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All the Gender Issues Aside
Jorge Pilay Mar. 25th, 2010 Theory of Knowledge Mr. Mark Wisniewski
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge
Heavy Metal and Gender
All the Gender Issues Aside Long hair, big black boots, ripped jeans, a leather belt with studs and spikes, a tshirt with the logo of a band of his choice and an electric guitar hanging around his torso. This has been the image of Heavy Metal for decades. It is the image of the rebellious man who empowers himself by breaking the norms of society, a man who dictates dominance by releasing his anger and angst. Yet, it is only an image and attitude that society could accept in a man. It is harder to see, and more so to understand how and where women come to play in this culture of loud music, polemic ideas and unorthodox fashions; especially taking into account that this culture is predominantly male. However, the question does not lie in whether females are part of this culture or not, for it is quite obvious that they are in some way or another. The question lies in whether Heavy Metal is a culture where females will not find themselves as victims of sexual objectification and misogyny. Before really looking at the culture of Heavy Metal through a gender-centered lens, it is perhaps necessary to explain the culture and give a brief history of it. It is debated who was the first person to have coined the term “Heavy Metal” in the first place (Dunn, Konow xi), and the discussion of which band was the first to be defined by this term rages on and on among generations of Metal listeners. Many people point towards British Blues Rock bands of the late 60’s that began incorporating heavier elements into their sound (Dunn). Hundreds of sources claim that it all began with a four-man band from Birmingham belonging to this movement. They were called Earth, a name that would eventually be changed to Black Sabbath. (Konow 3, Dunn). The end of the 60’s
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge marked the end of a hopeful era for the Western World and the death of the peace-andlove generation; there were the grisly “Manson slayings and the threat of Vietnam [that] proved how inhumane the world can be” (Konow 3). Black Sabbath’s music, as well as that of some of their contemporaries, was a reflection of the dark and morbid world we live in, and therefore “was far removed from the feelings of hope and promise of the 1960s. […] There was nothing peaceful or flowery about their music” (Konow 3). The “evil” in this music was easily recognizable by the sound of a certain note. Perhaps the first Heavy Metal song, titled Black Sabbath and performed by the eponymous band had extensive use of the diminished fifth, a note in a scale that was considered “The Devil’s Note” in the Middle Ages (Dunn). The sound of a diminished fifth often creates an eerie, dark and twisted (almost dissonant) tone, perfectly fitting the reflection of the inhumane realities of life that the original Heavy Metal musicians used as inspiration for their compositions. Black Sabbath was among the many bands that rose from working-class roots. Like many bands also associated with the early Heavy Metal movement, such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, “these people were not of affluent backgrounds” (Dunn). They were born in areas largely dominated by industrial factory environments or oppressive religious conservative ideas, if not both (Dunn, Konow 4). Tony Iommi, legendary guitarist from Black Sabbath regards the industrial town of Aston, Birmingham, the place he grew up in as “a shithole, basically” (Dunn). These rough environments tended to create a strong personality and a sort of return to primordial survival instincts. According to Konow “it is not surprising heavy metal was born in a working-class environment.
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge Heavy metal often carries the message of standing up for yourself, standing strong against impossible odds and overcoming them” (5). It is also not surprising that Heavy Metal, like many other current forms of music, has many of its roots coming from Blues (Konow x). As Malcolm Dome mentions in Samuel Dunn’s documentary, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Blues is “oppressed music”, music for the working-class that wanted “the energy to come out in a different way, and an entertainment form that was theirs and theirs alone”. Another important musical ancestor, according to this same source, is one that many of the virtuosic Metal performers found inspiration in: dark and heavy Classical Music, such as Wagnerian Opera. Dome himself believes that had they been contemporaries “Richard Wagner would be in Deep Purple [and] Beethoven would have been happy to be in Led Zeppelin”. The history of Classical Music to some extent followed a similar theme of self-determination and standing up for oneself. Sure, many composers were educated, but a large number of virtuosic performers such as Bach and Mozart never went to university and were among the top performers of their time, much like innovative and gifted Metal musicians such as the late-70’s guitar hero Eddie Van Halen (Dunn). Thus, it can clearly be seen that from its earliest steps into existence, Heavy Metal held a certain group of ideologies and a psychology of its own. Much in the fashion of Karl Marx, this type of music is proof that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx 1). Heavy Metal is far from being an aristocratic or bourgeois form of music. Judging from its roots, both musically speaking and in terms of musicians’ environments, Heavy Metal is the music of the proletariat. The “slaves of the bourgeois class and of the bourgeois State” (Marx 6) are as Marx states in his Communist
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge Manifesto in an eternal struggle against their enslavers. This triggers a rather aggressive behavior, which reflects in Heavy Metal culture. Heavy Metal music cannot be “cute and soft” (Dunn), for that would contradict its purposes of speaking out for the oppressed and rebelling against the discordant system of bourgeois society. Aggression is a common feature in nature and human societies, for struggle has been the history of the human race, and the struggle for survival, the history of nature. Konrad Lorenz in his book On Aggression describes that intra-specific aggression (aggression within the same species) has certain biological functions that ultimately help maintain a species on the planet. Aggression helps maintain a “balanced distribution of animals of the same species over the available environment, [select] the strongest [individuals] by rival fights and [defend] the young [from intra-specific risks]” (43). Interestingly, these functions are, perhaps with the exception of protecting the young, traditionally seen as goals to be fulfilled by the males of the species. The human race is not the exception. Heavy Metal’s aggressive nature thus makes it appealing to male audiences, as it is part of their biology to be aggressive. One can go as far as saying that “as long as there [are] pissed-off, adolescent, white males, there [is] a need for heavy metal” (Konow xii). However, this raises the question of why the human male creates or enjoys this type of music rather than going out on a killing spree. There is no definite answer to this mystery of the human psyche, but there are certain things to be considered to attempt to explain it. Perhaps the largest consideration to be done is the fact that it is impossible to release all aggressive feelings and desires through actual aggression against members of one’s own species. To deal with these primordial needs, nature has devised something Lorenz calls “redirection of the attack” (57). It is described as “nature’s most
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge ingenious expedient for guiding aggression into harmless channels” (Lorenz, 57). This basically refers to channeling all the need to harm, so to speak, into “symbolic rituals” that release this necessity without dealing damage or killing other members of one’s own species (Lorenz 58). It can be considered that music and most other forms of entertainment are some of these “symbolic rituals”. Indeed, for music is considered, at least in the dogma of Plato as “the barbarous expression of the soul” (Campbell). However, intra-specific aggression and aggressive symbolic rituals are not always performed by males. Lorenz brings up a particular example among ducks where two couples (a male and a female in each) perform such a ritual, but it is the females that actually execute the aggressive movements against each other rather than the males, which stand stoically, almost as if to defend the females if things got nasty (59-66). This could perhaps bring through the idea that it is not a biological factor what makes males aggressive, but rather the context of males in the societies created by the human species, upon which they are placed. Ferdinand de Saussure, a structuralist theorist of the early 20th Century argues that it is language what defines the ideas within the human mind and thus triggers certain behaviors. Our thoughts are but “a vague uncharted nebula” (Saussure 105) that is defined by language. Saussure states that at its most basic level, the joining of language and thought appears in the form of signifier, a symbol, word or drawing; and signified, the meaning behind the signifier (106). With our topic at hand, it can be argued that a long-haired man wearing leather is a signifier of Heavy Metal; but delving into an even deeper level, Heavy Metal can be seen as a signifier of the psychology of an aggressive working-class individual. This joint of meanings however, is fully arbitrary (Saussure 109), for the
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge words Heavy Metal might as well be interpreted as signifiers alluding to their “literal” meanings, speaking of metallic chemical elements with large masses; and the long-haired man covered in leather can be interpreted as a symbol of transgender and/or homosexuality. Yet, the arbitrary nature of language goes even further; there is no physical bond between the word “man” or “leather” to what they signify, no connection at all but the idea that “this means that”. To a complete outsider to the English language the word “man” can mean what we call “hockey mask”, and the word “leather” can mean “amplification”. For that matter, there is not even a connection between the letters and the sound we designate them to represent. The letter “t” could be interpreted as the sound English speakers designate to the letter “p” (Saussure 110). Therefore, the different perceptions of individuals allow different interpretations and the only universality for meaning lies in an arbitrary measure that can be described as “it means this, not that”. This leads up to Saussure’s idea that the complex system of language, where the mind knows that a certain signifier refers to a certain signified, is only created through a system of differences. “The most precise characteristic is in being what the others are not” (Saussure 109). We only know that the man has long hair because he does not have short hair, and we only know the music he listens to is heavy because it is not light or soft. Much in the fashion of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, we see that the signifiers and the respective signified of each are like the “diverse aspects” that take part in creating an object within the human mind. In Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Mind, he describes that “consciousness puts [these diverse aspects] to its side of the account […] each by itself as it appears to the universal medium, specifically determined. White is only in opposition to black, and so on, and the thing is a “one” just by the fact
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge that it is opposed to other things” (Ф120). Based on these arguments, it can be said that the human mind views the world around it as an intertwined never-ending system of “opposing, relative and negative entities” (Saussure 110); binaries, solely built upon comparisons. It could be argued that it is natural to think in this system of binaries, for admittedly we all as humans do this, even if it occurs unconsciously. However, Saussure goes even further as to analyzing the interdependent system of thought and language by attempting to place which one came first. While this definitely seems the kind of question inevitably leading to a catch twenty-two, sort of like the classic “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, Saussure coherently explains the void left by the previous “this means that” statement. “If words stood for pre-existing concepts, they would all have exact equivalents in meaning from one language to the next; but this is not true” (Saussure 108), thus implying that language existing before the birth and learning of an individual generates the ideas of the psyche of the individual in question. As coherent as this sounds however, the catch twenty-two remains. What creates the language that shapes the thoughts? The answer tells us it’s the thoughts of another individual using language, which are in turn, shaped by language itself. For the sake of simplicity, let us place this in layman’s terms as “we think what we think because we have been told to think so”. Therefore, perhaps it is not biology what makes a male aggressive, but rather the social context of the male, telling the male that it is his duty to enter into aggressive behaviors if necessary and that being idle and submissive is not. Or looking at the subject superficially, the male only enjoys Heavy Metal because he is told it is acceptable to have
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge such a behavior. And perhaps it’s the same with ducks. The society created by the population of ducks tells the females about the nature of the ritual they execute and that it is them, and not the males who are to perform the aggressive and intimidating moves. Jacques Lacan, a French structuralist of the early 20th Century, built upon the ideas of Saussure by applying it to gender and sexuality in his Signification of the Phallus. According to Lacan, gender is a binary product of the concept of the phallus in human societies. It is necessary to point out however, that Lacan does not refer to the anatomical male reproductive organ when speaking of the phallus, but to the social construct that defines gender. The human female is “castrated, in the sense of deprived of the phallus” (Lacan 132) from the moment of coming into existence. But it is not mere biology what allows this “castration” to occur, but rather language (Lechte), meaning basically that the idea of one’s own gender is merely created by what the world around them tells them what they are. One can be born bearing a penis, but be raised in a manner one becomes identified with the female gender, effectively being castrated of one’s own phallus. In Saussurian and Hegelian fashion, Lacan reinforces the idea of binaries by creating the idea that a male is male for the fact that he is not a female, and a female is a female for not being a male (Lacan 134). But what specifically is the phallus? It is not “an imaginary effect. Nor is it an object […] in the sense that this term tends to accentuate the reality pertaining in a relation” (Lacan 134). Lacan states that the phallus is, above all, a “signifier intended to designate as a whole the effects of the signified, in that the signifier conditions them by its presence as a signifier” (134). The signified of the phallus is dominance over the Other. In the case of Lacan’s analysis, this Other is man’s antithesis, woman. There is no
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge equilibrium between the sexes for this purpose; man is “the embodiment of humanity, while woman is his correlative negation” (Peel 1). Men represent the “essential and all that is positive and neutral” while women “are inessential, the incidental and thus confined to exist relative to [men]” (Peel 1). Biologically speaking however, the inessential placement of women does really not make sense. Females in their task of child-bearing are among the most important features in a species, and is required for the species in question to perpetuate its existence. Consider two populations of mammals, one where there is a single male and an abundant number of females, and another where there is a single female and an abundant number of males. Not much reasoning is required to realize that the former population will succeed to procreate a large number of offspring and place itself in the next generation, while the latter will find itself at an enormous difficulty of surviving, as intra-specific aggression and the long periods of gestation will make the population dwindle and barely make it to the next generation, if at all. Yet despite the essential necessity for females in the biological sense, the dominance of the male is maintained through the existence of the phallus. According to Lacan it is desire what keeps the phallic dominance in circulation; desire in the form of a demand. “Demand in itself bears on something other than the satisfactions it calls for. It is demand of a presence or of an absence” (Lacan 135), meaning that we only want objects around us due to the fact that these objects are absent in ourselves. Thus Lacan places desire as “neither the appetite for satisfaction, nor demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second” (135). What maintains the phallus in place as the one and only symbol of
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge dominance is the demand the woman has for it, as she in a sense envies man, who possesses the phallus almost in a natural manner. The phallus is displayed however, not only to females as a sign of being subdued, but also to other males as sign of superiority. Perhaps this explains why a rather large amount of edifices and buildings that the human psyche associates with glory and power (obelisks, skyscrapers) have a phallic shape, or why Heavy Metal musicians raise their guitars and basses in an almost phallic fashion while playing an exhilarating and adrenaline-filled song up on stage. Whatever the cause of the existing dichotomy in gender, the fact that the audience of Heavy Metal is predominantly male remains. Man’s “essential” nature is perhaps reflected in Heavy Metal fandom by the fact that this music displays ideas of struggle, rebellion (a voice of dissent that maintains the struggle alive) and a facing of humanity’s fear of the unknown; these being ever-present ideas throughout the history of the human race. However a fascinating, and almost surprising thing occurs when looking at the context of Heavy Metal in current Western society. Rather than being praised by the masses of critics, connoisseurs and even other young people belonging to other cultures, it is “consistently stereotyped, dismissed and condemned” almost as if it were “a less valid form of music” (Dunn). Perhaps in a certain sense, Heavy Metal is a form of Otherness. “Metal confronts what we rather ignore, it celebrates what we often deny, it indulges in what we fear most, and that’s why Metal will always be a culture of outsiders” (Dunn). In the short publication The Death of Satan it is mentioned that Metal listeners found the “meaning [to life] antithetically, and sought "God" […] by exploring his/her/its opposite” (Campbell). They found “Prometheus”, the spirit of rebellion and self-discovery through
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge this music. “Heavy metal supplied [them] with the dualism [they] required to […] reduce all things to two essentially different realities of Light/Them versus Dark/Us” (Campbell). Heavy Metal culture strongly emphasizes in this binary, because of its often nonconformist and rebellious attitude. The aggression against a society one dislikes channeled into a harmless medium is the method through which the message “I’m different” is sent, thus deliberately creating the duality of “us/them”. At this point, this leads up to the question of why females did not “properly” fit in, so to speak, in Heavy Metal culture. If women are the absolute Other, as certain sources point out, then this culture of outsiders should not only embrace them, but praise and celebrate them as the ultimate form of rebellion. Taking into account the attitudes described throughout the discussion, Malcolm Dome in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey makes the point that “it wasn’t sympathetic towards getting a female audience”. On top of the hostile-sounding music and attitude, there were certain other aspects that language links traditionally with males and links directly against women. One of them is “using tools very effectively […], part of this working-class ethos” (Dunn), this referring to the guitar and bass instrumentation of Heavy Metal, often being complex and challenging to play. As Geddy Lee, bass player of the Canadian band Rush places it, “an urge of teenage angst combined with desire to be a good player” was the main trigger to the creation of “blitzkrieg guitar solos”, the effective usage of these tools. And this was represented in an audience that was largely male (Dunn). This effective employ of tools is perhaps another way in which the phallic dominance is displayed, again as an exhibit of superiority. Interestingly enough, the idea of gender was sort of subverted and largely ignored throughout much of the history of Heavy Metal, at least on stage. “[There was] not an
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge issue with how to deal with relationships between men and women, there just [weren’t] any”. What the culture ends up being is a sort of “heroic, male-only world where men band together and do the job”, in a sense “thinking about gender by not thinking about gender” (Dunn). This “male-only world” created a hyper-masculine attitude on top of Heavy Metal’s already aggressive and rebellious nature. Off the stage however, it was common to hear about the debaucheries of bands, displeasing the conservative population, especially by their sexual activities with local girls. Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice mentions that in their tour with Led Zeppelin “[they] had a great time. [They] were wrecking hotel rooms, abusing girls, probably all the same stuff Mike Tyson got arrested for” (Konow 22). In the 80’s, there was a considerable amount of bands and musicians that only played with sex as the focus, rather than the music, using the latter as a vehicle to obtain their ultimate goal. Such was the case of Vince Neil, lead singer of Mötley Crüe, whose “main priorities were getting paid and getting laid” (Konow 155). Women were groupies in this specific time, and most throughout the history of Heavy Metal. According to former groupie Pamela Des Barres “A groupie is a girl, usually, who wants to hang around with the groups. That’s where the word comes from” (Dunn). Yet this “hanging around” became obviously more than just sitting down for a talk with the musicians. It often became sexual encounters, such as a case of a Led Zeppelin concert during John Bonham’s drum solo in the song ‘Moby Dick’, where the rest of the band had a groupie in their dressing room. “As [Bonham] took control of the crowd she was performing oral sex on the rest of the band” (Konow 23). This, and many other well-documented occurrences, as well as the posters of “Heavy Metallers and the occasional half-dressed groupie” (Dunn) lead to the thought
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge that Heavy Metal fosters a culture of misogyny, powerlessness and sexual objectification of women. Des Barres however argues that groupies are “exactly where they want to be. Women that are hanging out with bands are not dragged […] into a band’s bedrooms or backstage. […] They want to be there. They make every effort in the world to get where they can be with these bands and they’re doing exactly what they want to do” (Dunn). In the Lacanian context however, this idea of “wanting” to be with the bands directly contradicts the notion that men’s desires must often go alienated. The Other, woman, represses man’s desire of sexual activity (Lacan 134) and thus the man must often go “incomplete” and with this natural desire to procreate unfulfilled. Yet Lacan makes an interesting point of “the phallus as a signifier [that] gives the ratio of desire” (Lacan 136). Therefore the display of dominance often shown by members of Heavy Metal bands, through aggressive hyper-masculine attitudes and tone, phallic electric guitar raising and challenging guitar solos “enlarge” the phallus of these musicians and therefore make them more desirable to women, or more enviable to them at the very least. Therefore this want, this desire to be with the bands is arguably a way in which the deeprooted language-induced psychology of male domination appears in the subconscious of certain women. And as Freud mentions in his Slips of the Tongue the subconscious is often displayed unintentionally and unknowingly, such as in the ordinary ‘slips of the tongue’, errors in language we encounter in common, everyday speech (127). Females however, did not remain as groupies all the way between the late 60’s and today. Up until recently, it was truthful to say that a large amount of women in Heavy Metal culture were part of the sexual indulgences of the artists performing this kind of music. But Heavy Metal has opened some space for female performers over the past few
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge decades. It is said that it all began with an all-female British band called Girlschool, and ever since “women have become much more visible in Metal, […] fronting some of the world’s biggest Metal bands” (Dunn). According to Jackie Chambers and Kim McAuliffe, members of Girlschool, “it totally created an element of respect”. To gain this respect however, members of Girlschool were often faced with certain patronizing, condescending comments such as if they were tuning the instruments for their boyfriends. This only occurred because “you don’t expect a female to get up and play guitar” (Dunn). The perception created by language has told people that it is unacceptable for human females to be aggressive and rebellious. It has told them that it is expected of women to be submissive and to exist only relative to males. At any rate, the rebellious nature of Heavy Metal surfaced in this manner among females, by destroying some the ideas of gender roles. But at the same time, the Otherness of females in Heavy Metal is often denoted by the very idea of labeling a band as all-female or female-fronted. As Peel mentions, “those that hold the position of the Other are appreciated and celebrated, but always in light of their difference” (2). Girlschool, as well as Doro, Nightiwish, Astarte and Epica only became appreciated because they were different from the all-male, testosterone-filled Heavy Metal that had traditionally been heard since the days of Black Sabbath. Yet in a certain sense, Heavy Metal as a whole is only celebrated by its fans because of its Otherness. “It’s outsider music, it’s outsider topics […] it’s like all the weird kids in one place” (Dunn). It is not soft Pop music that attracts the casual listener and speaks of the most mundane things. It transgresses some social norms, and is often followed by a base of hardcore listeners that make Heavy Metal something larger-than-life. As musician Rob
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge Zombie puts it “it’s like a lifestyle. […] No one goes ‘Yeah I was really big into Slayer… one summer’ […] I haven’t met that guy, I’ve only met the guy that has Slayer carved across his chest” (Dunn). An interesting phenomenon occurs with males in Heavy Metal culture. In the 1980’s, a large dichotomy of styles appeared in the scene. It can be said that there are two polar opposites in terms of appearance and tone, that despite the fact of the large difference, remain both as entities in which the hyper-masculine, aggressive identity of Heavy Metal is represented. One such is the more traditional looks of working-class clothes, as well as the leather, studs and spikes look currently associated with the Hard Rock, Metal and Punk movements. The Thrash Metal band Metallica in its early days “weren’t larger-than-life icons […] Metallica wore basic t-shirts and jeans on stage, and had no “image” to speak of” (Konow 149), but less than conformists, they were rebellious musicians that released their anger and dislike towards society. This was part of their working-class, “Average Joe” appearance as the first publicity photo Elektra Records had of them proves. “Cliff [Burton, the bass player,] wore a FUCK YOU Tshirt” (Konow 149). Just as fascinating as the dichotomy of styles, the leather and studs look holds a very interesting story behind it. Introduced by Judas Priest in the 1970’s, it was viewed as ultra-masculine, just as much as Metallica’s working-class outfits. Little did fans know that it was really “basic leather-bar gay clothing”; despite this, “straight fans saw it as straighter than anybody, the furthest you could get from gay, when in fact it was coming right out of the club” (Dunn). Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest was homosexual, and through the “tough, angry, aggressive and extreme” looks of the leather
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge and spikes, not only did he create the looks to express the type of music he played, he “blatantly expressed his sexuality without ever saying it” (Konow 137). From this point on, much like the stigmatization of the Swastika or the Sowilo Rune due to their use by Nazi Germany, the leather and studs, signifiers of gay culture became the signifiers of loud, ultra-masculine, heterosexual, male-dominated music. The dichotomy however, is not complete without peeking into the other side of the spectrum of Heavy Metal. Perhaps viewable as an antithesis to the “macho” workingclass looks and attitude of Classic/Thrash Metal, there is the Hair/Glam Metal scene, “another part of this culture where the guys actually look like girls” (Dunn). It was “hard rock and heavy metal [becoming] clogged with hairspray and makeup” (Konow 150). A band belonging to this movement was the extremely popular Los Angeles-based Mötley Crüe. Largely influenced by the British band Sweet, part of the “glitter/glam period of the ‘70s” (Konow 156), Mötley Crüe was all about sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll. But at the same time it was all about “trying to look good” as Vince Neil, Mötley’s vocalist, puts it (Dunn). Glam Metal bands often sported looks that could be described as feminine and unmanly. They clung to symbols often associated with women, such as colorful clothing and makeup. It was the way in which the hyper-masculine attitude came out by having a look that was unmanly as possible (Dunn). Another Los Angeles band, Poison, gave their photographer covers of magazines like Elle and Vogue saying that’s what they wanted to look like on the cover of their first album (Dunn). Essentially, Poison got what they wanted, for the final outcome had them look “very feminine, and many couldn’t tell from photographs if they were male or female” (Konow 265). One reviewer went as far as
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge saying “Anyone who dares to claim that his first reaction to the cover of Poison’s debut wasn’t ‘Whoa! These chicks are hot!” is a lying sack of shit” (Konow 265). Men in a sense embraced the Otherness of women in the Glam Metal scene. It was rebellion against the norms placed by language to males. “What are you going to do if you want to rebel as a man? Get an even more severe suit than your dad? You can’t go that direction, but you can gender-bend […] Being feminine is the most masculine thing that you can do” (Dunn). It was a way of subverting gender and displaying the essential struggle of society by celebrating the absolute Other, almost having oneself become the absolute Other. The characteristics language has attributed to human females were embraced by men, thus deceiving the predisposed perception in the human psyche. As placed in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Glam managed to “[show] the many things that we think to be natural and unchanging. [But that] just the way things are is not just the way things are” (Dunn). This further fortifies the idea of arbitrary signifiers proposed by Saussure, because at this point, signifiers of femininity became signifiers of manliness and rebellion. It is quite interesting that despite the departure of the traditional phallocentric Heavy Metal, Glam Metal bands garnered a greater female audience than any Metal act before them. “Even for bands that drew a large percentage of women, Poison attracted two to three times more females to their shows” (Konow 270). Whether it was the makeup or the more “female-friendly” sound of Glam, it was definite that it became an extremely popular type of music. To this very day, the notion that Glam Metal musicians were the ones that got most sex in the history of Heavy Metal still circulates. Did one “enlarge” one’s own phallus by acting feminine? Perhaps, because it takes (quite a lot of)
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge “guts to be Glam” (Dunn); one displayed domination over the predisposed ideas of society by transgressing them. In this case, it was one of the most essential building blocks of Western society that was being bashed. It was the furthest transgression Heavy Metal had committed at that time, with the exception perhaps of a drunk Ozzy Osbourne urinating at the Alamo while wearing a dress (Campbell). At the same time as females began opening up more to Heavy Metal, the current television giant MTV was developing, and with it, broadcast skyrocketed the sales for bands of all Metal subgenres that got airplay. Thanks to MTV, Poison became the commercial success it was. In fact, even the makeup-free Metalheads were thankful to MTV to some extent, as it not only increased album sales, but also garnered a greater female audience for them. Jason Newsted, former bassist of Metallica states that “once [Metallica] was on MTV, better-looking girls started coming to the shows, just overnight” (Konow 270). However, this popularization led to the birth of many bands that current Metalheads consider “sellouts”. A large number of Glam/Hair Metal bands appeared in the mid-80’s after the success of Poison, but as Ron Quintana points out “most of those hair bands [were] followers, and they [would] follow any trend if the trend is against them” (Konow 374). At this point, Heavy Metal began suffering a decline that would be consummated in the decade to follow by many factors. The excesses of the 80’s, Beavis & Butthead, disastrous band reunions, together with the Seattle explosion of the early 90’s (with acts such as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains) were the causes to the “death” of Heavy Metal in the United States (Konow 380-385). The late 90’s and the 2000’s proved to be an era of resurrection for Heavy Metal, with the birth of sub-genres
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge such as Nu Metal (Konow 385-386), the New Wave of American Metal, a large revival of classic Heavy Metal bands (Dunn), and of course the European Metal scene where “the hardcore metal fans […] didn’t like the hairspray and pop sensibilities” (Konow 288). And interestingly enough, this era gave birth to many of the current female-fronted Metal bands, such as Nightwish, Epica, Theater of Tragedy, Arch-Enemy and Tristania. So after this rather long discussion and exposition of facts, the question of misogyny and sexual objectification still remains. From all the different perspectives that it can be seen, a definite answer to this enquiry will probably never surface from under the pile of leather and studs bracelets, electric guitars and hairspray cans. The perception of Heavy Metal has changed throughout the past 40 years in ways that their original pioneers never imagined. From working class men who needed to release their anger and proletarian social frustration out came a movement that would end in being represented by aggressive long haired hyper-masculine individuals that either looked like women or like tough leather-bar gay culture followers. But perhaps this movement transmuted too much from its original purpose and image. At the same time as the perception of the music changed, the perception of women changed as well. In the classic age of Heavy Metal, women were not active as musicians, but rather as groupies, the sexual indulgences of the males that played this loud unorthodox music. But why did these women go backstage and engage in sexual acts with Heavy Metallers? At a superficial level it can be said that it was their desire to do so. At a deeper level however, this desire is a way of subconscious submission to the Lacanian concept of the phallus, kept strong by the fact it is reinforced by language. Objectification would of course perhaps occur at this point, but who is it to blame if the
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge language-shaped subconscious of these women dictates them to “praise the phallus” and thus have sex with Metal musicians? As Heavy Metal performers, women remained and to a certain extent, still remain a minority that is only praised due to their Otherness. Whether it is the language of human societies, or the biology of the human species, it seems as if were dictated that aggressive attitudes, a key component to Heavy Metal, are a male-only attribute and that it is unacceptable to have a female following such ideas. The fact that society does not expect or accept the idea of females performing this rebellious style of music has shun them away from it for a long time, effectively making Heavy Metal “a boys’ club” (Dunn). But for those women that do perform, they are symbols of strength and selfdetermination for their fans (Dunn). These are women that display the very essence of Heavy Metal by perhaps straying from the traditional gender role dictated by society. But in an era where the abolishment of gender roles and the idea of gender equality have become a reality, at least for the greater part of the Western World, it should not be surprising to see women taking up the reins of a once male-dominated style of music. Heavy Metal, at its very essence is freedom, an empowering source of entertainment and mode of expression. Women have been repressed throughout the ages, existing only relative to men. Much like the proletarian working-class men that began the Heavy Metal movement, women were part of the lower strata of society and have had a long history of struggle against the norms of society that tied them down. Rebellion by channeling the aggression unto non-violent methods of expression is already underway, by women joining men at places and concepts once considered male-only. Heavy Metal may have
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge had a history of sexual deprivation throughout its existence, but women have empowered themselves and will continue to empower themselves within it; thus perhaps redeeming the culture initiated by the playing of a chord with the Devil’s Note through a distorted electric guitar at some point of the late 60’s.
Jorge Pilay 8/22/2010 Theory of Knowledge Works Cited Campbell, Erik. "The Death of Satan: A NOVICE POET'S ODE TO HIS INNOCENCE, CLASSIC HEAVY METAL, & THE CREATIVITY OF IMAGINARY EVIL." Massachusetts Review 1(2005):105. eLibrary. Web. 14 Mar. 2010. Dunn, Samuel. Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. Dir. Samuel Dunn and Scott McFadyen. Banger Productions, 2005. DVD. Freud, Sigmund. "Slips of the Tongue." Routledge Language and Cultural Theory Reader. (2000): 127-130. Print. Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Mind (Galaxy Books). Oxford University Press, USA, February 1979. Print. Konow, David. Bang Your Head: the Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal. New York: Three Rivers, 2002. Print. Lacan, Jacques. "The Signification of the Phallus." Routledge Language and Cultural Theory Reader. (2000): 132-138. Print. Lechte, John. "Jaques Lacan - Psychonalysis." Faculties | University of Portsmouth. Web. 14 Mar. 2010. Lorenz, Konrad. On Aggression. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969. Print. Peel, Lishai. "Exploring "Otherness" in a Dichotomized World." Gnosis IX.3 (2008) Web. 20 Oct 2009. <http://alcor.concordia.ca/~gnosis/vol_ix_3/Lishai_Peel.pdf>. Saussure, Ferdinand. "Linguistic Value." Routledge Language and Cultural Theory Reader. (2000): 105-113. Print.