We’ve always known who Marilyn Manson was

A disturbing new exposé proves the rock star’s abusive behavior was always hiding in plain sight.

US singer Marilyn Manson performs during a concert in Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, ...
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In a shocking new exposé from Rolling Stone, a nine-month investigation reveals the true extent of Marilyn Manson’s past as a serial sexual predator and abuser. The story alleges a pattern of intense and disturbing behavior from the rock star across the decades, including sexual torture, rape, grooming, and persistent physical and mental abuse to young women and practically everyone in his professional orbit.

The story is the deepest report yet following allegations in the last couple of years from more than a dozen women of Manson’s abuse, an issue widely speculated about since actress Evan Rachel Wood’s congressional testimony in 2018 about her experience with a partner that, earlier this year, she ultimately confirmed to be Manson. Yet a through line to the horrors detailed in the piece is also the latent truth that Manson’s behavior is, in fact, something he has been telling the world about for years.

From the start of his career in the early 90s, Manson’s music has been built upon a schtick of extreme shock and irreverence — railing against Christian morality and playing off of Satanic imagery. Embedded within that persona was also a deliberately flippant attitude toward things like murder, suicide, and sexual violence. It was this artistic backdrop that his survivors say enabled his behavior to operate in plain sight — that allowed not only people within Manson’s circle, but within society at large to look past what in retrospect appear to be clearly the signs of a terrifying abuser.

“I didn’t tell that many people what had happened to me, because so many people saw it happening and didn’t care,” Sarah McNeilly, a survivor, said. Another, actress Esmé Bianco, noted, “He told the whole world and nobody tried to stop him.”

Repeatedly, over the years, Manson would speak openly about violence and sexual assault. He told a teenage Phoebe Bridgers about his “rape room.” In talking about Wood, Manson told Spin in an interview that he had “fantasies every day about smashing her skull in with a sledgehammer.” Elsewhere, the piece notes: “In 2009, when The Guardian asked [Manson] what his greatest fear was, he responded, “Fear is something I instill in other people, mostly young girls.” At a concert the same year, he told the crowd, “When you laugh after you fuck her, it is not rape.” (The one time, the piece notes, that Manson’s label felt he went too far was when a 1995 EP of his had initially included two audio skits entitled “Abuse” that quite literally played out scenes of sexual abuse.)

It is perhaps a convenience of hindsight to say that the signs were all there. But it is also, for us, a shameful confrontation with the realities of a very recently less progressive time to realize that the things Manson was publicly and proudly saying should never have been acceptable, even under the guise of artistic boundary-pushing or theatrical commitment. We mistook, and still do mistake, a license to artistic freedom and expression (partially motivated by a fear of appearing prudish) with a permission slip to overlook legitimately abusive behavior or, at the very least, attitudes.

“We give an awful lot of slack to men like this, and especially in the music industry,” Bianco said. “If you’re not a womanizer and a complete misogynist, are you really a rock star at all?”

This slack that is given is crucially not just cultural, but also part of buttressed by an internal network of celebrity and fame. Kanye West’s recent and bizarre alignment with Manson is motivated by a misguided personal fear of losing artistic license and fame. “They can’t cancel us all,” he explained in a recent interview when asked about Manson and DaBaby. As always, it is never about the bogeyman of cancel culture — a culture that responds swiftly and seriously to Manson openly claiming to find “sexual excitement” in a “terrified girl,” is simply a better, safer and saner one. One can only hope we’re closer to that version of the world than the one that allowed Manson to be widely celebrated for the same things he is now finally being exposed for.