Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sexism in Heavy Metal

We must be very skeptical when we see Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions.

If language is the domain of domestication of experience - and by that I mean, if language is a tool for making faux-sense from non-sense - then what is Real is what is left unspoken; Therewithin lies the enduring necessity of art and especially music: in expressing the inexpressible, a sideways glance inside the wound of existence. Heavy Metal is a wordless scream. It is pointing at the horror of life. From blatant forms of death and decay and zombies to the more modernist depictions of middle-class ennui and urban alienation.

Heavy Metal tolls the funeral bells for 43 years now. Surely the danger it prophesies must have occurred by now, right? If not, then the danger is time itself, experience itself, the horror and awe of sentience.

Warning, Humans: The apocalypse is at hand, it has forever been at hand. There is no final count, no absolution, no yesterday and no tomorrow.

Romance is the tool of Heavy Metal, a modern sort of music with an ancient conceit. In that space, the nationalist tendencies of it can be best understood. In that space, men are Men, women don't really have souls and the world is there to conquer and forge anew with willpower. Imagine that Victorian dolt on the painting standing with his silly suit and cane on the top of the mountain gazing at the clouds. Actually, don't just imagine, here it is

Ahh... not a single woman or nigger in sight!

Heavy Metal subcultures are rife with racism, but have been making some progress. There is a political precedent that allows for some limited progress in that aspect and it comes via Rush: Ayn Rand-type Objectivism. Because that strain of thought persists and informs Heavy Metal, listeners are prepared to accept an individual of color as part of their tribes if they show a strong will and moral sense *akin to that of the white man*. In this way, people from other races are allowed in the clubhouse if they understand and can further the memetic ancestry of individualism, capitalism and Manichean ethics: If you believe in the Strong, if you believe in free commerce, if you believe in Good and Evil, you can be part of the metal hordes.

As problematic and colonialist as all this sounds, there can be a discussion and progress from such a basis (and there has been). Such a basis can be radicalized. What is needed is higher level discourse by the proponents of Heavy Metal subcultures to take it there. Now where these people are and why aren't they writing (or composing and performing) to that end is it's a whole different issue and article.

But even a staunch nationalistic and ancient-loving point of view in Heavy Metal is not a conformist point of view; It comes in contact with modern living and there is friction. From this friction, sparks of interest can arise. Heavy Metal doesn't need to be correct (or even very nice), it just needs to collide with preconceptions in a spectacular way so as to inspire individuals to seek their individual truths., for example, a hornet's nest of neo-nazis and misanthropes if there ever were one, has had a brief positive influence on me not due to the letter of its content, but its counter-cultural spirit on the whole. In the outright lunacy of suggesting Heavy Metal carries the torch of classical composition and not blues-based rock n' roll (which is left to the loathsome blacks) I learned "well, if this person can re-contextualize the narrative of Heavy Metal in whatever way they like, then so can I. Who is going to stop me, Lemmy?".

That is the seed of radical thinking and self-definition that Heavy Metal trades in.

But when it comes to ingrained gender roles, Heavy Metal isn't even inspiringly over-identifying with a  bigoted point of view. It has no extreme message. It doesn't push anything.

Heavy Metal agrees with an American home-owner from the '30s on the role of Man and Woman in life. The man is the hunter out in the wild. The woman tends to the cubs inside the cave.

When Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions, we must be very skeptical.

An over-identification that could have been useful would be for a Heavy Metal band to be defiantly pro-homosexual and call for the destruction of womankind on the whole. That's the sort of nonsense you can work with.

But this middle of the road misogyny just breeds lukewarm contempt from those of us that are anti-sexists and a lurid confirmation bias from those of us that have been traditionally sexist to begin with. This sort of sexism that Heavy Metal endorses is ass-patting the worst aspects of male listeners, it provides no challenge, it provides no restrictions and no transcendentalist goal; It just reiterates on the common old narrative that women are inferior, weak of spirit and desire and can only be sexually acted upon by Proud Mens. The only women it accepts are glorified sex objects and/or (be very careful with the 'or' proposition here, it is extremely potent psycho-dynamically) women that have taken upon them the role of men so as to survive. Imagine some boy looking up at his mother's thighs. Imagine her all decked out in chains and leather and spitting out a sickkkk guitar solo, imagine a boy's erection turning to a man's erection.

So either women as sex objects, or women as sex objects that double as male tyrants.

How can this base be radicalized? From the esoteric/occult aspect, I would expect Heavy Metal bands to posit a message of full abstinence from sexual activity of any kind. Heavy Metal tends to look at human beings as spirits first anyway, it would be very useful for a musical subculture to strip any gendered identifier from its fanbase and aggressively police a no-joy, no-fun, anti-human, anti-life approach. Of course this would be short lived and its results horrible in a whole different way, but from a point of view of cultural theory, all that fallout would be useful to work with and to push forward from, as a building base. 

Another approach would be to de-centralize the narrative of 'Man is Strong, Strength is everything, Will is everything, Willpower is therefore masculine' in Heavy Metal. A Romantic core can be separated from those 'might is right' nationalist conceits because the core of Romance is not strength. It is dread, terror, awe. It is the unmentionable, that which can only be glanced at sideways. If anything, the ablation of such horror and torment can only be the existential solution: I remain close to this terror, I remind myself of this terror, if I forget this terror, I have lost my way. There is no right and wrong, I must make of my existence what I can with full knowledge that life and death are the same thing.

Furthermore the most direct method would be to aggressively recount and attack gender stereotypes in Heavy Metal via pure fucking Modernist/Humanist holocaust. Do we still have any progressive metal worth its salt? Can they make a few concept albums about say, the journey of a transgendered individual through life? How about progressive metal about sexual dysfunction and alienation directly? Where's my prog metal opera on the debunking of biological determinism? Heavy Metal stands in proud opposition to teleological determinants describing sentience, after all. Life is horror, life is imagination, life is life, right? Can these tensions be either lessened or absurdly stressed to the point of deconstruction?

Before any such forward-thinking reconstruction of Heavy Metal can occur we sadly have to deal with a much more banal but pertinent issue. People love their comfort-food-art more than they love other human beings, even in the abstract.

This can be seen online every day, in social media. If pressed, people will prefer for Game of Thrones to continue existing than the whole gender of women.

If you criticize the culture they use as self-identification, you are criticizing their being itself. People are very quick to react to this in the worst ways.

The first thing we have to discuss, for a long time, until people understand it, is that you can both like -or even love- a type of art and at the same time have the necessary distance from it to see the ugliness in its inner workings. Be it music, video games, movies or tv shows, whatever you love is also hurting you. Too much distance is obscuring the vital connection we have with art. Too little distance makes the art we love so integral to our being that it takes hold of us and leaves us to the whims of market capitalists selling product. Believe it or not, critique of culture and an examination of media can contribute to radicalization but we first must understand our relationship to the media itself, regardless of the content of media. It is impossible to discuss the problem or sexism or racism in Heavy Metal before all parties agree that human beings are more important that Heavy Metal.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Four Reviews of a Tile


This tile makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is about it but it's unsettling to look at for long. Thankfully I only had to look at it once to write my review. I don't like it when tiles make me feel bad things and I'll go as far as to say that the majority of other tiles I've looked at once made me feel better than this, I think... I am a human being with a capacity for emotion, but I want my tiles to make me feel good things. Bad emotions scare me and unsettle me.


This tile makes makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is, perhaps it's too grey or the pattern is too ordered, but it's unsettling to look at for long. Perhaps what I am feeling is a sense of loneliness that I associate with bathrooms, we all go to the bathroom alone, usually, right? Is there really a tile that would make me feel not bad to look at? Certainly, I have the memory of better tiles than this, perhaps with a nice floral pattern? Or perhaps its the isolation of this tile from any other elements of its usual context that makes me feel lonely with it. In any case, as a being with a capacity for emotion, I will look at this tile twice to hone in on this particular emotion before I discount it as a negative one. I am a being with capacity for contradictory emotions and I am not afraid of a little loneliness.


This tile makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is, perhaps it's too grey or the pattern is too ordered, but it's unsettling to look at for long. What I think makes it unsettling is the front-face flash photography lighting, which makes me think like I'm looking at the floor or a morgue or other sterile place. I'm thinking of the machinery involved in the production of this tile now and what functional fundamentals are involved in the necessities of this tile. The necessary modularity of the panels, the slight texture that is easy to miss when just glancing at the tile. Why do human beings need to make even the simplest, most functional mass produced item have a granular surface? I am now imagining a world in which every surface is of the same Platonic substance and texture, perhaps that of a grey egg. I am thinking of how perhaps this is sometimes how we compose images in your dreams. Now I'm back to thinking of a factory and a production line of these tiles. I think of the imperfect ones that the machinery creates and a human worker has to fish out and discard manually. I am now considering a human being defined by that characteristic, of their capacity to make aesthetic distinctions, and of where they would extend. Does the worker discard a tile with no functional blemish other than that the randomized texture it got from the machine is arranged in a way that displeases them?

And suddenly, from this train of thought it hits me and I know why this tile makes me feel sad. As a child I often looked at such manufactured surfaces and my eye would hang on faces I found in the texture, usually grotesque or comical faces. I would look away... and then look back and see if my mind could find the faces again. This was an insane little game. I remember doing this in hotels, in hospitals, in school. A restless mind in isolation. Children are often taught to sit and be patient and patience is a very difficult thing for me, I suspect as a child it was unbearable.

I am thinking now of a piece of glimmering mineral in some fractalized shape and how holding one in your hand and slowly rotating it would catch the light in different ways. I am thinking of a concept, an image, a gestalt image, and its inverted form. I am thinking of something Correct and something False. How you can turn something Correct completely around and it is now False. I am thinking of how much the Correct and the False thing would retain their contour, their outside shape in this way, how the polarity might be inverted but the function remains the same and equally opaque.

I am thinking of the tile, slowly rotating, instead. Not locked in a binary shift, instead kaleidoscopically rotating on a mad axis, light catching on its edges, shadows making grotesque caricatures dance, front face and back. I look away, and then I turn by head again.