Phillip Anschutz, owner of entertainment conglomerate AEG, has come under fire this week due to the actions of his Anschutz Foundation, which has continuously supported anti-LGBT and climate change-denying foundations and organizations for some time, according to the United Church of Christ. (Anschutz has also, perhaps less controversially, personally donated large sums to the Republican Party, according to OpenSecrets).
UPDATE: Anschutz denied supporting such organization in a statement issued today.
Anschutz is far from the first billionaire businessman to align himself with the right wing and to direct his money accordingly — the Koch brothers became household names over the same practice.
What’s surprising about this week’s criticism is that it’s coming now.
Headlines criticizing Anschutz’s far-right politics, and by extension the many festivals both AEG and Coachella founding company Goldenvoice oversee, have come in a flurry from publishers usually known for their timeliness. The news was (technically, as both the UCC and OpenSecrets’ information has been available prior to that) first reported by the Washington Post back in July, based on data compiled by Freedom For All Americans.
The reason for the timing is obvious: AEG runs AEG Live, the second-largest concert promoter in the world behind Live Nation. AEG has owned Goldenvoice, which founded and organizes, books and promotes Coachella, since 2001. The lineup for Coachella, which traditionally kicks off the ever-expanding festival season in the U.S. each April, was announced this week — headliners Radiohead, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. The festival promptly sold out, as usual.
Multiple Twitter users have declared that this revelation will stop them from attending Coachella this year. Depending on an individual’s personal politics, that’s a reasonable response. That it’s taken six months, a festival lineup announcement and rapidly-replicated headlines about Anschutz’s donations (which stretch back to at least 1998, though likely further) to cause a backlash among music fans — many of whom may have unwittingly contributed to Anschutz’s coffers by attending Coachella or any of the thousands of concerts AEG Live has promoted over the years — might be a symptom of The Trump Effect.
In the Post-Trump Internet, any tweet or headline is liable to cause an explosion of echo-chamber coverage, which often diminishes in quality the further it is removed from the source — if the source itself is accurate. The number of music blogs and millennial-focused web sites that have posted breathless stories in the past day hours about Anschutz’s donations are just the latest example.
To be sure, social media can sometimes be a septic tank, where the only thing that matters is the most recent thing posted — regardless of its timing or reportorial veracity, or even its baseline truth. The process happens on both sides of the political and ideological aisle. But it’s useful to wonder: Without the onset of the Post-Trump Internet, would this have made waves in the music sphere at all?
Or maybe it’s a different question entirely: If The Trump Effect had been in place back in early July, before the Republican National Convention, would music fans have hesitated before attending other then-upcoming AEG Live festivals like Panorama, FYF Fest, Camp Flog Gnaw or Bumbershoot? Would they have pushed Desert Trip — the late-summer festival which brought Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones to Polo Field — to an unprecedented $150 million gross revenue? Is this era of instant-outrage-driving-social-media-activism a net positive, or simply a way for Twitter users and music bloggers to performatively express their viewpoints with one hand while packing their festival camping gear with the other?
At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. Coachella, as mentioned, sold out within three hours of going on sale — as it has in nearly every other year of its existence. That it did no doubt has left many a righteous blogger dismayed and anguished at his or her fellow music lovers willing to set aside ideals in order to see Beyonce in the flesh. If there is a lesson here, it may be the one that many on the left have been trying to abide by since November’s election: Perhaps its time to pay more attention.