other actors have since corroborated Carpenter’s account of Whedon’s behaviour, including Amber Benson, who played Tara Maclay, and Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Many fans have also come forward to express their disapointment that the world they loved so dearly came from the imagination of someone who’d allegedly shown such cruelty to those behind the scenes.
However, this isn’t the first time such allegations have been made against Whedon, with stories about Buffy’s toxic working environment having circulated for some years.
The mythologising of Whedon’s genius, with many looking to him for creative inspiration, appears to have protected him somewhat until now. His talent and iconic status dazzling those reluctant to take a closer look behind the scenes.
Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales told UNILAD:
It’s understandable that people might feel strongly about art, music and other cultural output that speaks to them, that they identify with or enjoy. These things play an important part in our lives and can be significant to our well-being.
It’s important though to be able to recognise that someone’s art or work doesn’t necessarily reflect their character or say anything wider about them as a person.
It is possible for talented people to do harmful, damaging things to other humans. It isn’t possible to know someone you haven’t met or had any involvement with beyond the work they’ve put out into the public domain. We need to be able to recognise the distinction between the art and the person who’s produced it.
What it’s also important to remember, is it’s rare for people to lie about being abused, or subjected to sexual violence. Most people who’ve been through these traumatic experiences will never report to the police, many tell no-one what’s happened to them at the time.
It can be frightening and re-traumatising to disclose sexual violence or abuse, for a range of reasons. Most who choose to do so are at least in part motivated by a sense of wanting to ‘do the right thing’ and prevent others going through similar trauma.
It is never OK to threaten or abuse people online. When abuse or threats are targeted at those already living with the long-term, often lifelong, impacts of trauma, it is especially cruel and unjustifiable.
It can hurt when your perception of another person doesn’t fit with the glowing view you’ve held for many years. It can even feel like a personal reflection on yourself, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you feel upset or conflicted when you find out someone you’ve admired has been accused of abusing and harming people, that’s OK.
If you want to continue to listen to their music, watch their TV programmes etc, that is up to you.
But sexual violence and abuse are real, much more prevalent than most people realise, and impact many people’s lives and health very seriously. It is not alright to ignore, belittle or add to the pain of that.
I know that many people will feel like their trust has been broken, but it’s important to look beyond the narrow frame of fandom, to acknowledge the real people who have felt unable to speak out for so long.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am–2pm Saturdays.
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