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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Gaahl, or The Theoretical Ignoring the Obvious

"The problem is not just that these claims are preposterous but that the writers did not acknowledge they were saying things that common sense might call into question. This is the mentality of a cult, in which fantastical beliefs are flaunted as proof of one's piety."
- Steven Pinker, in what was admittedly a different context

In what seems like an endless thank-you note to heavy metal, some cable station available to me keeps playing "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey"(2005), in which an earnest young Canadian fellow sort of does an okay job examining the social issues surrounding his favorite musical genre, and a great job getting interviews with the players, artistic and otherwise.
The problem of a documentary made by a fan is that probably the guy is going to fail to be objective...And beyond there it turns into problems with the individual. For instance, his choice of questions.

In interviewing the lead singer of Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth, there is this hilarious sequence where the singer is asked what his chief inspiration is. Taking a long, significant drink from his enormous glass of wine, he then fixes the camera with a verrry long stare that bespeaks great gravity and scariness before simply intoning, "Satan".
All previous interviewees had gamely noted that the whole Satanism thing was a metaphor at best, a salable pose at worst. Generally, they had said this with smiles on their collective face, too, as if to emphasize how obvious this fact is.

Not Gaahl (for that was his name), though, unless he's just early enough in his career to be still too concerned with the pose, and worried that seeming overly jovial about the whole thing might call his dedication into question.
But after this, in an extended discussion of how black metal devotees in Scandinavia have, at times, shown their devotion to...Something, by burning down churches, Gaahl was also on record as being one hundred per cent behind this sort of activity.

Well, okay: that's pretty indefensible, but if you say so...Gaahl isn't done though. He needs to express his socio-religio basis for this view of his, and suggests in the course of a longer sentence that "the semitic roots" need to be eliminated from Western culture.
And I'm screaming at the teevee, "Um, maybe you should go back and ask him to elaborate on that one a bit?" It goes well beyond the basic stupidity one may expect of your average shithead, and into fostering an atmosphere ripe for genocide, so maybe one should shed light into this area, which only happens when The Questions are asked.
In this case, they weren't.

But Canadian dude's a fan, not a journalist. He even asks the question at the end that I've heard more than one fourteen year old ask in my time: Why do they demonize and ridicule us so? Um, maybe just maybe metal intentionally ghettoizes itself due to the nature of its target audience, and sort of invites demonization and ridicule? Literally naming its bands things like 'Demon' and so on?
Of course, the forces of Good Via Consensus are right there to do the demonizing, playing into this stupid dynamic by simultaneously over- as well as under-explaining the whole phenomenon. As usual, it's the Music These Kids Are Listening To These Days, to say nothing of The Video Games, that is causing the problem, whereas I've always felt that the thing that led to the culture in which said music and said games are acceptable is that we live in a hyper-militarized bad dream of a nation that randomly bombs and invades other countries more or less whenever we feel like it, and we are repeatedly told that this is the just and good way of approaching life on Earth.

As always, this makes me think that people should pay me to sit around talking about things. Also, when we inevitably get around to how metal views and portrays sexuality, the discussion vis a vis homosexuality rapidly becomes hilarious.
Rob Halford of Judas Priest must be discussed, and as usual there's a parade of aging English gentlemen who pronounce themselves just shocked when they found out he was gay.

Even better than this is the endless footage that suggests to me that this guy was in Heaven -as far as his professional life went- in those days. He had a massive fan base of adolescent males who adored him and wanted to be him. By that of course I mean that they wanted to be some weird idealized biker/rock star fantasy, not a leather daddy.
Of course, almost all of said adolescent males were pretty damn heterosexist, and likely to miss the import of lyrics that alternately seem to be about the search for individual freedom or the thoughts of a man who spent much of his life in a country where it was literally illegal to be gay. Also, he may be a vampire.

This is all par for the course in metal. The target audience is adolescent males, again, and our documentarian makes a lot of hilarious generalizations about the need for teenaged males to come together in an atmosphere free from the confusing female influence.
A sentiment of not so much misogyny as it is terror of the female runs freely through the lyric content of this genre. The ongoing suggestion that women are just out to control you, take your money, have sex with your friends and ultimately entrap you with pregnancy and responsibility (See Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath's "Walk Away" for a very on-the-nose example of this) is paired with many an celebration of the salubrious effects of hangin' with the boys. It is often suggested that one should only hang with the boys.

Yeah, so Canadian metal fan (okay; his name is Sam Dunn) is too much a product of this cultural meme to understand how gay that could easily be read to be, and cheerfully celebrates the camaraderie aspect of it. In fact, the documentary ends with an extended montage of fans detailing how rock n' roll music saved their lives, over a lot of slo-mo shots of teenaged males in baggy shorts, moshing and sweating.

The whole thing is that how fucking homoerotic the entire thing is sits uncomfortably side by side with how homophobic the actual practitioners and fans are. The genre holds equal roots in glam and blues, and I think that's part of it. Glam is where the subversive desire to shock at any cost came from, and blues comes through the transmogrifying lens of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Since the early songbooks of both bands were almost entirely comprised of old blues songs -the Rolling Stones giving credit where credit was due, and Led Zeppelin pretty much never giving it, despite their first album pretty much being a Willie Dixon tribute- a certain kind of misogyny attributable to old black men comes through.
On one hand, musn't generalize like that, but on another, listen to the songs in question, in the original, and come back and talk to me.

Somewhere down the road, through the mutation of decades and the generalized dumbing-down of the content, we get whiny dudes in spandex and studded leather with hair that looks like Stephanie Zimbalist's talking about how fuckin' evil women are, man...

Shit, speaking of which, I was originally going to turn this into a post about Sarah Palin and how openly vindictive she is, and how most Americans are pretty much like that, since to be endlessly angry and offended at the world is to acquire righteousness for oneself in the minds of the stupid, and how the Republicans will probably win because of that, but this has gone on too long as it is.
Maybe next time.



Blogger disco boy said...

well, spot on.

but please, continue with the new republican critique. as far as i can tell, she could set a hobo on fire, eat a puppy and wreck a car into a special olympics parade, and her numbers would only increase. i'm concerned that it implies something new and borderline criminal in the average american dumbfuck.

but then again, i'm no stranger to hyberbole.

i work with a number of metalheads (surprise!) and i had to pass around this post. my "metal period" was but a moment, maybe nine months between elementary and high school. i devoured it, and then cast if free... the operatic notions, the yngwie-style hero-worship, and... at the time... the s&m cross-dressing bitch-warrior quickly looked comical compared to the hardcore punk rock i discovered after that.

in other words, it's hard to take blackie lawless sing "fuck like a beast" after hearing black flag sing "gimmie gimmie gimmie".

but that's neither here nor there. we're talking about the metal mentality. can we get a moment for those who objectify/fear women and then yet dress up as them?

6:43 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

As the title of this one suggests, I was gonna go somewhere pretty different with this one indeed. Something along the lines of how, the further I go, the more I find that the truth about most things is exactly the opposite of what they actually are. One could probably go on forever with that one.

The Theoretical Ignoring the Obvious refers to an ideogram used by a fictional philosopher in a book by Me. It sent the intelligentsia, such as they were, on his planet, into such a weird little spiral that by the time people from Earth arrive, their main defining characteristic is their vagueness, which they pride themselves on.

1:48 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

"The truth of things is exactly the opposite of what they are generally held to be or stated by most people," is how that sentence should have ran. Eersh.

1:50 PM  

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