Conor Oberst: Rapist? (TW: Rape)

When I was only 14 years old, I began to get really into the indie music scene. Within a year, my iPod was filled with thousands of songs sung in quavering voices by good looking but emotionally fucked white boys. One of my favorite bands, and the epitome of all I just described, was Bright Eyes. Led by the very handsome, very sad, and often very drunk Conor Oberst, the mournful and angsty lyrics of Bright Eyes really spoke to my teenage soul. Oberst’s voice, like his lyrics, was emotional and raw- unpolished, uneven, and in my mind, beautiful.

My freshman year of high school, I went to my first ever concert, which was headlined by- you guessed it- Bright Eyes. I eagerly pushed my way to the front, trying to get as close to Oberst as I could. As he moaned about inherent sadness of life, my eyes filled with tears. It is the first time in my life I ever remember feeling so connected to music of any kind.

As I aged further into my teenage years, I began to become severely depressed. Most days, I could hardly drag myself out bed. The first semester of my sophomore year I missed 17 days of school. On my worst days, there was only one thing that got me through: Bright Eyes. I felt as if that music was the only thing that really understood me, and consequently I began to feel a personal connection with Oberst himself. I suppose I did that foolish thing that people do so often: I began to think that I knew this man who I had, in fact, never before met.

Eventually, my depression began to improve, and  I began to realize how silly it was to idolize someone who I didn’t know personally to such a level, and eased back on my Conor-love a bit; however, my love for the music he made remained. I had over 200 Bright Eyes songs in my iTunes library and various albums from some of Oberst’s less well known projects. I own every CD ever released by Bright Eyes, and last year, ordered the vinyl release of some of their earliest albums. I have t-shirts, and posters, and song lyrics decorating the walls of my bedroom. You can only imagine how heart broken I was when I heard that Oberst was an alleged rapist.

A few days ago, on a post on XOJane about abusive rockstars, a woman published the following:

I was raped by a “rock star” myself. I was 16 years old, he was in his 20s. No one believed me (he wasn’t even that famous then). No one believed me because I had been his biggest fan for several years at that point, his pictures covered my locker, etc. I guess when I made the accusation, everyone thought it was some sick & twisted way to get… I don’t know, closer to him? My own mother didn’t believe me until recently and it’s 10 years later now. This guy is the poster boy for what was known as “emo” back in the day, everyone thinks he’s so sweet and sensitive and sad, that he could never be the vicious monster he was that night. It makes me sick. I want to out him so bad. Every time I hear his name, I want to tell people what he did. I think people deserve to know. But due to how shit went down with my own friends&family at the time of the assault, the backlash terrifies me. It hurts to constantly see the way people fawn over him as if he’s a God. It’s really hard dealing with your attacker being famous or popular when you know the truth about them but feel no one will listen.

Later, the same woman said:

I am not the author but as I said in a previous comment, I was raped by a “rock star” when I was 16 years old and he was in his 20s. My husband suggests I may feel some empowerment by outing my rapist. It was Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes (and several other bands/side projects he fronts, bright eyes being the most popular). I hope you are right about helping the next girl but I’m waiting for the backlash. Thanks for the courage, even if you weren’t directing it at me.

She went on to make another comment about how his older brother had been her teacher at the time, and how negatively the rape had affected her life. (All her comments are collected here.)

Now, I realize there isn’t much “evidence” in these comments, and at first, I really didn’t want to believe them, but the truth is, there is no reason I can see that this girl (whose comments were anonymous) would want to tell such a lie. My first reaction was to be skeptical, but I realized that such skepticism is usually the first weapon rape culture uses to silence survivors of rape. Still, I mostly kept my thoughts to myself, because it hurt to think that someone I used to look up to so much is in reality the thing that I despise most.

Now this story has spread across social media (especially Tumblr) among Bright Eyes fans. Some people were somehow able to find the Facebook of the girl who made the comments, and one blogger reached out to her. You can read what she had to say here. Conor Oberst himself has not issued any comments.

I personally, believe this allegation, though obviously I can’tbe 100% certain in that belief. Something about it seems genuine. I am disgusted and disappointed, and if what she says is true, my heart goes out to the poor girl who had to deal with this ten years ago and who is now having her wounds reopened on the internet. I hope that she will find closure.

I don’t think I can listen to Bright Eyes music at the moment. In fact, I went through and deleted every Bright Eyes song from my computer. The music that once felt so personal to me now feels dirty and tainted.

I think this entire situation can remind us of some very important things. Firstly, it is dangerous to make idols of celebrities. These are people who we do not actually know. Sure, we might be familiar with the persona they created to charm the public, but we are seeing a very small part of who they actually are.

Secondly, I think it can remind us  that rapists and abusers aren’t always frightening or intimidating or mean.

Sometimes they seem sweet and emotional and vulnerable, too sad and too soft to hurt anyone but themselves. And sometimes it can be possible for them to weaponize these characteristics and use them to manipulate and take advantage of people. Sometimes predators can disguise themselves as victims in order to lure in prey.

And sometimes people are just fucked up, and fucked up people do fucked up things.

We must realize that every man has grown up in a society that gives them a sense of entitlement and refuses to hold them accountable for their actions. Sometimes the men who seem to be fighting the hardest against this society are the ones who have internalized its ideas the most. (Remember Josh Macedo of Tumblr, anyone?)

And that’s the most terrifying thing about rape culture. Its not just monsters who are doing these horrific things, its normal men. And we keep letting them get away with it.

(Part of this post was adapted from something I previously posted on Tumblr about the issue. You can find that post here.)

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