In the past few months, we've seen two documentaries released about the lives of two cultural lightning rods, Montage of Heck (Kurt Cobain) and Amy (Amy Winehouse). Though I haven't seen them, I'm sure both of these documentaries are fine -- I've heard good things about both from various sources, and expect that both provide a fair, nuanced look at the lives of these two iconic figures in the music scene. I'm not here to talk about the documentaries, though. I'm here because Pitchfork associate staff writer Molly Beauchemin has used these two films as a jumping-off point to broach the ever-thorny topic of sexism in the music industry. As she puts it, "media dotes over its tortured male artists while undermining the personal struggles of women who suffer the same." Unfortunately, the article she's written doesn't particularly hold up to any sort of serious structural critique, which has the potential to be quite harmful to the cause she's championing here.

Before we really get into this, I'd like to clarify something briefly: I one hundred percent agree with the thesis of Beauchemin's piece. The sexism rampant in our music industry and more general pop culture manifests itself in many different ways, and that polarizing young musicians are often covered differently based on their gender is certainly one of those manifestations. Though at the moment it's impossible to tell how much, exactly, gender actually affects media portrayal, it's fairly evident that it has a nontrivial impact. I'm not criticizing Beauchemin's article because of the ideology it inhabits. I'm criticizing Beauchemin's article because it's poorly-researched, unconvincing at best and an egregious violation of generally-accepted journalistic integrity at worst.

The piece opens with a brief examination of the differences between the coverage of Kurt Cobain at his most newsworthy and Amy Winehouse at her most newsworthy, as demonstrated by the two documentaries. This is all well and good, and it's clear that Cobain's drug addiction was treated far more adoringly than Winehouse's by the coverage outlets cited by the two films. However, immediately after this exposition, Beauchemin jumps immediately to an assertion that this unequal treatment is due to the aforementioned sexism. This is the first of many oversimplifications Beauchemin creates here. Cobain and Winehouse were treated differently by the media; ergo, sexism.

The argument enumerated here is weak because it ignores countless other factors that might have explained the inequities in coverage. It's possible, of course, that the media of Cobain's day was still reeling from the shock of grunge's explosion onto mainstream consciousness, and didn't want to risk losing their credibility from the younger generation by ham-fistedly criticizing Cobain's drug habits like an old fogie. It's also possible that since Winehouse made music that was more strictly considered "pop" than Cobain's, she was subjected to the same kinds of People-esque intrusions that almost all pop stars are (after all, who could forget Justin Bieber's downward spiral?) Beauchemin even brings up another valid explanation -- the "radically different cultural realities" of pre-TMZ vs. post-TMZ -- and leaves it behind as she moves along without explaining why it's insignificant. It's one thing to bring up a confounding factor and explain why it's irrelevant or incorrect; it's another thing entirely to bring up that confounding factor and then totally ignore it, leaving it to smolder like a fiery bag of dog poop on a doorstep.

This isn't to say that sexism can't be the primary explanation for the differences found here, but Beauchemin's argument needs a lot more solid evidence and analysis than she provides. The thing is, there's been a lot of prior research and writing about this kind of gendered treatment of pop-culture icons. In their article "Rock and roll or rock and fall? Gendered framing of the rock and roll lifestyles of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty in British broadsheets," the scholars Pauwke Berkers and Merel Eeckelaer argue convincingly of exactly this, though they examine The Libertines singer Doherty instead of Cobain. After about a dozen pages of analyzing British newspapers' treatments of the two stars, they conclude that, "while Winehouse's behavior is criticized by British broadsheet journalists, Doherty seems to 'get away' with his behavior [...] confirming the suspicions and predictions of popular music scholars as well as recent studies on the gendered media coverage of celebrities." What's more, the New York Times also ran a story on the disparate coverage of celebrities based on gender (including, of course, a bit about Amy Winehouse!), and they not only dug deep into statistical treasure troves as well as specific incidents but also interviewed people directly involved with this portrayal. Beauchemin's piece, on the other hand, does nothing of this sort. She makes a shoddily-produced argument for the simplifications of her piece which cherry-picks evidence instead of looking at our culture as a whole and doesn't even attempt to explore the deeper nuances of the issue at hand and more deeply-rooted misogyny she scrapes the surface of.

Often, she doesn't even portray the meager evidence she's found fairly. The second example of disrespect shown to "martyrs" that she cites is that of an ostensibly dismissive obituary of rock superstar Janis Joplin. Beauchemin's one-sentence summary leads the reader to believe that the Times portrayed Joplin at her death as a volatile ne'er-do-well who drank and swore a lot. (Incidentally, at the time of writing, the hyperlink which should lead to that obit instead leads to Amy Winehouse's Pitchfork page. This doesn't particularly encourage the reader to check out the source material.)

This, at first glance, seems unbelievable. That a publication as well-respected as the New York Times would write such a flippant obituary for a cultural icon such as Joplin seems absurd. This portrayal is so unbelievable, in fact, that it turns out to be a blatant mischaracterization of the obit. Some of Beauchemin's pull quotes are taken so outlandishly out of context that they come to mean almost exactly the opposite of their original intent. When she criticizes the Times for calling Joplin a "misfit," they're actually saying that she was a "misfit" in her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas -- and Joplin was a misfit because, as the singer puts it literally one sentence later, "I read, I painted, I didn't hate n***ers." Moreover, Beauchemin argues that the Times "remembers [Joplin] as 'drinking from a bottle at concerts.'" This, of course, was included in the Times obituary because the author felt it showed how "the tempo of her private life kept pace with the driving songs." The Times isn't demonizing her for drinking. It's doing quite the opposite -- explaining that she truly lived the life she performed and sang about and applauding her wholehearted dedication to her music.

Beauchemin compares Joplin to Jimi Hendrix, about whom the Times wrote a glowing obituary which "failed to highlight his fabled and widely-acknowledged affinity for mixing drugs with alcohol, even as new evidence emerged that he was wildly out of control during his final days." It's worth pointing out here the dates the original obituary and the "new evidence" were published: the original obit came out in 1970, while the article containing the hyperlinked evidence Beauchemin has included was published in 2013. Unless the obituary writer had a time machine that could take them forward forty-five years and then back in time to write the obit, it's difficult to see how this "new evidence" would have been incorporated into this piece.

The pattern continues: after using these two comparisons to make a sweeping statement about how "the pattern is always the same," Beauchemin includes the deaths of Billie Holiday and Keith Moon as further evidence to support her thesis. She points out that Billie Holiday's Times obituary "dedicated an entire column to discussing her 1947 arrest and narcotics conviction," while Keith Moon's Guardian obituary failed to point out his "well-documented struggle with alcoholism and the 32 clomethiazole pills that ultimately killed him." Even ignoring that these two columns are from entirely different publications and that the Times only afforded Moon one sentence two months after his death, it's also worth noting that Holiday's piece is more than twice as long as Moon's. What's more, Holiday's obituary spends far more time talking about how influential and incredible she was than it does talking about her drug addiction, to the point where characterizing the obit as dominated by a tale of her arrest is highly unfair.

There are many other issues with Beauchemin's piece, most of which I won't be able to cover in the interest of time. A quick rundown of some of the less flagrant oversimplifications and mischaracterizations found within: when criticizing the positive media coverage "lavished unto Michael Jackson" around the time of his death, Beauchemin conveniently forgets about the immense amount of scandal Jackson attracted (most likely rightly so) in the wake of pedophilia charges against him. She briefly looks down upon "communities [who] shit on Lana Del Rey's "aesthetic sadness" while simultaneously espousing emo bands fronted by men," a bit of an oversimplification of why people might not like Lana (other explanations include how she's been "manufactured", her "pandering", even the sexism of her own lyrics) and one that's unfair to her detractors who make solid arguments that don't revolve around the tenet "pop is crap." The article she cites to describe the media's "depict[ion]" of Lauryn Hill "as a crazy person" is entitled "Rockers Off Their Rockers: 25 Musicians Who Went Kind Of Cray-Cray," and not only maintains a gender balance of close to 50/50 male/female but also puts forth R&B singer D'Angelo as one of its picks, a man who took a hiatus of similar length as that of Hill. She distills the reasons that "Yoko Ono would never be as widely-respected as several contemporary male artists" down to an argument that "she was a mother," ignoring the hatred many adults feel towards her for whatever role she might have had in breaking up the Beatles and the case that, hey, maybe her art isn't that good after all.

The sad thing about all this is that there's a lot of latent sexism in all these counterarguments that's worth examining. It is absolutely worth talking about why we get angry at Lana for being "manufactured," whatever that means, and it's highly probable that misogyny plays a large part of that sentiment. We should be able to discuss why we complain in the first place that women are dependent on men who "help them" in various roles without complaining about men in the same position, as Beauchemin briefly starts to do before jettisoning the point in order to reach a somewhat shaky claim that this "othering" in particular makes them more subject to criticism from the media. (She's forgotten one important subject to touch on in the four examples she gives, though -- Winehouse succeeded in no small part thanks to her close relationship with production guru and musical mastermind Mark Ronson, who co-produced Back to Black.) I'd be interested in a conversation on why the media fixated so intently upon Whitney Houston's spiral into destruction before implicitly absolving themselves at the time of her death, and the intersections between race and gender that might have affected that even further. It's even worth discussing what Yoko Ono's gender might have to do with the rock world's hatred of her.

That's precisely the issue with this piece: there is a huge arena for discussing the way female celebrities' issues are treated differently than similar male celebrities' issues. This piece doesn't inhabit that arena, instead flopping over as an example of lazy research and fruitless, ham-fisted discussion. There are hundreds of great examples through the years that illustrate the kind of disparate treatment based on gender Beauchemin is complaining about. However, Beauchemin's not just cherry-picked sparingly from this wide trough -- she's cherry-picked poorly, and has defended her choices even more poorly. Moreover, the kinds of conversations this article might have helped at least start aren't picked up at all. Instead of covering the different kinds of ways the sexism in question manifests itself in this respect -- or even allude to a few of them -- Beauchemin simplifies these distinct appearances of misogyny into a slurry of pointed yet vague affirmations of what many of us already know, unwilling or unable to engage with the source material at a deeper level.

Chances are, countless readers will look at this article and agree with what it says because they already agreed with the thesis in the first place. Chances are, though, many more readers will come in skeptical, see the gross oversimplifications, shoddy and superficial research, and violations of whatever tenuous values of journalistic integrity we might still hold, and decide that because this article is not worth their time, this discussion is not worth their time. In that regard, the article might help turn some people on to the sexism of our pop culture -- but it also might help turn off many more.