Sunday, February 27, 2011

Metal Consumerism part the second

"I think I'm cool because I chose to have something done to me."

For as long as I've been communicating with music aficionados of any type, that's what I've been sensing their tastes mean to them. They derive a sense of self-worth over belonging in a subculture rotating around this genre or type of music, as opposed to that other one. The most recent development is that subculture with so hybridized tastes that they take pride in not belonging in any traditional musical subculture because their tastes are so eclectic, that they therefore create the ultimate antagonistic subculture, that which denies it itself exists, yet very neurotically clings to their ultimate status as knowers-of-taste. Though the post-modern definition of such a group is tricky, how it functions is ageless, it's how any societal in-group functions. We are better. The Other is worse. Those people that listen to that other type of music are lame, obviously. Music taste as an ornament, not much different from having body piercings or an ironic tattoo, only even easier.

Listening to music is the easiest thing a person can do on this earth. It's actually almost not even an action. Music is done to you. Easier than watching a movie because there's no plot to follow and it can be done completely passively and in the background. Easier than reading a lowbrow romance novel because you don't even have to turn the pages with your fingers. Music demands almost nothing from you, and even the few requests it may project are subject to the consumer's adventurousness. You don't even have to pay for music anymore. And in return you can now claim to be better than other people that have different, 'less advanced' tastes than you.

Self-definition based on what a person chooses to be a willing victim to is problematic. If this or that music means something more to you, figure it out. Explain it to yourself, and to others. Be proactive about what you learned through art, put your theories to the test.

Taste is meaningless. Actually, let me qualify that, taste is very meaningful when one is searching internally to see what their aesthetic sense will lead them to. When that has occurred, taste is now bereft of function. You are you, your tastes are just a reflection of you. You can't talk about tastes without talking about yourself. Yet people try. They use their disembodied taste, socially, to maneuver around others and ultimately hide themselves. This is counter to the function of aesthetics. What type of music moves you is not useful to anyone unless it's in conjuncture to an explanation on how that music moved you. For such an explanation, the focus shifts inevitably from the 'music', to the 'you'.

There's been a critique on Poetry of Subculture that it's too subjective, too based on my own experiences with the music. I find that critique absolutely fitting, and I encourage anyone who's looking for faux-objective reviews of records to move along. What type of music I've allowed to have happened to me is not very important. What I got from it, is. If there's anything I want to encourage with this blog, it's a dialogue on the characters (myself and commentators) behind the tastes, the human beings that are trying to negotiate what a "Heavy Metal" might mean to them. The equal process could be done with a "punk rock" instead. The only reason it's not is that I can't talk about punk rock because I haven't been exposed to a lot of it. I'm sure there's a blog out there somewhere trying similar things with that, and with whatever else type of art.

I have a Heavy Metal blog because I spent many years listening to Heavy Metal. Not because Heavy Metal is better than any other type of music around. That sort of antagonism is diverting from the function of aesthetics: a common language to discuss intuitions and personal philosophy.

There's a few social reasons people what art to be just something that they 'chose to be a victim to'. First of all, the modern concept of art is that it's the product of some sort of savant geniuses, who, eschewing societal norms, choose to dedicate themselves to the Great Art. Towards them the consuming public feels constantly inferior. They listen to the loud music and they feel raped by their betters and they love that place of powerlessness, the small death of having someone else's will completely envelop them for a few minutes a day. Obviously artists play up to this role, there's much to gain by pretending to be a god. People do not love art and the artist and therefore make them successful, people love the artist and their art because they are successful. Artistic failure is the subject of the cruelest mockery instead. First the rape, then the Stockholm syndrome. A rapist with a flaccid penis is a failure of ontological proportions.

Deep down inside, the consumer loathes the power of the art over them. They then try to play it off as if it's just entertainment. They pretend art is a toy. What is the functional definition of a toy? An approximation of a real thing, a fakery that is given animation only at the hands of a proactive party. Music isn't a toy because the listener is not giving it life with their will. They're just pressing a button and the art takes over. The listener is the plaything of the art.

Either vantage towards art is distant, it bridges no space towards the center. It's just an endless revolution around an inscrutable core, obfuscated through social reinforcement of the 'art' as something simultaneously frivolous and beyond the capacity of the consumer to achieve on their own.

I do not know if every person has it in them to become artists. And when I hear absurdly talented and very successful artists such as Steve Vai go on about how 'making music is a human right and every person should know how to play an instrument' I get sickened by the distance between what he's describing and what my reality is as much as any consumer around me that hasn't even touched a guitar. The issue is much more systemic: what are the systems of authority and power in our western world that want art (and not mere performance, which has been subverted to commonality over reality talent shows and other such debris over the last decade) to be both unreachable but powerful, frivolous yet mystical? Is this because this is the best way to keep people buying product? When they at once feel that they never could create this art on their own, that it's special, but at the same time that it's a consumable commodity that needs be replenished as soon as possible?


  1. I'm still digesting both this and the last post and I plan to leave fuller comments very soon, but I have to say that I was attracted to PoS primarily because it was so honest about its intentions. The Internet is flooded with consumer's guides (hell, I write for several), I don't need to read another one. I find other people's thoughts fascinating, so seeing someone analyze their own brain is something I'm often interested in.

  2. Two things:

    (a) Never understood the consumer cry for selfless "balanced" reviews of product. Is it possible to interact/absorb/understand art in a selfless and "balanced" way? Mmmhmmm.

    (b) Always understood the need to align with one of the genre's hybrids. It's just human inclination. But I've never understood folks who claim to align themselves with ALL of the genre's hybrids. The "Oh, I love it all" guy makes as much sense as a selfless and balanced review of art.

  3. Taste just as meaningful as anything else because existence itself is meaningless.

  4. To the despair in the core of existentialism, to that exact realization that you present let us all offer in response revolt! Build upwards from nothing to something, or die in the darkness like the rest.

  5. And so we in the metal community have asserted that music, passive or not, is meaningful, and that taste is something worth valuing (even if it has no inherent value); why are you trying to tear that down?

    Or am I misunderstanding you?

  6. I am not part of any 'metal community'. You, as part of a metal communitym may in concert assert anything you like and it will lead to interesting things regardless. It is not a matter of misunderstanding, it is a matter of limited communication. Keep reading me and I'll keep reading you and we'll understand each other better eventually.

    I said taste has a use while you're figuring out personal aesthetics. After that it's just a social weapon for Othering those we deem not worthy. Please don't simplify my positions so that they appear easier to dismiss. I don't want us to agree necessarily, I just want there to be some clarity of communication.