Evan Rachel Wood, Marilyn Manson and the Stories We Tell Ourselves About Iconoclastic Rock Stars

The teenage shooters who murdered 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999 didn’t live long enough to be held accountable, so America found another scapegoat: Marilyn Manson. Seizing on rumors that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold worshiped the flamboyantly blasphemous rocker, politicians, and pundits who’d waited years for an excuse to bury him protested his shows, ranted about his onstage antics, and lobbied record labels to stop distributing music with violent themes. Children were treated as criminals in schools all over the country for sporting his T-shirts. His band was forced to stop touring after the outcry grew. When it was eventually revealed that the killers had never been Manson fans, the truth didn’t even seem to matter.
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Twenty-two years later, on Feb. 1, 2021, the actor Evan Rachel Wood, who’d spent years advocating for sexual abuse victims but had never publicly named her abuser, posted a message on Instagram. “The name of my abuser is Brian Warner, also known to the world as Marilyn Manson,” she wrote. “He started grooming me as a teenager and horrifically abused me for years.” Despite fears of retaliation, Wood continued, “I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives.”

It is her story. Phoenix RisingThe HBO documentary, “The Two-Part Heartbreaking HBO Documentary” Adnan Syed’s Case The film will be directed by Amy Berg and air on March 15th-16. Berg has said the project began as “an Erin Brockovich story,” tracking Wood’s successful campaign to extend the statute of limitations on domestic violence in California. “That was what we were making—until she decided to name him publicly,” the director told Variety. In the version that ultimately got made, we watch Wood and artist Illma Gore (who’s been described, alternately, as Wood’s friend and her romantic partner) gather evidence against Warner. The actor continues to tell her story.

To tie her nightmare account to reports by lesser-famous Manson ex exes and highlight instances where he had publicly confessed to having mistreated women, Phoenix Rising The haunting question is why Wood and the other survivors never had to examine a man who caused such outrage for his behavior, or how he behaved in a predatory manner. Berg subtly yet persuasively makes the case that the real—and disturbingly conspicuous—threat he posed was not to Colorado high schoolers he’d never met or even to God-fearing Americans in general, but to young women. The public ignored it.

They are horrifying. The reports are quite disturbing. Among Wood’s long list of allegations are claims that Warner controlled her, deprived her of sleep, forced her to take drugs, and repeatedly raped her while she was unconscious. She says his resistance to birth control resulted in an unwanted pregnancy—and that he ordered her to make him dinner the same day she had an abortion. She details many other violent events but the one that stands out is the beating with a Nazi-style whip. Wood is Jewish. According to the actor, Warner penetrated her while she was intoxicated, during what was supposed to be a simulated sex scene, on the set of his 2007 music video “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” which cast Wood, then 19 years old, as a modern-day Lolita. “I was coerced into a commercial sex act under false pretenses,” she says. “I was essentially raped on camera.”

Wood, in a still from Phoenix Rising
HBOWood as a Still from Phoenix Rising

Of course, even the most outrageous accusations need to be checked. In on-screen text at the end of each episode, Berg notes that the Manson camp declined to comment on the allegations made in the film; she quotes a previous statement from his legal counsel establishing that “Mr. Warner vehemently denies any and all claims of sexual assault or abuse of anyone.” Earlier this month, Manson filed a lawsuit against Wood and Gore, accusing the women of a “conspiracy,” in the service of which they supposedly “secretly recruited, coordinated, and pressured prospective accusers to emerge simultaneously with allegations of rape and abuse against Warner.” One woman, Greta Aurora, who had what she calls “a brief sexual relationship” with the singer in 2011, when she was 19 and he was 42, has emerged to protest that he was “extremely nice.”

Wood and Gore managed to locate several women willing to speak out against him, however. In the second episode of the series, Wood and Gore share their sorrow over their failed relationships. Also present for that meeting is Dan Cleary, a former employee of Manson’s who identified him as Wood’s abuser in a Twitter threadIt was months before her Instagram post went public. In Phoenix Rising, he doubles down on his eyewitness account, corroborating her recollections of times when she was on tour with the band and none of the many people present who observed—or were coerced into participating in—her abuse intervened. In a clip interspersed with the closing credits, from Twitch, Limp Bizkit guitarist and onetime Marilyn Manson band member Wes Borland beseeches fans to “relax about the allegations towards the women” because “they are speaking the truth.”

If this is what a conspiracy looks like, then you have to wonder why so many participants would risk the wrath of Manson’s lawyers and fans. Search the rocker’s name on Twitter, and you’ll see that toxic stan culture isn’t just for pop divas. Wood flees California with her child, who Berg makes sure not to see in the video.

The #MeToo movement has been slow to make inroads into the testosterone-soaked corner of the music industry where Borland and Cleary still work; these guys aren’t exactly incentivized to promote feminism. She has received numerous awards for her performances in the music industry. Westworld, among other projects, it’s not like Wood is in need of a career boost. It is possible to imagine Wood’s continued association with Manson being a threat to her reputation. The other survivors are left to wonder what happened to the victims that came forward. R. Kelly Survives Oder Neverland is gone Oder Cosby is a topic we need to discuss or any other documentaries about famous alleged abusers gained besides—in too few cases—justice?

Wood as Dolores Abernathy in Westworld
HBOWood for Dolores Abernathy Westworld

In that respect, Wood’s crusade has much in common with so many other sexual misconduct exposés that have roiled the entertainment industry over the past five years. Terms that come up, like “grooming” and “love bombing,” have long since become part of the lexicon—to the extent that they threaten to hurt more than help, rendering individual horror stories generic. What is the difference? Phoenix Rising from its predecessors is Manson’s rare position in the culture. An edgelord Alice Cooper figure for older millennials, he was the single most controversial rocker to break into the mainstream during his late-’90s heyday. For three decades now, he’s been saying things, and doing performances, that scandalize Middle America. It’s very easy to make the argument that he’s a scary guy, but very hard to convince people they should care.

We have, after all, been shrugging off his own self-reported offenses against women for just about as long as he’s been famous. Berg points to excerpts from interviews and Manson’s memoir that range from the vivid expression of sadistic fantasies to detailed accounts of violence against women. In an astonishing clip from Jon Favreau’s early-2000s IFC show Dinner for Five, we watch Manson regale Favreau, Andy Dick, and Daryl Hannah with the story of his 1996 short film “Groupie,” in which a very young-looking actress is subjected to various sexualized tortures during a real party at his house. “Did you get it distributed?” Hannah asks. “No,” says Manson. “Because when I showed it to my manager he said, ‘Please hide the masters. If anyone ever sees this you’ll go to jail and your career will be over.’”

I don’t know that what we sometimes call rape culture is, alone, responsible for the lack of public attention paid to these statements. It’s also true that with a character like Manson, it can be hard to tell where the performance of depravity ends and the real psychosexual violence begins. We tend to trust artists because we believe in freedom. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; provocation is a vital tool for art, including feminist art, and censorship can cut both ways. To insist that everything Marilyn Manson—a creation that seems to fall somewhere between stage name and alter ego—says about himself must be true of Brian Warner would be to suppress, or at least disregard, a long history of musicians inhabiting invented personas. Sometimes blurring the lines between art and real life is the best way to get the point.

But, it is possible to be a good person. Was If one plans to truly live the life as an abusive misogynist they will need to have some convincing deniability. One interviewee calls Warner “a wolf in wolves’ clothing.” Wood alleges that the supposedly ironic deployment of racist, fascist, and antisemitic imagery in his work belies real hate. Berg describes and she presents the series of portraits he made of her during their five-year marriage. Each portrait was torturer than the other. “It made me feel like the abuse was art to him,” she says. This idea is very nauseating.

Evan Rachel Wood (right) with a fellow survivor
HBOWood (right) and a survivor

This story gets complicated further by the influence of fan culture. It can be difficult for young girls to understand that Chris Brown abused Rihanna, as the chorus of teenage girls eager to beat him proved. Anyone would object to their idol’s wildest desires. It is common for misguided jealousy to play a role. Young people may be influenced by rock stars. There is the idea that they’re living fabulous lives of freedom, luxury and subversion while you’re stuck in your bedroom imagining what it might be like to be, or to be loved by, them. Berg’s articles were a big part of my life as a high-school music fan and an avid consumer of media. I can’t remember how I felt about any of it, at the time, but I know it wasn’t sufficient to make me toss my copy of Antichrist Superstar.

The abuse of younger females by older rock stars has been going on since before the advent of rock music (see Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis). She wrote the book Good Booty. Love and Sex in American Music., the critic Ann Powers delves into the ’70s Sunset Strip groupie scene. “Many young women were violated,” she writes. “The mere presence of underage girls required a web of adult complicity. Club owners and promoters… made sure plenty of teenage cuties were available to entertain touring musicians. The semi-clad ladies sat in hotel hallways was overlooked by staff. Police apparently looked askance, or worse.” Although Wood was (just barely) a legal adult when she started dating Manson, there are striking parallels between the world Powers describes and her memories of touring with him.

Secondhand sexism is just as powerful. Wood met Manson when he was married to Burlesque Star Dita Von Teese. Tabloids called her a “homewrecker” and a “real-life Lolita.” Perez Hilton, the common denominator in every story of blog-era media misogyny, nicknamed her “Evan Rachel Whore.” (Wood says they were friends first, and that Manson made the first move, catching her off-guard.) He was only half his age at that time, but she was still just a teenager. It’s hard to imagine Manson’s alleged victims eliciting much sympathy from the socially conservative politicians and commentators who attacked him over Columbine, either. They knew they were in a relationship with someone who believed Satan was real or claimed to be the Antichrist. The old “asking for it” defense.

There are so many reasons why Manson faced years of backlash against his performance art, hacky as it often was, but has only recently been called to account for his alleged abuse of female partners—all of them depressing. The tides are turning now, at the least. Manson lost his acting job, had to give up his record contract, and has also been without an employee. However, he did gain a prominent collaborator, Kanye West. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has launched an investigation. Wood spoke to FBI. In a meeting, we see in. Phoenix RisingShe imitates being dragged behind the hair. Warner was not charged criminally. And one man’s arrest certainly won’t put an end to rotten gender dynamics in the music industry that have been festering since befOdere Evan Rachel Wood or Brian Warner was born.

What can be done about this? I tend to agree with Powers when she writes that “music’s pleasure culture… demands a reassessment of the fine lines between artists’ self-expression and exploitation by others, and between erotic encounters that enrich people’s lives and the kind of encroachments that can destroy them.” Until we’re ready to wade through this morass as a culture, with the care, precision, and nuance #MeToo sometimes lacked, there are sure to be a lot more infuriating documentaries where Phoenix Rising From.


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