The uproar over Lou Reed’s walk on the wild side encapsulates why progressive liberalism will fail

Given that Lou Reed has been dead for nearly four years, and his song Walk on the Wild Side is 45 years old, it is somewhat surprising to hear that it has stirred fresh controversy. Nonetheless, the Guardian report that the song has been caught up in some sort of transphobic row in Canada.

They report:

The Guelph Central Student Association, a group at the University of Guelph in Ontario, apologised for including the song on a playlist at a campus event.

In an apology published to Facebook and subsequently removed, the group said: “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement”…

The Guelph student group promised to be “more mindful in our music selection during any events we hold” and added: “If there are students or members of the campus community who overheard the song in our playlist and were hurt by its inclusion and you’d like to talk with us about it and how we can do better, we welcome that.”

As anyone familiar with the song knows, it was indeed considered risqué on its release. Only, it was controversial because Reed pointedly wanted to “introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet”. The song references several of Reed’s “superstar” friends who were regulars at Andy Warhols New York studio, The Factory and makes reference to both prostitution and sexual acts. Most notably among the “superstars” in the song were Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling (the latter also referenced in Reed’s Velvet Underground song Candy Says), both famous transgender actors and friends of Reed.

It is not my intention to comment on the merits of the lyrics nor on the kinds of people the song is about. Let us not forget, the song is nearly 45 years old. Whatever controversy it may or may not have stirred on its release, there is nothing new in the lyrics. What is surprising is that the song is being deemed offensive to transgender people when it was written to include such people and describes people who were friends of the songwriter.

Two issues stand out. First, authorial intent has become subordinate to inferred offence. The song with which some have taken umbrage comes from Reed’s album Transformer (no prizes for noting the play on words here). Hal Willner, a friend of Reed’s who recently completed a reissue of his later solo work, said:

“this song was how the world first heard about these people. It’s a song about love. What else can you say?”

Despite the references to Reed’s transgender friends, and his obvious desire to introduce such people to a world, this means nothing when the listener infers an offensive meaning.

Second, it is clear somebody intent on promoting (to a lesser or greater degree) the existence of transgender people is now being attacked by the very people he intended to support.

The whole thing offers a snapshot of why progressive liberalism is currently eating itself. If offence is rightly to be determined in ear of the hearer – not the intent of the speaker – it seems there is hardly anything anyone might say that will not lead to a problem. How can it be reasonable to pillory someone for saying something offensive when the speaker neither had any intention to be offensive nor understands the nature of the offence caused? Alas, the hearer was offended so thus a grave sin has been committed.

The problem with this, of course, is that Reed was actually seeking to promote transgenderism (to some degree). He was speaking of friends he knew personally. None of this, of course, matters if subjective offence determines whether something is beyond the pale. What may once have been deemed misunderstanding becomes significant sin when authorial intent is meaningless. This will mean the death of almost any art form, all satire and all but the most bland pronouncements designed to be as inoffensive as possible. Often these media make points that, though the hearer would be in agreement if they got it, they misunderstand and thus become offended. Only because they don’t get it they are offended, and because they are offended the entire point gets shut down.

It was Jesus who said ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand’ (Mark 3:24f). Progressive liberalism appears to be fighting itself. Germaine Greer – arch-deaconess of progressive liberal feminism – has come under fire for daring to assert that she does not believer transgender women are, indeed, women. The very premise of progressive feminism is now butting heads with the directly contrary premise of progressive transgenderism, with each undermining the other. The issue concerning Lou Reed – himself ultimately supporting transgenderism – is a step further on from that surrounding Greer. Germaine Greer never positioned herself as a defender, supporter or promoter of transgenderism [1]. Lou Reed is being attacked over a song that specifically intended to be supportive by the very people about whom he wrote.

Whatever you may or may not think about the issue at hand – whether you like Lou Reed or not; whether you support transgenderism or not; whether you share Germaine Greer’s view or not – this is just the latest example of how progressive liberals are killing their own movement. In the name of progressive tolerance, they are now showing no tolerance to those who were once doyennes of their cause. That is why progressives, of this sort of ilk, are doomed to failure.


  1. To my knowledge, she is not against transgenderism per se – having no problem with those who decide to undergo surgery – but does deny that male-to-female transsexuals are ontologically women.