As anyone familiar with the Metal scene knows, taboo/transgressive subject matter is a pretty routine topic in metal music. As a matter of fact, it’s par for course. These subjects, due to their transgressive nature, are inherently serious in nature and cause heated discussion. This includes, but is not limited to, discussions of race and racism.
It is also (almost) universally accepted that Metal is a culture of outsiders.
Now, you’ve got a collection of social outsiders (a fringe group) who routinely discuss taboo subject matter. By definition, racist groups and ideologies are fringe/outcast groups (at least in the United States) who routinely discuss taboo subject matter. They’re social outsiders, metal is outsider music. Therefore, it is logical to assume that certain parts of the metal community are racist – and by tolerating them metal culture as a whole is racist.
Due to historical fan demographics, there is a significant population overlap between white supremacists and metalheads (I’ve touched on the subject of heavy metal fringe groups in other posts). Both are cultures that are (historically) dominated by Caucasian working-class males.
But I believe this is, combined with the outsider status of the culture and penchant for transgressive subject matter (including “playful racism”, discussed below), is why a lot of people go on to make the assumption that Heavy Metal culture fosters racism, and in extreme cases it has been argued that metal culture is inherently racist.
However, there are large differences between the groups in relation to who is allowed to participate. For example, you don’t have to be a Caucasian or male to participate in the metal scene – and the diversification of the audience over the past few decades is a testament to this. In white power circles, however, members are Caucasian by definition.
Historic Treatment of Racist Fringe Groups (and Playful Racism) in Metal Culture
Historically, the metal community has policed itself against the normalization of racist groups within the community. The bands, the fans, the venues, and the metal media have all played a vital role in making sure that while racist groups are marginally acknowledged on the fringes (which, arguably, is better than full exclusion or inclusion) while not being tolerated or accepted into the main “body” of the culture.
However, there’s also always been a strain of what has been referred to by scholars as “playful racism” within the scene. It’s an odd concept, I know. People saying racist things for the pure purpose of reveling in the taboo nature of what is being said.
Example of “Playful Racism” in an excerpt of an episode of Metalocalypse:
By itself, it seems like it’s just racism covered with a thin veil to make it socially palatable by giving an aspect of deniability (in other words, you always have the outlet of saying “I was just joking”, or “I didn’t mean it seriously”).
However, taken in the context of the culture as a whole – it’s not just racism that’s thrown around casually. Pretty much any subject that’s “taboo” or “off limits” is fair game. Viewed in this context, faux racist jokes aren’t told because people think racism is good or funny – they’re told in the same context as a “dead baby” joke.
Q: How do you make a dead baby float?
A: 1 scoop ice cream, 2 scoops dead baby, and root beer.
Not because dead babies are funny, but because they’re not funny.
There are some flaws with this cultural mechanism, and I have no problem pointing that out. The argument can be made that it normalizes racism – which is a valid argument (until you put it in context). Because if it’s normalizing racism, it’s also normalizing dead babies.
Where Millennials Come Into the Equation
There seems to be this ongoing myth that the millennial generation is more tolerant when it comes to issues of race. And if you believe the SJW hype, they are. However, if you believe raw data and polls – millennials views on race (with the exception of interracial marriage) are almost exactly the same as their parent’s views, and the title of the first and most progressive/tolerant belongs to the gen-Xers.
Not only that, millennials have been incorrectly labeled as “post racial”, when it’s much more accurate to call them racially apathetic. The data behind such claims is based on polls that show the millennial generation (as a whole) is 93% ok with interracial marriages (as opposed to 92% of generation x – such progress!).
But when it comes to issues of institutional racism, their opinions tend to split based on what racial group they belong to. Fun fact, millennials are also slightly more likely to believe that Caucasians are genetically pre-disposed to be smarter than Africans (than the previous generation).
All in all, these things (while they aren’t good) shouldn’t be surprising. Generational racism is, well, generational – it’s nothing new. But when you combine the fact that millennials have been raised on a jargon of “colorblindness” without the ability to recognize or deal with racism in its various incarnations you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
We have an entire generation of people who believe that all people are created equal, and therefore every person has an equal opportunity to succeed. Concerns over the “reverse racism” of anti-discrimination laws has become a “thing”.
Couple that with “outrage journalism” (favored by people in all sorts of hipster media, I’m looking at you metalsucks), and suddenly anyone who is slightly outside of the virtue signaling culture is marginalized as a racist sympathizing conservative fascist outsider. Even if they have a predominantly liberal sociopolitical outlook, they’re labeled as an enemy of mainstream virtues and (by association) mainstream culture.
Pushing away people who might question mainstream virtues and motivations creates an ever-expanding fringe group. And populist conservative movements have a habit of evolving and adopting bits and pieces of social liberalism to appeal to white youth.
A borderline fascist movement that cloaks itself in easy-going permissiveness can make itself seem almost reasonable (arguably, this is something we saw at play during the 2016 American elections). And these sorts of movements are mirrored all across Europe.
So What Does All This Political Bullshit Have to do With Metal Culture?
I say this in pretty much every single cultural piece I write – Metal Culture does not exist in a vacuum. Every single political nuance on earth has the potential to effect it in a myriad number of ways. When you’re talking about population demographics, for example, this sort of thing becomes important.
Why? Because metal culture constantly replenishes itself with every successive generation of youth. With this particular generation you’ve got a group of people who:
- were taught a failed lesson in colorblindness that has had some rather negative societal repercussions
- exhibit a remarkable apathy towards racial issues
- are slightly more racist than the previous generation
- don’t know how to deal with real instances of racism (because they were taught to ignore it)
- marginalize people who should be political allies based on trivial political differences
- consider themselves more “racially tolerant” than previous generations (the opposite is true), which makes them statistically more likely to engage in or sympathize with racist behaviors
A Quick Recap
So we’ve discussed the relationship between marginalized people/groups and metal and population demographic overlap between heavy metal and white supremacist cultures. We then (briefly) discussed the relationship between these two groups in the past (specifically in the area where they overlap), followed by a discussion of the newest generation to be recruited into these social spheres (and how their attitudes towards race relations differ from prior generations.
Now it’s time to connect the dots.
What This all Means
The new blood in both cultures is a group of people who have grown up in the digital age, with unprecedented access to information. I believe this, in part, is behind the rise in “gotcha journalism” – exaggerating news events, scandal mongering, and sensationalism.
And this isn’t without precedent – in the United States this style of news was referred to as “yellow journalism“, and rose in the 1890’s as a result of the printing press bringing (then) unprecedented access to information.
This pertains to the metal scene because most major digital metal news publications practice some form of yellow journalism. And they don’t exist in a vacuum – most (American) millennial news outlets do the same thing – so the guys at Metal Injection and Metal Sucks (among others) are just keeping up with the times.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been known to use some inflammatory headlines from time to time (hey, it does work) – the difference being that I generally try to avoid sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism.
Now, this (sensationalism/scandal/etc in news) in and of itself is not a bad thing. But nothing exists in a vacuum, and actions have consequences. If you continually write scandalous articles about racism in metal, create scandals about racism in metal, and exaggerate the scope and effects of racism in metal – then eventually your audience becomes desensitized to the subject. In other words, you’re putting racism on the path to normalization.
I honestly believe, in my heart of hearts, that most people believe they’re doing the right thing by constantly casting the spotlight on what they perceive as racism in metal. Granted, the motivation doesn’t come from a place of altruistic contribution to the metal scene – they’re virtue signaling and taking advantage of an easy “gotcha” story to further their own careers and agendas (accruing sub-cultural capital and the like).
But I do believe they feel like they can further their careers and social justice at the same time without some sort of social cost. But the thing about putting things under a spotlight is that they tend to cast a shadow – and in this (metaphorical) instance the shadow of sensationalist stories gives safe refuge to the really dangerous shit.
Phil Anselmo’s “White Power” incident.
On the surface, it makes sense that major metal news sites would cover something like this. What he did was bad, and Nazi salutes are generally used as a universal gesture for white supremacist groups.
The problem here is figuring out if this action was inherently racist. Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Was Phil Anselmo directing the Nazi salute at audience members because of their race? I would argue he wasn’t (this is an argument of fact, not opinion). But don’t take my word for it, watch the video that sites like Metal Injection and Metal Stuff weren’t showing you…
If you watch closely, he’s not reacting to people in the audience due to their race. He’s reacting because they’re constantly heckling him and calling him racist. So what does he do? He says the most offensive thing possible.
Was it right? No. Is it a defendable action? Absolutely not. Was it racist? Nope. Racially insensitive? Yup. Totally. But that was the point. I don’t agree with what he did, but I know why he did it.
Enter Robb Flynn, who was freshly annoyed by Phil Anselmo saying he hated the “ni**er” era of Machine Head. Robb misdirects this statement by saying Phil meant he hated their album “The Burning Red”. I would argue he (probably) meant the album “The Blackening”, which included a song with these lyrics
“I’m a redneck and a faggot
The asshole in the rubbers
A wetback and a nigga”
This video starts with a full redirection (Robb spun statements to make himself look like a victim taking a stand), and it makes him look like the good guy. Such a good guy, in fact, that he made Metal Suck’s 25 Most Important People in Metal list.
Direct quote, “I don’t get how this shit is tolerated. I don’t get how this shit is even blown off as acceptable. Brushed off as acceptable.”
Note from Yours Truly: “I don’t know Robb, you tell me – you’re the one posing in a photo of people throwing up the sig heil. In fact, it almost looks like you’re tolerating it and blowing it off as acceptable. You fuckhead.”
Hey, I’m just one guy and that’s just my opinion.
Just remember, this is the guy who made that video. This is the guy “taking a stand against racism”, in the right-hand corner of this photograph. This is Metalsucks’ 24th most important man in metal.
This isn’t to say that Flynn’s overall message of the tolerance of casual/playful racism in the metal community is wrong. I actually agree with that. The message is fine.
But you need to take a step back and look at the motivation behind it (just like with Phil Anselmo). I think to an extent he (Flynn) doesn’t care for racism, especially in the metal scene. Robb has a history of allowing for racism in his social circles without doing anything about it (see the photo above, and the song lyrics) – but when he has a chance to publicly throw a high-profile character (Anselmo) under the bus for fame and profit he does so shamelessly.
Robb Flynn tolerating racism until he can profit from it isn’t an opinion, it’s a fucking fact. Yes, you read that right, profit.
He wrote a single, then re-wrote it to include stuff about Phil Anselmo. And then had the guys on Metal Injection, Metal Sucks, and every goddamn mainstream metal news website link to places where they can purchase the single.
It taints the message, and kind of makes you wonder who’s the real bad guy here – the guy who said something while drunk (to purposely offend hecklers who had no right to be giving him shit at a memorial gig for Dimebag Darrell), or the guy who is conveniently now a Social Justice Warrior and takes up a mantle of social acceptability (with profit and fame as the ulterior motive)?
Social Justice Warriors love black and white, tar-baby style arguments. By virtue signaling, the second you disagree with them you’re instantly labeled as a bad person and anti-whatever it is they’re standing for. If you question Robb Flynn’s integrity on this issue, you get sucked into the tar-baby argument that you are somehow pro-racist the second you disagree with someone who speaks against racism.
So, Why is This SJW Faux Racist Bashing a Bad Thing?
So, while Metal Sucks is writing about racism – this is what ends up happening
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with people being fans of Mayhem or Burzum – but I do think it’s kind of strange that the same millennial/hipster groups that celebrate bands that promoted hatred for minority groups (be it racism, discriminating based on religion, homophobia, etc) for transgressive purposes are the first to hate on a guy who appropriated a symbol of hatred for minority groups for a one-off transgressive purpose.
Yes, I’m calling bullshit/hypocrisy here. I calls ’em like I sees ’em.
And while all this is unfolding, and metal artists and metal media are soaking up attention and profiting off of playing the racist card – there are real, legitimate, scary style fucking racist metal groups out there.
Including the new face of the National Socialist Movement: Neo Nazi Hipsters (Nipsters)
They’ve been brewing under the surface for decades, evolving their recruiting tactics and their messages to make their messages more appealing to the general public, who are becoming more and more marginalized by a stagnating liberal culture.
For example – environmentalism. Once a staple of the liberal diet, more and more of these conservative white supremacy groups are adopting a pro-planet stance.
This means that, in terms of environmentalism, I now have more in common with some white supremacist groups than I do with (for example) the mainstream American Democratic party. It also means that liberal metal sites like Metal Sucks have something in common with white supremacist groups, so there’s that.
Long story short – I think the rise of the really bad racist groups in the metal scene is a reflection of their rise all over the world.
Back to the Premise of the Article
So, to answer the question as to whether millennials are responsible for the rise of hate groups in the metal scene… the answer is “sort of”. A lot of the metal styles that are popular with the younger crowds – hardcore and black metal – have also been co-opted by white supremacist groups in the forms of “Hatecore” and “National Socialist Black Metal” (respectively).
I think it’s a myriad web of correlation and causality. The combination of apathy to racial issues and the trendiness of being a social justice warrior (in the current generation) is a causal element – white supremacist continually evolve to offer what they like to refer to as an alternative to the millennial/SJW elements in popular metal (and culture as a whole, this is how the “alt-right” gained a foothold in popular culture).
The styles they’re using, hardcore and black metal, as a vehicle for the supremacist message is more of a correlation thing – these two styles of heavy music just happen to be popular within both millennial and supremacist cultures.
Millennials are not responsible for what white supremacist groups do
But they (Millennials/Hipsters) are responsible for how they react within metal culture; and the inevitable backlash. That backlash/reaction can be seen as a direct cause of the rise of right wing, racist movements on metal culture (which mirror those in Western Culture in general).
When a metalhead professor released an article in Rolling Stone stating that there was a social justice warrior problem within the metal scene. Metal Sucks and Metal Injection jumped all over the story. The professor was writing from personal experience (he was teargassed by a radical SJW at a GWAR show) about a recent, related event (macing at a Taake show, I believe).
Their reaction was to question the professor, and in so doing they were defending the radical fringe elements of social justice warrior culture. This implies that Social Justice Warrior Culture is beyond reproach. And by saying that all SJW’s are beyond reproach, they took a hard-line stance that, by the existence of the argument, says it’s ok to teargas or mace people at metal shows if someone is offended by what they say. I’ve written about the articles, and given my thoughts on the SJW ethos and it’s inherent hypocrisy.
Now, standing up for social justice in and of itself is a good thing. And Metalsucks in particular has been known to get that one right from time to time – like when they talk about censorship of metal across the globe. Or their evenhanded approach to the controversy surrounding Heri Joensen’s (Týr) participation in the Faroe Island’s traditional whale hunting.
However, when hipsters/millennials/SJW’s partake in crybaby, sensationalist yellow journalism that stands up for the tear gassing and macing of metal fans – they’re forcing any metalheads who disagree (for any reason) into the same corner as the white supremacists.
In other words, a big part of the reason people are sympathetic to these nationalist/supremacist groups is because the SJW’s have been painting themselves into a corner.
If metalheads are responsible for homophobia, racism, and the like within the culture – then millennials/hipsters need to own their shit and accept responsibility for the cancerous elements of their own sub-culture.
I think there’s an applicable analogy about people living in glass houses (or something to that effect).