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Why Metalheads honor the memory of Sophie Lancaster

Introduction

9 years ago this month (August 24th, 2007), a terrible tragedy in England resonated throughout the sub-cultural (and mainstream) communities around the world.

Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend (Robert Maltby) were targeted by a group of thugs and brutally attacked. There was no provocation – they were chosen because of the way they dressed (as I understand it they were part of the English Goth community).

Although Goths and Metalheads are separate and distinct cultures, there is a good deal of crossover between them (as there is with a lot of sub-cultures). Enough crossover, in fact, that both the young men committing the criminal act and the witness who called the paramedics referred to them (among other things) as “moshers” (a pejorative term to refer to goths, metalheads, and other similar looking subscribers to sub-cultures in England, as I understand it).

And this wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m not saying anything sensationalist here – heavy metal and other subcultures aren’t under constant attack. But when you participate in any subculture/counter culture, it’s good to remember that there’s going to be a broad spectrum of reaction from the mainstream cultures (and other subcultures, for that matter) that’s going to include (but isn’t limited to) physical retaliation and violence.

Given the Dionysian, Hedonistic, Anti-Social (not Asocial, as most people tend to define it) cultural tendencies metalheads, goths, punks, emo kids, scene kids, etc tend to share – it’s not surprising that there is often a negative reaction from a predominantly Apollonian mainstream culture.

So, while I have absolutely no idea whether or not Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend actually listened to heavy metal or were part of the subculture – it’s a moot point. To someone who comes from a place outside of these cultures – they’re all one and the same. Ben Moores (a teenage metalhead) was attacked in a similar manner to Sophie 5 years later.

An American Perspective to Illustrate a Greater Point

And I have to admit, as an American Metalhead my knowledge is inherently biased towards my own experience and those of my peers. For example – I’m much more familiar with the cultural persecution of metalheads in America from the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and the subsequent cultural fallout.

Judas Preist and Ozzy Osbourne were both put on trial after young men who were fans of their music committed suicide. Christian youth behavioral modification camps capitalized on the satanic panic to “de-metalize” or “de-punk” rebellious youth. American police were trained to recognize and discriminate against metalheads. Censorship as a part of a multi-faceted attack on heavy metal that includes religious moral and political concerns from the dominant culture is nothing new. (Sound of the Beast, by Ian Christe, chapter 17)

When the Columbine tragedy occurred, mainstream culture and the media were quick to associate the young men’s association to heavy metal as the culprit.

Three teenage boys (dubbed the West Memphis Three) were scapegoated in a brutal murder case of three young boys on circumstantial evidence and held for 18 years. Even after they were freed (they were obviously innocent – this was the subject of several documentaries) – they had to agree to a plea deal where the state admitted no wrongdoing.

After the brutal rape and murder of Elyse Pahler, her parents (unsuccessfully) sued Slayer twice as the cause of the horrid attack.

In Arizona, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot – the media was quick to point out Jared Loughner’s association with heavy metal music through his love of a single Drowning Pool song.

And, although marginalized, the demonization of heavy metal and it’s followers by the church continues in the United States to this day.

What Does this all Mean?

When a mainstream/dominant culture demonizes or vilifies a smaller sub-group on a large-scale/macro level, there tend to be individual manifestations of this within the interactions between members of those cultures on a micro/individual level.

If the church and the government in the United States had not brought mainstream culture to a state of panic concerning heavy metal in the United States (elected representatives publicly speaking against the music, media demonizing fans and musicians alike, congressional hearings spurred by the PMRC resulting in the censorship and subsequent economic sanctions that occurred as a result, etc), there most likely wouldn’t have been such a tendency towards blaming heavy metal for societal ills on an individual/micro level.

Applying this to the situation in England, I’m guessing that greater cultural norms had a significant impact on the social landscape of the country. Considering that the pejorative term “mosher” even exists to describe anyone who is a member of the subcultures being discussed in this article – I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet. The negative mainstream cultural connotations attributed to metalheads and goths (and others) can be seen as both an indirect and a direct cause of these brutal hate crimes. This sort of hatred didn’t come out of thin air – it’s a logical conclusion that a similar societal pattern existed in England to the one in the United States that led to where we are today.

So, the legacy of Sophie Lancaster is best exemplified through the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – which is focused on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures within communities.

Moving Forward

I would argue that there is a responsibility on behalf of the global community of such subcultures (metalheads included) to not only remember such horrible events, but to recognize societal patterns that have proven historically to lead to this sort of violence and intolerance.

Because it’s not limited to England and the United States (or Christianity) – I recently wrote a piece dealing with a situation in Romania where the church has caused a stir in the local community.

darkfuneralconvo

After receiving the blessing (sic) of Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral to use some of what he was saying/reporting on in the area, I wrote a piece detailing how the a Russian Orthodox Priest had petitioned the local government in protest of Dark Funeral’s recent concert in the area. the government, in turn, issued a vocal statement that they would allow the priest to decide who did or did not play at public venues in the area.

The problem with this is that in similar instances across the globe where a particularly fundamentalist religious population enlists and is granted government aide to strip a group of citizens of their rights leads to a societal marginalization that can (and has) led to individual incidents of violence against people of that particular group. And metal culture has been proven to be particularly susceptible to this around the world.

Whether it’s in Africa, South America, Latin America, the US, Europe, Russia, China, Malaysia, India, or anywhere else on the globe – it’s good for people to be aware that this sort of thing can and does happen.

Metalhead response to what happened to Sophie Lancaster has been a global phenomenon – it got a dialogue going where it was urgently needed, there have been metal festivals dedicated to her, Bloodstock Open Air has a stage dedicated to her, charity shows for the Sophie Lancaster foundation, a charity album, and most importantly – social change via legislation that classifies subculture abuse as a hate crime. And it’s something that, almost a decade later, still resonates with people on a very human level.

I think it’s safe to say this is, globally, something worth supporting.

 

Metal Injection Goes Full Hipster; Metalsucks is less wrong

I am writing in response the the article written by Shayne Mathis on behalf of Metal Injection, in which he makes some statements/assertions that I have some fundamental disagreements with.

Now, in the course of civil discussion and argument, context is an invaluable tool. It is the critical lens through which we frame said discussion. Without it, discussion devolves into self-aggrandizing statements of bias.

So, framing the discussion beforehand is essential to the integrity of both the discussion and it’s participants. Shayne Mathis wrote an opinion piece denying that metal has a problem with an insurgency of “scene tourists” and “social justice warriors” on the premise that SJW’s don’t exist. This seems, then, like a good place to start the framing/discussion.

Before defining what a SJW is, it might be helpful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When did SJW’s come into the common collective consciousness of humanity, and from what greater demographic did they spring?

The first real incarnation of the term in it’s current incarnation arose from the gamergate controversy. In a nutshell, #gamergate occurred when some cultural tourists took a passing interest in participation in an established sub-culture (gamers). When they found parts of the culture offensive, they brought these aspects into the public sphere in an attempt to curb them. This is, arguably, the first step in appropriating a subculture into the mainstream (by imposing mainstream values onto it).

Shortly afterwards, there was a short lived spin-off phenomenon referred to as #metalgate. Interestingly, it pretty much all started from a single article and became a thing on the internet for a few days. Well played Mr. Mathis. Using the exact same tactics and social stances as the participants in #gamergate, you applied SJW values to a metal context.

Now, what sets SJW’s apart from other cultural attacks on metal? In a nutshell, the demographic population they inhabit. SJW’s, as a cultural sub group, would not exist without hipsters. Before the hipster phenomenon, SJW’s did not exist. The two terms, while not interchangeable, are not mutually exclusive. Not all hipsters are SJW’s, but all SJW’s are hipsters. Hipsters, in turn, are a product of popular millennial culture. Not all millennials are hipsters, but all hipsters are millennials.

Therefore, for the purpose of this argument, SJW refers to a sub-segment of the millennial populations popular cultural manifestation – hipsters.

This is where things get interesting. Metal culture and Hipster culture exist completely independent of one another. Metal culture formed and existed for decades without hipsters, and hipster culture formed and exists without metalheads. So it’s safe to say we’re talking about two separate cultural spheres. Now, these separate cultural spheres invariably share a demographic population. Because of this, there will be an inevitable meeting of these cultures in what is referred to as a cultural contact zone. In this instance, it looks like this;

Contact Zone

The area of overlap that you inhabit (judging by your opinions, and the title of your podcast) is within this cultural contact zone. Which is awesome, diversity in metal fucking rules. But you have a tendency to frame your arguments like you’re speaking on behalf of a culture that does not share all of your opinions or values. Mostly because the topics you bring up, and the values you espouse in doing so, are generally considered to be in the hipster sphere (not the metalhead sphere).

In the interest of fairness, I would like to take a chance to point out there there are both positive and negative consequences to the intermingling of culture within said contact zone. On the positive side, the amount of intellectual discussion and discourse within the metal community has raised considerably. This is a huge plus for the participants and the culture in general, as it helps solidify and re-enforce the culture, it’s norms, and parameters. On the negative side we have posturing, self-aggrandizing preachy articles from “within” the metal community. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and anybody who has participated in the culture for long enough can recognize this. And it’s not confusing correlation with causation – I’ve already outlined how easy it is to find ties between hipster culture and the SJW-style argument both inside and outside of metal.

Any question that this is anything other than a hipster phenomenon can be quickly reconciled by examining historical socio-cultural interactions between metal and mainstream culture. First, I’d like to put the hipster insurgency into the greater context of cultural insurgencies in metal.

contactzone2

Here, for the purpose of discussion, are a few pre-hipster examples. To do any of these examples true justice would warrant writing another article, so we’re going to do the cliff-notes version.

Every single one of these groups represents a cultural contact zone within metal culture. This is because all of these outside groups share at least part of a core demographic of the population of metal culture (just like hipsters). Now, when there was a Christian insurgency into the metal demographic, it was never viewed as anything other than that. The NSBM contact zone is certainly an area that warrants discussion, but is a relatively low area of concern because of the insular nature of the belief system of that culture combined with their relatively unpopular belief system. Vegans and animal rights groups, and individuals subscribing to those cultures, have successfully used metal as a springboard/outlet for their political views. A good example of this would be the band Cattle Decapitation. At the same time, you have a demographic that agrees with Dave Mustaine, and that guy is obviously fucking nuts (but I would guess you already know that). I, personally, take him less seriously than the whole skinhead/nazi/national socialist populations while finding him equally repugnant.

In this context, you can see that some groups were more successful than others in integrating some of their beliefs/practices/customs into broader metal culture. Without the punk contact zone, for example, we would not have crossover or thrash. In turn, we wouldn’t have extreme metal, or this conversation.

Now in terms of metal culture’s responses to criticism, and other outside forces – I would turn your attention to the PMRC and the satanic panic, which used heavy metal as their chief bogey-man. You also had the trial of Judas Priest. In all of these cases, members of heavy metal culture pretty much banded together and affirmed that nothing they were accused of was even remotely close to true. This is still a common core of the culture nowadays – if you read Randy Blythe’s book he talks about how the occasional metalhead would pop up throughout his ordeal and make it a little more bearable.

One thing we don’t see, however, is criticism of the values and practices of metalheads from within the culture. This reinforces the assertion that SJW style criticism is a phenomenon unique to the millennial generation, specifically the hipster sub-derivative phenomenon named for their actions and style of discourse.

History has shown that people who participate in but are averse to the values of metal culture generally wane or drop off entirely from participation in, or identification with, it (in anything other than the past tense). These people are generally referred to as “tourists”, as well as more colorful and commonly used terms.

And one of the reasons metalhead culture generally stresses learning it’s history in context is to prevent self-aggrandizing statements of ignorance of historical context and the bigger picture.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way – I would like to go point by point on your discussion with the college professor in regards to his article and subsequent responses.

  • Social Justice Warriors do, in fact, exist. Not as some nameless, faceless “other”, but as a manifestation of current mainstream popular youth culture. As such, they do not exist as a singular, organized, and readily identifiable group because they are a sub-sub-cultural manifestation that draws identifiable traits from the pool of the parent sub-culture. It’s a small cultural movement, not an organized (and by definition) bureaucratic group with clear boundaries. Any attempt to label them as anything other than this is self-delusional at best.
  • Boycotts/Protests/Etc are certainly protected by the constitution. But there are limits, as there are with every single right guaranteed to American citizens. The actions of that protest at the Taake show were the political equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Neither the protest nor the example of yelling fire are constitutionally protected as they infringe on the rights of fellow citizens. Your rights end where your nose begins.
  • The crux of the guy’s argument was that people like you are invading the metal scene. You knew it, he knew it, and we all know you were picking a fight and asking leading questions. The fact that you would do that to a fellow journalist and metalhead who’s obviously been around the block more than you have really bothers me. Not that I believe in the myth of a brotherhood of metal, but it’s safe to say that a guy who’s been fucking teargassed at a GWAR show might know more about SJW’s (and the politically correct insurgency in heavy metal) than a person who types a lot. How you made it to both Metal Injection and Invisible Oranges I’ll never know, but they should be ashamed of themselves for not proof-reading your articles at very least – and at the most allowing you to represent their respective establishments. Your lack of historical context is staggering, and to boot you’re a bigger turncoat than Robb Flynn.
  • I’m sorry you’ve received death threats – but maybe this is one of the consequences of free speech you’re talking about? I’m not saying it’s ok (quite the opposite), but it is a logical consequence of your words and actions. Metalheads aren’t a fun group to pick a fight with. And you have to own up to and accept the responsibility of your own actions and words before you tell other people to do so.

At this point, Shayne, I’m done speaking with you because you weren’t honest with your intentions, and from your last email, its quite clear you are seeking “gotcha questions.” I have no problems speaking with the media about issues I raise but you have to come with a bit more honesty.

Don’t contact me again.

Sincerely,
Jeff

This is nothing more than an old dog of the metal scene not rising to the ruse of a young pup who wanted to pick a fight and prove he’s smarter than a college professor. How you could even pretend to be satisfied that anything you did or said in this exchange (other than honoring his request to terminate it) is beyond me. It’s littered with logical fallacies (like the straw-man SJW argument) and self important pretense masked as genuine concern for a scene you more than likely will not be a part of within the next 10 years.

Also, Metalsucks did a better job with the subject than you did, but I still disagree with the premise.

I am more than open to a continuing discussion and having an open dialogue with you on the subject, and will be waiting to hear your response.

Sincerely,
Corey McElligott

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