The Problem with YACHT — and Understanding Overreaction in the Age of Outrage

Hutch Harris of the Thermals examines his reaction to YACHT’s faux sex tape scandal.

We were somewhere around Ogden, Utah, on the edge of the Latter Day empire when the tweets began to take hold. Having wrapped up a month-long U.S. tour, we (the Thermals) were now on a twelve-hour drive headed home to Portland, Oregon. I was glued to my phone, as I am every day in the van. The Internet and Twitter, specifically, are already daily addictions for me — especially magnified when I’m stuck in a moving vehicle for days at a time with little else to hold my attention.

There is never a shortage of drama to sift through online, and over the years I have gotten better at processing and reacting, or not reacting, to most of it. But today was different. The band YACHT had posted what appeared to be a serious tale of sexual exploitation: a “morally abject” individual had stolen and released a sex tape filmed by the band’s co-leaders, Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans. YACHT was getting out in front of the matter by alerting the public and even going so far as to release the video themselves with a pay-what-you-can model.

I’ve known YACHT for a long time. Although they are based in Los Angeles, the group was created in Portland. The Thermals played a fantastically fun show with YACHT (when it was still Bechtolt’s solo project) at the (now-defunct) all-ages venue Backspace in 2007. I consider them friends or at least acquaintances, and I’ve always been fond of them as people, despite not being a huge fan of their music.

Knowing YACHT’s penchant for media manipulation, I (privately) cried bullshit on their claim that they had been victimized. But I saw a huge outpouring of support from the music and comedy community, which led me to stay mostly silent on the matter, social media-wise. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of anyone kind enough to show empathy toward YACHT during their supposed ordeal and limited my comments to one snarky tweet: “Pitchfork gives YACHT’s sex tape a 6.9.” Stupid, I know. I’ve found that biting my tongue makes for crappy comedy, but I didn’t want to say what I really felt, even in a playful jab. Was there a small part of me that thought their story might be true? Of course there was. You can’t disbelieve everything you read.

When the news broke a day later that YACHT had lied, that there had been no theft, I did feel vindicated. I am often disgusted and rarely surprised. But I felt more than disgusted, I felt angry. Angry that they had abused the trust of their friends and fans, angry that people had believed them and had spoken out in their defense. I didn’t feel like saying, “I told you so,” for again, I didn’t want to hurt those who had been sympathetic toward YACHT. And I didn’t exactly want to hurt YACHT, but I didn’t feel like staying quiet either.

I started with a few righteous subtweets: “Just make a good record and you won’t have to resort to crass publicity stunts” (only half-true) and “It is possible to manipulate the media without lying to your fans and abusing their trust” (absolutely true). I felt good about these statements, but it wasn’t enough for me. Soon I was hurling insults at the band that had nothing to do with whatever perceived indiscretions they had committed, just flat-out attacks on their music: “YACHT has been tricking people for years into thinking their music was good.” Funny maybe, but not really fair. I got serious again: “When you lie about being sexually assaulted/exploited you do a terrible disservice to the true victims of these horrible crimes.” I believe this to be one hundred percent true, and YACHT’s only real crime in this matter — until they released a statement that acknowledged how their actions may have been hurtful and dangerous to victims but made no apology for them. They instead blamed the media.

I put my phone down. I didn’t feel any better after chiming in with the deafening clatter of digital indignation. No matter how many people agreed with the sentiments I was voicing, I only felt worse. That’s when I realized that my anger was not about YACHT, it was about me. My criticisms of their stunt may have been justified, but what were my real reasons for lashing out? Even when I was just roasting them in a semi-good-natured manner, what was the root of it? The answer was simple. I was already in a bad mood when I woke up. I had slept very little and was decompressing after a month on tour. YACHT was an easy target for my foul mood and mouth. I may not have been wrong, but I didn’t feel right.

We live in an age of outrage. Daily we are collectively on a massive witch-hunt, out to burn to the ground whoever we feel has broken our ever-changing shaky moral code. But the hunt and the ire that instigates it is as fleeting as anything else on the Internet. Whatever furor we feel (over the latest outrageous actions or comments) at breakfast has usually cooled by lunch and is often all but gone by dinner. I highly recommend Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed for further reading on the subject. I am still learning when it is right to speak out and when I would be better off keeping my mouth shut. Although I feel I was right to criticize YACHT’s actions and flippant non-apology, I regret trashing their music, and will now do what YACHT has finally done today: I will sincerely apologize.

YACHT, I am sorry.

(Hutch Harris photo credit: Jaclyn Campanaro)

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)