Hearing the news breaking while working away on my desk of the terrorist attack at the Manchester Ariana Grande concert left me in disbelief. It was difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the situation by reading about it on a screen – of the 14,200 people who attended, the majority were girls and their parents. It just seemed too cruel to target such a vulnerable and innocent part of society – no matter the attacker’s issue is with the United Kingdom or Western society, these girls were not to blame.
So why attack them? Well, I have some ideas…
For those unfamiliar with the details, on 22 May, 2017 a 22-year-old British Muslim man, Salaman Ramadan Abedi, detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of the Manchester Arena as the Ariana Grande concert ended, killing 23 people – including ten people under twenty and Abedi.
As truly shocking and terrible these details are for any reason – the main thing I kept thinking of was why this concert, why these people? It would be a stretch to imagine the concert full of politicians, lawmakers, police and all the types of people who someone trying to push an extremist agenda would be especially angry at – so it’s unlikely that these people would be amongst the dead or injured. However, I bet a lot of politicians, lawmakers, police and all the types of people someone trying to push an extremist agenda would be angry at would probably have young daughters and chances are they like Ariana Grande. Even if they weren’t in Manchester, would you let your young daughter go to a concert – no matter who was playing– in your city after an attack like this?
This, I argue, is the desired outcome from the attack. Not to try and murder 14,200 people, but to try and instill fear in normal, everyday families, all around the world to think twice about doing even the most normal thing in the world, like attending a pop concert.
Why though? Who cares about Ariana Grande? Well, I have some thoughts on that too. I personally think Ariana Grande is ridiculously talented. I also think she is ridiculously problematic. She was on the Disney Channel and now she’s an international pop star, who happens to have shed her squeaky clean Disney image for a much sexier one. Some see it as empowerment, other see it as unnecessarily provocative, some see it as dangerous.
Dangerous? I mean, the title of her show and album is Dangerous Woman! But how is she dangerous? She doesn’t hurt anyone. Her lyrics aren’t harmful or hateful or anything much except sex, love and heartbreak. But that’s it – there is a vast majority of the world who don’t think that girls (or women) should be listening to anything that promotes sex, love and heartbreak. All the reasons why are much too vast to explain here, but my point is that these are very normalised topics in Western society – girls (and guys) in Adelaide where I’m typing this deal with these issues on a daily basis from a young age… just like I’m sure they do in Manchester or any Westernised city.
The normalisation of what can be viewed of ‘dangerous’ topics is what I believe an attacker like Abedi was trying to stamp out. I believe he wanted any parent to think twice about what they’re children are watching, listening to or Googling. It’s a natural reaction, but it’s one based in fear. And fear is – essentially – the currency of terrorism. Terror attacks are always random – the idea is that you never see it coming, so that you become fearful in your daily life. If you become fearful enough, you might decide withdraw from ‘dangerous’ culture, like what Ariana Grande represents, for your safety, and bingo – a small win for the attackers.
This, I think, would be a huge shame. As problematic as I think many pop culture icons have become (I once reviewed a Nicki Minaj concert and I’ve never fully recovered) I think the choice of whether or not you choose to subscribe to them is fundamental. Blocking out anything controversial or slightly unsettling will send society backwards. Sure, perhaps the boundary has been pushed a little too far, but I believe there is a corporate greed propagating the old saying that ‘sex sells’.
But you know what else? A lot of these ‘dangerous’ voices are female – and I think that’s fantastic. They’re businesswomen and for many of them, they have worked very hard to get exactly where they are due to their intelligence and talent. And whether you like their music or image or not, that’s a fantastic thing for feminism.
When I was growing up I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons because it was a bad influence and while in retrospect it seems insignificant, kudos to my parents for sticking to their guns for so long. I support a parent’s decision to guide their child’s morality based on their beliefs, but there is a limit. My parents weren’t afraid that I might die from watching The Simpsons, they thought I would learn swear words. Guess what? I learnt them one way or another – and way worse ones than what The Simpsons ever say.
So now I wonder how parents handle situations where the culture their children are consuming represents so much of what terrorist groups are fighting against? As the months pass from the Manchester attack, life goes on… Ariana Grande will go on (and so she should) and people will continue to go to pop concerts.
But now there’s a precedent for what can go wrong. There’s second guessing, re-thinking and doubt. And there’s fear. We live in a world where something like Ariana Grande can cause fear in a parent beyond whether the think her songs and lyrics are appropriate for their age. And I think that’s an important issue that we should all acknowledge, contemplate and overcome.
Being afraid of things we enjoy will not help us move forward – it’s no way to live. Be confident and proud in what you enjoy and what you believe in – and I don’t mean just pop music. Not everyone will agree with everything you do. Sometimes these reasons are justified, sometimes they aren’t. Use your judgement and morals to guide you – deep down you know what’s best.
Most importantly, don’t allow anything to stop you from expressing yourself in a way that makes you feel confident and empowered. It shouldn’t matter to anyone but you and you should never have to be fearful of things that you enjoy.