In 2016, when I was an English Literature student at a somewhat famous liberal arts and sciences university, I chanced upon the pretty-boy, pop-rock singer John Clayton Mayer. Circa 2016 and through 2017, almost the only person whose music I listened to, turned out to be him. I consider myself a pretty musical person, and Mayer’s words and music had such an impact on me that till date, I credit him with being a different person who spells out my own thoughts more succinctly than I myself can.
That’s high intellectual praise for any person concerned, but for me, the admiration for Mr. John Clayton Mayer was much more emotional and overwhelming. He almost saved my life on the days when it was its lowest point, and I clearly remember months in which the only thing that was bearable in life was listening to his songs as the world ran past me, somewhere beyond the corner of my eyes.
Now that I thankfully am in a better place. I find myself often critiquing my adoration for this controversial guitar hero. There are, by any standards, umpteen reasons as to why an intersectional activist should hate Mayer. In his infamous Playboy interview, he made comments that were racist, sexist and defamatory. He brazenly stated that he did not “open” himself to the affections of colored women because his “d**k” was a “white supremacist”. He said that he’d start dating “separately” from his penis, implying that there could be women in his life whose only function was to provide him with sex. He also referred to his time with Jessica Simpson, describing her as “sexual napalm”, not the most respectful of public statements to give about a person.
In his infamous Playboy interview, he made comments that were racist, sexist and defamatory. He brazenly stated that he did not “open” himself to the affections of colored women because his “d**k” was a “white supremacist”.
All of the evidence existed on the internet for everyone to see, including myself, and still I loved Mayer; at a time when I knew enough about feminist theory, and was a practicing feminist. That led me to think—so must other feminists love him, either women or men. Mayer first burst onto the public scene of the USA in 2001, and through a good part of the 2000’s, Mayer was substantially popular; his musical appeal enhanced by his good looks. Even today, his shows sell a decent number of tickets. This means that all these people who keep listening to him on their computers or live, pay to listen to a man who has made blatantly sexist and racist comments, ignoring his flaws, just because he happens to be appealing. Even if Mayer was very talented and appealing, no charisma of his should have been sufficient to shove under the carpet, a record that insulted a large portion of already struggling groups in society.
John Clayton Mayer is a very renowned guitarist, and guitar sales are disproportionately skewed in favor of males. Young boys with guitars will look up to the guitar-savvy John Clayton Mayer, and we will have the same problem as with ‘Kabir Singh’—a toxic example of flawed masculinity will be glorified for society to emulate, just because the toxic model happened to be a ‘hero’ of a film, or in Mayer’s case, of the Western music industry. Instead of using his huge platform as a Grammy-winning artist to spread awareness about the discrimination that surrounds us, or at least to not show people the wrong direction and be quiet, he chose the worst possible path. He led his male followers to believe that belittling the people of color and women was fine, and his female followers that their looks and sex organs were largely what he was interested in. Instead of being a force for positive change, John Clayton Mayer entirely abused his platform at the peak of his career and popularity.
He led his male followers to believe that belittling the people of color and women was fine, and his female followers that their looks and sex organs were largely what he was interested in. Instead of being a force for positive change, he entirely abused his platform at the peak of his career and popularity.
My second gripe with Mayer pertains to his treatment of the women in his life. He is what the media terms a ‘playboy’, some man who has dated a string of women without becoming committed to any of them for life. For the longest time, I used to question myself – what is wrong with a playboy, a Casanova? My better-placed self finally has the answer. Along with the (now slightly changing) reputations of a man with many partners as charming, and of such a woman as ‘loose’, other repercussions exist for ‘serial dating’ of the sexes.
A ‘serial dater’ assigns less importance to the type of people she/he is dating, from whichever sex. If our Casanova was, say, 25, he doesn’t think very highly of the emotions and dignity of other 25-year olds that are ‘his type’, or 30-year olds, or whatever-year olds that are his dating preference, for him to be able to ‘play’ with her/him. This is toxic for whoever is doing it, but for a hetero-man like Mayer to do it to women, assumes entirely different meanings from a woman doing it to a man.
If a woman is playing men, she herself is rejecting them. There ends. If a man is playing women, he is adding another layer to a several-layered pyramid of privileges-over-her. He is physically stronger than her, he could hit and maim her out of disrespect. He could expose her private pictures, where female bodies are more vulnerable due to their greater commodification by society. He could reinforce the rhetoric of female subjugation, in a climate of the gender pay gap, hijab and rapes, strangling females in his life psychologically and handing out an example for others to follow. This is why female and male players are not the same, the disrespect from the latter, echoed in society’s every facet, rings a thousand times louder and makes an impact as many times deep. He is a force and example of the bias intersectional activists are putting in their blood, sweat and tears to undo.
The blame, if majorly Mayer’s, also rests somewhat with society. He is several times privileged by the standards society worships—being white, rich, a man, and conventionally “good-looking”. Matters were very exacerbated by his abuse of all that privilege. Where my young adult self deeply loved this troubled man, I am grateful for the eye-opening time and maturity that has allowed me understand his character. If you are a woman ever made uncomfortable by a snug popular male telling you that you aren’t good enough because of your looks, you will appreciate the fact that Mayer was exactly that person at the height of his fame. We, you and I, just chose to see it less through the haze of his glamour and PR team.
I still like Mayer’s music, but I’ll never un-acknowledge all the harm he has done society in the future. And if you’re the woman I mentioned two sentences earlier – you are amazing! Never let a mean Muggle ever get you down!
Featured Image Source: GQ