I Want A Patreon Divorce

Amanda Palmer, life as performance art, fandoms, oh my!

This newsletter is about Amanda Palmer and performance art. Before you go down this rabbit hole, please check out:

And:

If you’re in NY, a reminder to get an absentee ballot and another reminder that there are some really awesome down ballot candidates to get to know, like Jamaal Bowman and Samelys López. (If you’re not in NY, this is still true. Check out some other candidates here / send me a message about who you’re excited to support in your area!)

If you can donate to their campaigns, hop on the phone for a phone bank, or simply share—that rules!



Amanda MacKinnon Gaiman Palmer is 44 years old. Her wikipedia, before cautioning the hilarious: 

This article is about the American musician. 

For the Scottish musician Amanda MacKinnon, see Manda Rin.

For the film and media executive, see Amanda Palmer (film executive)

For the actress, see Amanda Plummer

describes her as: a “singer-songwriter / musician / performance artist / author,” the genres of which are described as alternative rock and “dark cabaret.” She’s best known for the Dresden Dolls, an alternative slash “dark” punk duo that emits an aura not unlike that of Sweeney Todd directed by Tim Burton. 

The reason Amanda is in the news again is that her and famous author-husband Neil Gaiman broke up. The relationship was reportedly open, and was public by virtue of them being Public Figures, but also because of how much primarily Palmer shared. Even when she wasn’t sharing, she sort of was: in this interview “Amanda Palmer won’t sing about her open relationship,” she caveats the understandable fears of divulging too much information about her, her husband, her other partners, his other partners. But in the process, she sketches out a rather convincing image of what she reportedly will not elaborate on, out of respect for privacy. It’s an uncanny dissonance. 

On May 5th, she posted a free Patreon post (notably not behind a paywall, as I had drawn about slash fantasized about) vaguely detailing the split. Neil then took to Twitter to confirm, asking everyone to leave their kid out of it. According to press about the incident, the Patreon post is how he found out the relationship had ended, too. (It’s likely they were already split, but perhaps this was not how they’d wanted this information to be made public.) In his twitter post, Neil seems (and who is to say, certainly) surprised: whatever the truth behind the scenes is, it’s undeniable that in his post he seems more like a voyeur, more like an audience member, an onlooker like us, than the former partner of this person. 

How long they’ve been separated, or things were not working, is unclear—but it doesn’t seem especially shocking they aren’t together, and we will never know the inner workings of a relationship that isn’t ours.

I drew a cartoon loosely pulled from their public mess, and was relatively surprised to find how many Amanda fans felt betrayed by this, felt like this commentary was a “pile on.”

fantasizing about Amanda Palmer sending Neil Gaiman a discount code — simply “Neil” —so he can read the breakup post for free
May 5, 2020
ID: An award for good boy yellow ribbon that reads “only broke up with you via Patreon post because love don’t cost a thing so heartbreak gets the paywall.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised at all: Amanda is an extremely polarizing figure. She has spawned ample think pieces detailing this, how her haters seem larger than life, how her fans are really her fans, a relationship Palmer herself has spent years nourishing via blog posts and crowd-funds. Some of the comments included: 

“regardless of who you "support", either neither both, I would rather read your take on the instant media reaction of "lady talked about thing this Good Boy did to her, how dare she not suffer silently" than have you just pile on that bandwagon”

This makes me sad. I like you both. Skewing facts about real people and a crappy situation to make a funny joke is....eh. But I guess that's what you do.

And this exchange, which I loved and think is true on both sides:

“this isn’t a newspaper article it’s a comic so creative license can be freely taken”

“except that it's adding on to a thoroughly unnecessary internet pile on and distorting facts to achieve a particular narrative.”

I’ll unpack that, or try to. Suffice to say, I know how it feels when you love something, when you are a fan of something, and you see it picked apart, in any way, shape, or form. How easy it becomes, on the other side, to add your voice to a rising chorus of “YEAH THAT MOVIE SUCKED” or “SHE’S THE WORST!!” It obviously becomes more complicated when the chorus we’re joining isn’t about a piece of media, but a person who has made themselves the media. It’s remarkably easy to slip into this sort of YEAH THAT THING SUCKS and forget that the thing, even if crafted, even if performed, even if Public and thus dependent on criticism and fandom all the same, is a person. It becomes a product, and though that’s perhaps not wrong, it can be hurtful, especially for fans who perhaps hyper-empathize with the person, see them as incredibly human because of a long and more meaningful relationship with the Product/Person in question. 

Of course this is happening constantly, all around us. But when it’s our beloved being de-pedestaled, it feels personal. Fandom is immensely intimate, and while online “stan” culture is mostly garbage, it’s not hard to understand how we got here. You love something—you will protect it. We love things that speak to us, that make us feel like we’re the only person in the world who really gets it. 

For Amanda and other creators with Patreons, this is by design. It’s a direct channel between audience and creator. There’s a palatable intimacy, regardless of how much this is used to amass more Patreon subscribers. Before now, this sort of directness between artist and creator (not unlike a social media feed, the difference being payment and ethos, I think) was personal, but I suspect it has taken on an even more important role now. We’re all isolated right now. It’s extremely lonely. Being able to hear from your favorite artist, one who has made meaningful art that has moved you, directly to your inbox, is undoubtedly special (hello here I am), even if we remember that it’s likely intimate by design. It’s still a tether to the world, and damn do we need tethers right now.

Sometimes, when people critique our faves, we take it personally too. Critique of our beloveds can feel needless, cruel, aggressive. Sometimes it is. Even the most critical of us, the most thoughtful to our knee jerk reactions, can find our own feelings hurt when a celebrity we love fails us, or is failed by the public, or is merely not as beloved as we know they should be. (What we base this knowledge of is, of course, not knowing the person, but feeling we know them better because of our love for them and their social media posts.) 

I don’t think this is a bad thing, inherently. Fandom can be beautiful, often is quite beautiful. It’s also changing, very quickly, and the already porous boundaries between Public Figure and Audience are dissolving, some intentionally, like Palmer engineers. Some seem to be merely what happens when you spend time absorbing someone else’s thoughts, feelings, emotions from a distance and begin to feel kinship, regardless of whether or not they know you exist. The result is that criticism is personal, in many ways, for the fans and the artist (I know this extremely well). 

It’s even harder now that everyone’s a critic to distinguish between Valid Criticism versus teasing or cruelty or someone simply not liking something, without a reason (which frankly, no one needs). We’ve seen this in the last few years, where extremely famous people—Halsey and Ariana Grande come to mind—bristle from Valid Criticism publicly, subsequently weaponizing their fanbases to protect them. 

-- 

Admittedly, I am not an Amanda expert (although now I think I am). But the reaction to what I surmised was a mild joke/fantasy about a Patreon breakup—so distinctly of our times—was reminiscent of other instances of Women Telling Me I Hate Women. 

Like many complicated women who are obsessions of the press, it’s hard to tell, from a distance, what exactly is going on. I dove into coverage about her, finding one article “The Art of Asking Why We Hate Amanda Palmer” (a play on the title of her Ted talk) that seemed measured. I read, before the essay even began, that the author had a “prior professional relationship with Amanda Palmer as an editor for her graphic novel” which felt eerie.  

The author of that piece, Jay Edidin, writes that Amanda Palmer is “easy to hate”: she’s loud, demanding, has a very intense fanbase, “stonewalls in the face of criticism.” Criticism of her, Edidin writes, varies— “some of it is related to her shocking ignorance of the class politics and context of her so-called crowdfunding revolution… critics cringe, too, at her sheer volume, her acting out in public, her unapologetic attention seeking,” etc. This article on Pajiba details how intensely personal and intimate her music is, and how much of the critique of her is usually not about the music, but her behavior. “After all, this is the woman who seemingly has trouble in not saying the ‘N’ word (then sacking her manager, who is currently suing for unpaid wages, for having a problem with this) and said Donald Trump was going to make punk rock great again, akin to Weimar-era Germany’s cultural boom,” the article reads. 

Of her presence, Edidin writes: “It gets personal quickly: because accessibility and connection with her audience are big parts of Palmer’s routine; because her public identity is itself aggressively personal.” 

And it’s an aggressive irony that is central to her being: Palmer has often spoken and practiced alternative means of funding artists, and building a more direct relationship with fans in the process. But in one of her recent scandals, she raised $1.2 million from a crowdfund for her tour, then asked local artists to play for free. Or be paid in hugs. This piece from The New Yorker explains how the event and subsequent outrage were intertwined with Occupy, and rather prophetically entails the Exposure Economy of being online.


That New Yorker piece was from 2012. Engadget provides an update from last year in a piece called “The crowdfunded cult of Amanda Palmer.” 

In it, we learn that in addition to her crowdfunding efforts, Palmer is a skilled social media user. Or, a frequent one. She engages. With everything, with everyone. But, as the piece notes, that communication style quickly becomes a weapon. In November 2019,  Recently, Palmer made this thread: 

In this, Palmer frames her lack of media about the album mostly on: Feminism Gone Wrong. Which, lol. But it’s also obvious that Palmer’s questioning about why the tour isn’t getting coverage isn’t unfounded—she picked tour journalists that were from minority groups, and this time she was actually paying them for their coverage. (Heroic!) She was doing something cool here, is the point, giving work to people who needed it and continuing to create a community around her work and the people she involves in it. 

At the end of the Twitter thread, though, she pivots to talking about her Patreon. And grating as it is, it makes sense: she details how “mainstream” media has shut her out, so she offers an alternative venue in which to connect with her. 

But she also was talking specifically about/to Lauren Snapes, deputy music editor at the Guardian, who then revealed Palmer had been harassing her for months: “In April, Palmer apparently singled out Snapes on a podcast, saying, ‘I can't stop thinking about how I want to win her over, and change her mind, and force her to love me, and connect with me and see the light.’ A few months back, Snapes received an email from someone claiming to be a journalist, asking for comment on her relationship with Palmer. Snapes looked them up and discovered they were actually employed by Palmer, as the singer's own traveling historian. Snapes received a random, personal invitation to an event Palmer was playing. Palmer emailed Snapes directly to invite her to the White House Correspondents' Dinner.” 

There’s a lot of good info, in the article, about what happened next and the reception. But I was struck by this sentence most of all: “Throughout this entire mess, Palmer's Patreon subscriber numbers continued to climb.” 


Critique of Palmer often carries a similarly psuedo-feminist inclination. In the “Art of Asking Why We Hate Amanda Palmer Piece,” Edidin writes, “It’s worth noting that the actions of which Palmer is attacked most often and most harshly tend to be the ones that conflict with what public femininity is supposed to look like - behaviors and traits that would sit differently on the shoulders of a male performer.” 

There’s truth in this, of course. It’s undeniable that her outspokenness, her vision, her ambition, provokes a response. It’s also true that she acts badly—refusing to pay people, writing self-indulgent poetry about national tragedies, creating art out of the suffering of people in her life, questioning lack of coverage by tagging journalists by name. 

 “If attention is one of the best measures of her professional success, why shouldn’t she be chasing it for all it’s worth?” the same article questions. I don’t know how to answer that, frankly, especially considering what grim times it is in the attention economy. Everyone wants to be seen, and increasingly, it takes more outlandish stunts to get that attention. As a creator (and I know this) you are never just putting your work out—you are putting your work out and then trying to do the most to get people to actually look at the work you created. Tie in the literal infrastructure of the internet, which is an algorithmic mess designed to make us feel like consumers when we’re actually all the product—it’s an eerie reality that makes the increasingly bizarre attention seeking from celebrities and public figures...sort of sensible. Or at least, understandable.

Edidin also compares Palmer’s reception to that of her recent-ex, Neil Gaiman, looking at the disparity between how they are received. And that’s true too, of course. Of course Gaiman is treated more tenderly by the public, by the press, by his fans. Of course his authority does not need to come with footnotes to be taken as canon. Of course he is allowed to make money and be successful, quite quietly, as many successful white men are. Of course there aren’t pieces asking why there are a thousand pieces about Palmer’s failures, and virtually none on Neil.

Which is to say—yes, certainly we should care, about the implicit misogyny in how women are covered. But also, women in power who call their egregious behavior inspirational feminism or performance art deserve a more nuanced critique of said fuckery. While asking “WOULD YOU CALL HER ATTENTION SEEKING IF A MAN DID THIS??” is probably going to yield you with an answer of your choosing, it’s not entirely applicable here. If anything, it undermines the ability to reconcile with Amanda as an artist, instead chalking up all critique as a general failure to support an ambitious woman. 

There are a lot of articles about how, exactly, Amanda doesn’t get it. Like many egregiously out of touch white women with access to an audience, every foible becomes something to analyze, something to unpack. And while there’s good in this, I suspect, it also becomes a rather self-indulgent exercise. Her patently exploitative behavior becomes a subject of study, of hyperfocus, which is questionably effective in changing anyone’s mind about her. 

It positions itself as criticism meant to unpack what she’s doing. But its continued coverage merely continues to extend the grace reserved for white women who act out, get briefly scolded, and carry on until they do it again, leaving a wake of nuanced pieces that, at a glance, present the picture “well she’s complicated.” 

Is it that complicated though? I’m not sure. There is something vehemently upsetting about people calling their lives performance art, which Amanda does. (Thinking also of Joaquin Phoenix, among others.) Chronicling your life, telling your Patreon fans intimate details, is a very good means of fabricating closeness with an audience, and that may be meaningful for all parties involved.

An artist can say their entire being is performance art. But it does not endow the artist with the sudden, uncanny ability to no longer be a person who relates to other people. A life that is Performance Art is not wrenched from the time/space continuum and placed in a gallery. It will always need to be presented, always be offered up to fans. It must be watched, must be consumed, or the premise simply disappears. 

white dudes (and white ppl but mostly cis dudes) can #sayanything and then retrospectively call it “art” or “comedy” (see my stories for a recent example, but tis a tale as old as time) to pretend making ppl deliberately uncomfy is somehow edgy when it’s really just ! Cause! They! Can!
November 27, 2018
ID: a cartoon that starts with a good boy. it reads “white dude does some fucked up shit. then three floating heads are accompanied by the phrase <think pieces, etc. he’ a bad boy who did a no good media>. the last image is the original good boy saying “it’s performance art….?”

In my own comment section, a few savvy commentators noted: how many Patreon subscribers is she getting from this? 

Which leads me to this perhaps hot take: She has a parasitic relationship with her fanbase, one that both sides are likely deceived by. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amanda thinks she is building something beautiful, and that her fans are thrilled with the intimacy she offers. And maybe it is, for them. In some version. 

You can call anything performance art, but at some level, you have to ask if it's simply publicity, or blaming an Individual (like Neil) in order to bond with a group of strangers. If you can pivot the fixation away from yourself to build community, fantastic. What does that mean if doing only comes by sharing a common enemy? What does it mean when, as aforementioned, it’s not a piece of media, but a person?

It’s easy to say everything is part of the act, an eternal trap door in which they can say everything is deliberate, it’s all performance. But it’s not just deliberate, it’s crafted so an audience can have the desired response and exchange money for it. 

And who are we to parse it out? It’s a good question—we are apt to disregard certain acts as deliberately performed, because that would give the woman in question too much credit. But on the other hand, are we quick to project performance and a need for patronage (I have a hard time believing Amanda doesn’t have access to wealth aside from the patreons) onto messy behavior, if only because that alleviates the uncomfortable dissonance that this person may just… be that way? Is it easier for Amanda’s fans to conceptualize her as this genius conceptual artist, rather than a person who, time and time again, has proven herself to be Not Great, but at least Not Great for a set price per month? 

Of course, this is not really about Amanda Palmer. She’s so clearly not the only one, just the loudest or easiest to write about, which accounts for the preponderance of “WHY IS IT SO FUN TO HATE AMANDA” articles. 

Yes, it’s about messy and complicated people who have polarizing presences. It's also about a shifting model of consumption, in tandem with more and more time spent online with an increased need for connection. At the same time that said porous boundaries between people, between public and private, disappear. We want to feel like we belong, and especially now, a community that feels unique to us can be vital. It makes sense to be part of a community that is also an audience, to find solace around performance. 

But there’s an undeniable dissonance between the closeness that this approximates, and the public blasting of personal relationship details, still framed as pillow talk just between friends, shared on a platform that is designed to exchange money for art. To directly pay for performance. What does it mean when that performance, one in this intimate space that is made to feel like a members only club, that is meant to be a community, is used to broadcast a conversation that, apparently, couldn’t happen between the two people involved, and instead went straight to the audience? 

“For Palmer, knowing her audience means leaving tattered traces of her own life in every conversational aside and emotionally wrung-out admission,” a glowing NPR review of There Will Be No Intermission reads

And perhaps Palmer is making a point, making a statement, about how being public entails divulging aspects of your life, to a certain extent. But to me it reads as though she is bonding with an audience of consumers. Letting them feel they know her, that there is intimacy. We are so quick to look at sharing publicly as brave and empathetic, especially when from a woman.

We are ready to think of “authenticity” as a metric that is both standardized and valid. We are apt to think this glimmer of “realness” means this is life, yes a life that’s a performance, but not performed. We want to feel like voyeurs into something real. Perhaps the criticism of Palmer hurts so much not only because it may not be apt, or not complete, or not the right take, but because it forces you to remember you are the audience. 


Food for thought! Which is to say, obviously, I’m thinking about all this stuff in regards to my own relationship with fans/fandom/etc. It’s eerie and strange, and I am in complete denial about having an audience, as I still feel like a fan of things, first and foremost.

Speaking of porous boundaries, if you’re reading this and want to use my thoughts or just take the whole newsletter (you know who you are), a friendly reminder to cite me. I put most of my work out for free, so I depend on people knowing my work is my work—that I’m Smart and Good At Thoughts—to hire me for things down the line. Sending love, and here’s a photo of my dog:

ID: a photo of clementine sitting like A FROG slash small human. her back legs are splayed out and one front paw rests between them. she looks a bit sad but very cute.