The Astroworld festival disaster and the normalization of death

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The Astroworld festival disaster and the normalization of death

Gruesome details continue to surface in the wake of the deadly Astroworld music festival held on Friday, November 5 in Houston, Texas where eight members of the audience died and hundreds more were seriously injured during a performance by rapper Travis Scott.

Stacey Sarmiento lays flowers at a memorial in Houston on Sunday, November 7, 2021, in memory of her friend, Rudy Pena, who died in a stampede at the Astroworld music festival on Friday. (AP Photo / Robert Bumsted)

The severely overcrowded festival premises and blocked escape routes have caused Houston to suffocate and stomp on a nightmarish mass. The disaster was able to continue for over an hour, even as the dead and dying were pulled out of the crowds and people screamed and begged festival staff to stop the show.

Survivors describe how the crashing bodies “literally suffocated us to the point that people were bleeding from their mouths and noses.” Those who fell were “trampled”, as “layers and layers” of people fell on top of each other and others crushed them.

The warning signs were countless in the months, days and hours leading up to the disaster. The concert organizers had been warned on several occasions of the risk of injury and death. Videos show that earlier in the day, crowds broke through security and broke a barrier, allowing hundreds of people to run into the festival without showing a ticket or going through a security check. The Houston Police Chief even visited Scott in his trailer before the show to express concern about the risk of violence.

In each of these cases, the organizers, authorities and the artist himself have turned a blind eye, declaring that the show will take place.

The massive death toll is a testament to a shocking disregard for human life on the part of festival organizers and officials, as well as Scott himself, who is seen on video acknowledging the presence of ambulances and fans injured in the crowd, but who continues the show.

There is no doubt that Scott bears some responsibility and that he could well be held legally and criminally responsible. But demonizing an individual avoids broader social issues. What explains this systematic indifference to death?

This disaster is the latest in a series of “mass loss of life” in the United States, ranging from school shootings and building collapses, to floods and hurricanes, which are shockingly normalized. . The Houston disaster was set against the backdrop of the greatest “mass loss of human life” of all, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far killed more than 775,000 Americans.

There were obvious financial interests at stake. Scott (net worth $ 50 million), along with Drake ($ 150 million) and his girlfriend Kylie Jenner ($ 700 million), are at the center of a huge money-making machine in the field of public performances.

The festival was a joint venture with Live Nation Entertainment Incorporated. The sale of 100,000 tickets alone brought in over $ 37 million.

Live Nation is the world’s largest entertainment company. It operates over 235 venues in 44 countries and hosts large-scale music festivals in the United States, such as Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. The company collected $ 11.5 billion in revenue in 2019. Amid the lifting of restrictions on the spread of COVID-19, Live Nation’s stock price has climbed well above its prepandemic peak.

The event itself should never have happened, but it is part of a larger ruling class effort to reopen everything even as more than 1,000 people die every day in the United States. In an effort to generate profits for its shareholders and executives, Live Nation staged a massive super-spread event in Houston during a global pandemic, as cases escalate around the world.

In Texas, there have been 4.2 million cases of COVID-19 and 72,000 deaths. State Governor Scott Abbot is a leading advocate for “herd immunity” and mass infection. In April, Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies and companies that receive public funds from requiring proof of vaccination. The following month, he signed a bill that punishes businesses that require their customers to have proof of COVID-19 vaccination for their services.

It was impossible to enforce the minimum COVID-19 protocols that are in place. The vast majority of the crowd did not wear masks, and proper social distancing did not exist. It is evident that, even if no one had been stepped on, the event would have resulted in COVID-19 infections and possibly fatalities.

The concert was staged despite the fact that it would inevitably contribute to the spread of the pandemic. Is it any wonder then that the same organizers and authorities turned a blind eye when it became evident that the crowd was too large, that the security personnel were unable to control the crowd and that the medical personnel were overwhelmed even before that Scott does not start his performance?

It is not just a question of financial considerations. A broader brutalization of American society exists, promoted by the media and the entire political establishment, within which the Houston concert took place. It should be noted that Texas leads the United States in executions, with more than 830 people killed since 1930, almost twice as many as the next state.

This situation is reflected in what passes for the “cultural life” of the country. For decades, the ruling class has promoted a toxic combination of individualism and selfishness, a cultural corollary of its own massive enrichment at the expense of society as a whole, and of the working class in particular.

The content of the concert reflects a general backwardness which is systematically promoted. Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no society” could describe much of contemporary rap, with this focus on personal advancement, greed, hedonism and the glorification of violence.

The theme of Scott’s music is to make as much money as possible while “living in the moment”, themes that permeate much of commercial hip-hop music. Days before the murderous gig, Scott released a song titled, ironically, “Escape Plan,” in which he rapped about how he’ll one day have a “12-figure” fortune. That would put him on par with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who each control over $ 100 billion. In the clip, Scott poses in front of a succession of luxury cars, yachts and mansions.

High culture, for its part, is starving. Classical musicians have seen their salaries cut year after year and budgets for cultural education in schools are shrinking. The legacy of the American Revolution and Civil War is the subject of a systematic and continuous attack, orchestrated by the media and the political establishment. The level of cultural degradation has reached such a point that a professor, Bright Sheng, of the University of Michigan, can be targeted and ostracized. His crime: he screened a film version of one of Shakespeare’s great plays, Othello.

It is this toxic mix of social inequality, greed, political backlash and backwardness that has created the shocking indifference to the human life at stake in Houston.

While Scott seldom engages in the homicide and brutality fetishization that permeates much of hip-hop, his song lyrics are steeped in the cult of hedonism, risk-taking, and self-esteem. life in the moment. The concert iconography borrows heavily from horror films, including a giant sculpture of the artist’s head in the shape of a skull.

One participant wrote on Reddit: “Everything seemed normal for a Travis Scott concert. I have seen countless people pass out at almost every GA concert, standing only. I didn’t know the people I saw taken were lifeless bodies, I thought people just passed out. Was it overcrowded? Yes, but that’s normal. Were there a shortage of staff? Yes, but that’s normal. Was it chaotic? Yes, but that’s normal. I feel like the crowd got so desensitized and normalized to everything but rage that it ended up catching up with him, Scott and everyone involved. ”

(Article published in English on November 9, 2021)

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