Ethics Heroes: Papa Roach

Ethics Alarms’ 2011 Commenter of the Year tgt, who found this story and passed it on, asks,

“How is a horrible stoner rock band more ethical than everyone in politics?”

It’s a great, if sorrowful, question.

A.V. Club has a feature (which could be called “Start a Feud”) in which it asks a rock performer what song he or she hates, and why.  Jenn Wasner, one half of the Baltimore indie-folk duo Wye Oak (“a blend of Southern culture and Northern sensibilities…”) submitted to this invitation to get in trouble, and fingered the song in the video above, “Scars,” by Papa Roach.

Criticizing the work of other artists in the same field is unprofessional at best, gratuitously unkind and disrespectful. Papa Roach’s members would have been within their rights to fire back something less than complimentary in defense, at very least the observation that ethical musicians don’t take gratuitous shots at one another. What the band did however, was this: it sent Wasner flowers. Wasner was convinced it was some kind of diabolical trap, and tweeted as much. The band tweeted back:

@wyeoak those are some pretty flowers! Haha all good girl…. Take care and good luck in this crazy biz we call show!

There you have it: forgiveness, kindness, respect and grace. Not only that, but it is also the response most likely to make Wasner feel like a creep. Papa Roach’s response to an unprovoked attack builds bridges and collegiality, and shows how “turning the other cheek” is supposed to work.

You are right, tgt: they are Ethics Heroes.

I wish I didn’t hate their song too.


Pointer: tgt

Facts: A.V. Club

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

12 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: Papa Roach

  1. I agree, a super-classy (and very charming) response from Papa Roach.

    But — leaving the merits of this specific case to one side — I don’t think I agree with this:

    Criticizing the work of other artists in the same field is unprofessional at best, gratuitously unkind and disrespectful.

    As it happens, just a week or two ago another cartoonist, Dave Sim, criticized my graphic novel, in the course of an interview. Sim said that my book’s combination of Orthodox Judaism and fantasy adventure was “infernal” and “pagan,” and compared it to a graphic novel that he described as “basically Islamaphobic pedophile rape porn.”

    I should also say, Dave Sim isn’t just any cartoonist. He’s one of the best living cartoonists in the world, and a boyhood hero of mine. (The reason he had read my graphic novel is I mailed him a copy!).

    But I don’t think it’s unprofessional, unkind or disrespectful for Dave Sim to criticize my work in public. It’s just criticism. If I’m a professional artist, then part of the job is being able to take criticism, and to accept that not everyone will love my work. And although I think Sim’s critique is unduly extreme, the issue he brings up — how to balance a light fantasy adventure with respect for the culture of the protagonist — is a legitimate issue that I’ve given a lot of thought to.

    In general, I think we’re better off if it’s considered acceptable for the people in a field to also be critics. Creators combine a deep knowledge of their form with a unique perspective that I think makes criticism written by creators especially interesting.

    Of course, criticism can also be stupid, unkind, disrespectful, or unprofessional. But it doesn’t have to be.

    • It’s a great topic, and you have inspired me to write more on it. You’d have to show me that the criticism is for the benefit of public and the artist being criticized, and not 1) sour grapes 2) an effort by a more established artist to sink a less establishes one 3) plain nastiness. What. exactly, is the justification for doing this? Oscar Hammerstein ripped a show young Sondheim wrote to shreds—privately. That was a gift. And if he were to do it publicly? A bully, in my book. I’d call the attack on you by a more established cartoonist in the same category. What is gained by his using his prestige to harm you? Did anyone do that to him when he was coming up?

      Your generosity is admirable, but I don’t see this as anything but wrong, unless it is specifically offered as a critic, rather than as a colleague. Strict Golden Rule breach.

      • Sondheim, at the time, was a teenager (if memory serves), and the musical had never been published. I agree that for Hammerstein to rip Sondheim’s musical in public would have been reprehensible, because of Sondheim’s amateur status and his age.

        I’m not in a similar situation; I’m a grown-up, and what’s being criticized is professionally published work. I think part of being a professional is taking the criticism as well as the praise. And I don’t feel harmed by Sim’s criticism.

        It may also be worth mentioning that when I was much younger, I sent my unpublished (and much less accomplished) work to Sim, and he sent me a kind and encouraging note. I doubt that Sim remembers that, but I sure do.

        • Still, Barry, how can a colleague’s gratuitous criticism not be unethical? If he’s a lesser figure, it’s unfair sniping. If it’s a greater figure, he’s using his prestige and power to harm someone who needs support. If its a colleague on the same level, its a reciprocity breach.

          • Jack, can you explain to me what makes criticism “gratuitous” or not? I can certainly agree that if an established person said “wow, this new guy’s stuff is just utter crap. He should never draw again” in public, that would be beyond the pale.

            But: if I wrote a negative review of a colleague’s work and it was published in the Comics Journal, would that be ethical, in your view? If an interviewer asked me to discuss a comic that I don’t think works, and why, is that okay for me to answer?

            In general, I think knowledgeable criticism benefits the field, and few people are as knowledgeable as practitioners are. I’d rather see people feel free to do that, rather than feeling socially pressured not to criticize. (Although I admit, I’m a bit of a hypocrite in this regard, since I maintain a general policy of not criticizing other cartoonists’ work in public. But that’s just my personal policy, not a rule for everyone to follow.)

            In the case of Dave Sim, although he was a boyhood hero, he hasn’t really been a hero of mine in many years. He’s a very eccentric person, and he has some extreme political beliefs and unusual religious beliefs. So I think part of the reason I didn’t feel hurt by his criticism is that it’s seemingly coming from his religious beliefs, rather than from his extraordinary expertise as a cartoonist.

        • Ampersand is being gracious. However, I do believe that any negative artistic criticism should be backed up by specific examples of the reasons for it, and not just a bunch of generalized, heat-producing buzz-words. Sim was NOT gracious (at least in as much of it as Ampersand provided).

          • He sure is. It strikes me as a cognitive dissonance case—Barry’s regard for his gratuitous critic is enough to pull what I would call objectively rotten conduct into an acceptable range. We hate to lose our heroes and role models.

  2. Criticizing the work of other artists in the same field is unprofessional at best, gratuitously unkind and disrespectful.

    I can’t get behind this statement either, especially with the criticism in this case. It was clearly said as a manner of opinion and backed by Wasner’s tastes. It was partially a testament to Papa Roach’s musical skills that a song that just should not work still accumulates such a large following.

    It doesn’t come off as attempting to bring Papa Roach down or insult Papa Roach’s fans… just a lover of music talking about what does and doesn’t work for her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.