At 11 a.m. on Jan. 4, a hush fell over the greater Los Angeles area as the long-awaited Coachella 2019 tickets went on sale. The festival does not take place until April, but the Coachella buzz is already alive and well. Although Coachella is a tempting indulgence, it is an irresponsible one because it entails an enormous donation to a hateful billionaire’s political agenda under the guise of live music appreciation.
Coachella tickets are essentially an indirect donation to an extremist right-wing agenda. After purchasing Coachella in 2001 and inflating the ticket prices over 900%, multi-billionaire Philip Anschutz was called out for donating to a group dedicated to stopping the “militant gay agenda” that associates pedophilia with homosexuality. Although Anschutz denied all allegations of donations to anti-LGBTQ+ groups, news sources continue to point to financial records showing that he gives thousands of dollars to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council and the National Christian Foundation. The media later revealed his generous monetary support of climate change denial groups, publication of anti-climate science views in his media properties like “The Washington Examiner” and support of extremist hate groups like “Pray in Jesus Name” and “The Center for Urban Renewal and Education,” whose owner stated that the Confederate flag and the Pride flag “represent the exact same thing.” Even more suspiciously, Anschutz converges twice yearly with the Koch brothers (enormous conservative political donors) for secretive “strategy meetings.”
Anschutz is hardly frugal with his donations. In 2016, he contributed $1,012,000 to Republican candidates and PACs and at least $770,000 to hate groups he supports, as revealed by his 2016 tax returns. Unsurprisingly, you might want to archive your “I believe survivors” post on Instagram before you start posting Coachella pics. Anschutz donates heavily to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, the very organizations that compiled the list of Supreme Court nominees from which Trump chose Kavanaugh (and Gorsuch). Similarly, the festival’s hippie weed culture seems bitterly ironic given that Anschutz is a generous donor to initiatives that work against the legalization of marijuana.
Also ironic is the choice of progressive, politically outspoken headliner Childish Gambino because some proceeds from his performance collected by Anschutz will be donated to pro-gun, anti same-sex marriage and pro-life politicians as well as racist birther conspiracy theorists. Coachella is the epitome of the co-option of counterculture and rebellion by commercial interests and the elite.
Even Coachella’s famous celebrity-driven fashion scene is mostly just paid brand deals. The aesthetic of the festival is cleverly designed to quite literally sell your political outrage back to you in a way that benefits the establishment. Donald Glover’s inevitable espousing of progressive buzzwords onstage to a million adoring fans is a form of deception thinly veiled in spectacle and some false form of artistic integrity. It does not matter to the Alliance Defending Freedom that Glover’s hit “This is America” is a haunting narrative depicting the reality of gun violence in the U.S., so long as they still get their check at the end of the day.
To make your contribution to these causes more concrete, TIME Magazine puts the total cost of a Coachella weekend at $2,347, not including money spent on clothes and accessories for the festival. As a responsible, politically active (not to mention “woke”) teen, let’s say that you got a summer job working for minimum wage ($12/hour) doing phone banking for a Democratic candidate of your choice to offset your Coachella contributions. You would have to work for more than 195 hours just to break even. The real price of a Coachella weekend, however, is the credibility and authenticity behind your progressive political rhetoric. The one true test of how much the causes you claim to feel passionate about actually matter to you is whether you only make politically conscious decisions when it is convenient and requires no personal sacrifice. This brand of selective activism reveals a vacuousness to your ideals. Your tickets speak for themselves.
Politics aside, it is difficult to just skim the surface when discussing the problematic aspects of Coachella. The festival has an infamous association with cultural appropriation, largely driven by its hippie, desert-themed fashion aesthetic. Furthermore, a journalist last year made waves after interviewing 54 women at Coachella, all of whom claimed to have been sexually harassed — a disturbing, but not completely surprising figure given that surveys find that more than 90% of female concert-goers have been harassed at a music event. Particularly when seen in light of these statistics, Instagram-driven excuses for Coachella tickets fall flat. So many people attend Coachella, particularly in L.A. private school social circles, that attendance at the festival suggests conformity more so than teenage rebellion or a love for fashion and live music. Correspondingly, at some point it is important to acknowledge how much you are willing to sacrifice in exchange for one fleeting moment of jealousy at your wealth-enabled youthful freedom in the eyes of your Instagram followers. Before you resign to a weekend of standing in a cloud of dust and someone else’s vape smoke while trying to convince yourself that you are having fun, I encourage you to ask yourself who you are doing this for and who is benefiting from your gratuitous consumption.