The disaster of the Astroworld festival and the normalization of death

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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 public died and hundreds more were seriously injured during the ‘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 crash at the Astroworld music festival on Friday. (AP Photo / Robert Bumsted)

With severely overcrowded festival grounds and blocked escape routes, what unfolded in Houston was a nightmarish mass suffocation and stomping. The disaster was allowed to continue for over an hour, even as the dead and dying were removed from the crowds and people were screaming and begging festival staff to stop the show.

Survivors describe how the crushing of human 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 stepped on them.

There were countless red flags in the months, days and hours leading up to the disaster. Concert organizers have been repeatedly warned of the threat of injury and death. Videos show that earlier today, crowds overpowered security and smashed a door, allowing hundreds of people to show up to the festival without showing a ticket or going through a security check. The Houston Police Chief even visited Scott in his trailer before the performance to express concern about the potential for violence.

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

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

There is no doubt that Scott bears some of the blame and may well be held legally and criminally responsible. But demonizing an individual avoids broader social problems. What explains this systematic indifference to death?

The disaster is the latest in a series of “fatal events” in the United States, from school shootings to building collapses, floods and hurricanes, which have become shockingly normalized. The Houston disaster unfolded against the backdrop of the biggest “mass event” of all, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far killed more than 775,000 Americans.

There were specific financial interests involved. Scott (net worth $ 50 million), along with guest artist Drake ($ 150 million) and girlfriend Kylie Jenner ($ 700 million), are at the center of a massive winning machine from money in the public performance sector.

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 live entertainment company. It operates over 235 venues in 44 countries and hosts massive music festivals across the United States like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. The company made $ 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 peak of before the pandemic.

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 hosted a massive super-spraying event in Houston during a global pandemic, with cases increasing worldwide.

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 “collective immunity” and mass infection. In April, Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies and businesses that receive public funds from requiring proof of vaccination. The following month, he signed a bill that punishes businesses that require customers to have proof of COVID-19 vaccination for services.

It was impossible to enforce even the minimum COVID-19 protocols that are in place. The crowd was overwhelmingly unmasked and there was no social distancing to speak of. It was clear that, even if no one had been stepped on, the event would have led to COVID-19 infections and probable deaths.

The concert took place despite the inevitability that it would contribute to the spread of the pandemic. Is it any surprise then that the same organizers and authorities turned a blind eye when it became apparent the venue was overcrowded, security personnel were unable to crowd control, and medical staff were overwhelmed even before Scott does his performance begin?

However, it is not just about financial considerations. There is a broader brutalization of American society, promoted in the media and throughout the 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 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 delay systematically put forward. Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no society” could describe much of contemporary rap music, with this decidedly emphasis on personal advancement, greed, hedonism and the glorification of violence.

Scott’s music is all about making as much money as possible while “living in the moment”, subjects that permeate much of commercial hip hop music. A few days before the murderous gig, Scott released a song titled, ironically, “Escape Plan”, in which he rapped about one day with a fortune of “12 figures”. That would put him on par with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who each control over $ 100 billion. The clip features Scott posing in front of a succession of hypercars, yachts and luxury mansions.

High culture, for its part, is dying of hunger. Classical musicians have seen their salaries drop year after year and budgets for cultural education in schools are shrinking. There is a systematic and ongoing attack, orchestrated by the media and the political establishment, on the legacy of the American Revolution and Civil War. The level of cultural degradation has reached a point where a professor, Bright Sheng of the University of Michigan, can be targeted and ostracized for showing 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 human life on display in Houston.

While they rarely indulge in the homicide and brutality fetishization that permeates much of hip-hop, Scott’s lyrics are steeped in the cult of hedonism, risk-taking, and life. from the moment. The concert iconography borrows heavily from horror films, including a giant skull-shaped sculpture of the artist’s head.

One participant posted on Redditt: “Everything seemed normal for a Travis Scott show. I have seen countless people pass out at almost every AG standing room concert. I didn’t know the people I saw being taken away were lifeless corpses, I thought people were just passing out. Was it overcrowded? Yes but it is normal. Was he understaffed? Yes but it is normal. Was it chaotic? Yes but it is normal. I feel like the crowd has become so desensitized and normalized to nothing but rage that they finally caught up with him and everyone involved.


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