Matisyahu-Gate: Some Comments on the Comments

David Hershkovits
When we heard the news that the improbable Matisyahu -- a reggae singer/Hasidic Jew who had recently announced that he was cutting his beard and side curls! -- had attacked PAPERMAG photographer Rebecca Smeyne, our first reaction was disbelief. First, that a man of avowed principles would behave in such an unacceptable fashion, and second, that he should vent his misplaced rage on Smeyne, someone we know as a hard-working photographer with deep connections to New York's music scene. Modest and soft-spoken, it was hard to imagine her provoking a performer to single her out for attack in the middle of a performance!

Now that the dust has settled and Matisyahu and his management have more or less apologized and paid Smeyne for the damage to her camera, another issue has emerged that is perhaps even more upsetting than the initial incident.

Yes, Smeyne used a flash which apparently enraged Matisyahu to the point of assault. But there are many ways for a performer to address this, none of which were even attempted. He could have asked her to stop or asked security or even had her removed from the premises by the club management. Instead he chose to walk into the audience, stomp on her and try to destroy her camera. Fortunately for all no one was seriously injured.

OK. So we ran the story here on PAPERMAG, expecting it to create a stir, but not in the way I imagined. Sure, the story was picked up and linked to by many sites, but what surprised me was the tone of the comments here. I'm not a newbie to the Internet and I know that there are shrill and combative voices out there. But what surprised me is how many people chose to blame the victim for using a flash.

So let's get it straight once and for all. There is never an excuse to use violence against a woman. Period. Given Matisyahu's extreme behavior, for first embracing and then just as abruptly abandoning his Hasidic vows, one might suppose that he is in need of some psychological counseling. Given his attack on Smeyne, the case seems to be even more compelling.

And to all you photographers - and haters -- out there who are fixated on the flash and can't see the harsh reality of what happened, I urge you to take a minute to reflect and to make your resolution a promise to be kinder and gentler in the new year.

Photo by Rebecca Smeyne

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