tisdag 3 augusti 2010

Queer metal?

“There is no feminist metal!” says the radical. “Can metal not be feminist and still be considered metal?” I ask.

I read an article, Horning In -- The case for feminist metal, and deducted that as much as I agreed on things that were said, not much interesting was said concerning the issues which I deemed to be of importance for me and my relationship to heavy metal culture, or the intersection between queer feminism and heavy metal. Not that it wasn't important: the disassembling of authoritative listings/canon, giving precedence to otherness and speaking up on part of alternatives is very much appreciated, it just wasn't what I expected. Now: I'm currently writing a manifest(ival) which entails sitting in front of the computer and having a pair of speakers behind me – listening to music since it keeps me going – a large part of my day. Metal is preferred most of the times, and today I took a break from writing and instead decided to listen to the lyrics of Deadlocks “The Brave/ Agony Applause":

I enjoyed what I heard, and took up on seeing the music video through which I discovered the band to begin with. Here follows my thoughts on that music video and the song in itself.

The video starts out slowly, filled with luscious backgrounds of non-human beings, skeletons of dinosaurs, living yet dead animals, and a woman using an animal for procreation of some sorts – even if only for appropriation as portrayal. Just at the inception I see “the beast awakening”, which is the (presumably )male singer, and just as the chorus begins, there are juxtaposing wings of angels with feathers of animals, with the (presumably) female singer in the middle. The female singers in metal bands are very often exposed, seen as commodity, naked, resurrected, the front for the band, rhetoric, symbol, exchange value. In the article mentioned, one important point of the author was that metal reproduces stereotype notions of masculinity and femininity, which I believe can be done through a division into male growls and female clean vocals. In this song, the same critique could be applied, although I do not want to make it seem a clear cut case just as simple as that as I believe that these conventions are possibly used and could certainly be interpreted as a subversive use of expectations.

Deadlock are animal rights activist, or rather animal liberation terrorists. This I do not necessarily infer from the song or the video, but from the fact that I've read it somewhere. Therefore I assume that what the band members and the song turns against are humans who exploit animals and nature. As women often are seen as having a bigger connection to nature, and this notion is so widespread and all-encompassing, this belief must figure into the representation of females in this work of art. The female singer in this video can also be equated with nature to some extent, as the female is probably seen and made to be seen as innocent, clear skinned, clean, angel-like, wind blowing in the hair. Thus: the slaves of instruments and slaves of the stage (literally and metaphorically) in the video all appear to me as men. More than anything else (including the female singer), musical instruments and those who play or are played by them are fetishistic objects for/of the viewer, the quintessential modus operandi of cock-rock only enacted and made possible by those who have the tools (the power/the voice that matters?) necessary to do so – usually men. The male gaze, if there is one, renders in this video players as tools (humans in the act of producing culture), the focal point being snippets of closed-in guitars, strings, drum beats, the act of music itself – or the breaking out of the musical instruments as entity/agent. Veiny arms of band members seem to be a by-product of the fetishistic rendering of a metal gaze/convention, but it could be argued that it is also an annexation of attractive features for the pleasure (not necessarily strictly as sexual desire, mind you) of the viewer.

An important thing to notice here is that this potential focus on displays of manliness is the only atomistic rendition of the flesh going on; the female singer can be perceived steadily by a medium close shot throughout the video. Sure, restricted, for our viewing pleasure, only there to fill in the recurring chorus, thus yielding time (chronological accounts), place (think outside the cocks!/box) and woman exchangeable. But there is not any reducing to body parts, so it would seem someone read their Pornography of Meat! The playing of musical instruments could be interpreted as an extension of men's capacity to technological savvy though, or as procreation of conceptions of men as guardians of culture/cultural artefacts, but more dangerous I deem that the female singer is introduced with an image of an angel in the background while all the other (men) in the video are juxtaposed to other kinds of images, of death, of barbarism, which could be interpreted as the female innocence already mentioned. An appreciation or understanding/taking for granted of feminine facets as feminine essence, or unique woman experience as platform for politics could be dangerous and are not necessarily ways to achieve freedom (as they restrict) or proof of any real appreciation. Those attributes in women that are most often cared for and sought after are the same attributes which are looked down upon and sets women apart from men, makes them squeamish, hysteric, non-distinguishable, de-individualized, but also good mothers, caretakers, and sexual objects. This bears a similarity to the situation of other animals: the domestication of other animals is as the same time a domestication of man and human nature; an annexation, making-cultural of human beings and their (sublimated) activities, a restraint of performative action and disacknowledgment of similitude; the crossing out of familiarity and distancing of the animal kingdom/nature. A big part of the sociobiological field refers to nature and denies it at the same time, the acme of this appropriation being the double use of appeal to nature (a logical fallacy I'd argue), at once considered the apex of what we must strive towards and take inspiration from, just as well as something we must distance ourselves from since we are not mere animals:

"The natural world is characterized by competition; animals struggle against each other for ownership of limited natural resources. Capitalism, the competitive struggle for ownership of capital, is simply an inevitable part of human nature. It's how the natural world works." Quote

The subversive part of Deadlocks video comes in here: just as well as a stereotypical apprehension of gender roles can be attributed to the piece of art at hand, a displacement or acknowledgement could be discerned; men are animals and beasts because they are the ones performing most of the atrocities. You know, more women than men are vegetarian anyway. Another possible aspect of subversivity, connected to the difficulty of using tools/symbols of typical oppression in order to fuck up the status quo is the use of other animal as symbol for bestiality, at the same time that one does acknowledge the humanity and necessary dignity of those animals.

In metal, and all other categories of music, the structure, the genre, presents itself as limitation, as absence. The need for sacrifice from the perspective of Deadlock and it's band-members as the becoming of mainstream, streamlining, a stream of coming, is a necessity during which we must decide whether to employ pragmatism/practicality, or not. Could Deadlock deploy feminist or queer tactics in a mainstream heavy metal context would they have been explicit? Have they deployed anything that could remotely be called queer at all? What parts of the music video or the metal/music video conventions adhered to lead us towards a reproduction for reproductions sake, for the sake of the populist, the top list, as necessitation for continued existence/reproduction?

Kant could not resolve the problem of combining the categorical imperative with practicality relating to human salvation, believing to some extent that one must commit one final sin to counter the original sin, upon which the dictated change necessary to commit mankind to the road to perdition would be exchanged for a stairway to heaven. Two wrongs make a right, one sin to end them all. Zizek believed that the universal aspect of Christianity should be secularized into militant egalitarianism, against "pagan notion of destiny", of reaching higher places for whom everyone would look and feel and taste the same. The concept of a vanishing mediator makes sense to put here. It “...is a concept that exists to mediate between two opposing ideas, as a transition occurs between them. At the point where one idea has been replaced by the other, and the concept is no longer required, the mediator vanishes. In terms of Hegelian dialectics, the conflict between thesis and antithesis is resolved by a synthesis of the two ideas, although the synthesis represents the final solution, whereupon the mediator vanishes.”

Much like Butlers conception of the term queer. Let's look at the lyrics of the song:

Dear spectators
I'm coming from boondocks
To your wilderness of mirrors
Pretending to be dangerous
And unpredictable
But look into my eyes

And all
You will see
Is frustration and fear
Disappointment about man
Creation's crowning glory

The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area; or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated, brutal, savage, barbaric. This could also be the description of a man – granted, only from a feminist point of view, but still. Man as the awakening beast is the beast that takes animals and demonizes/demonetizes them, turns them into others, sees them only as symbol, as synecdoche, as mereology, but it is also the loving beast that needs a woman to change hir from hirs evil ways. In the video, the male singer is wearing the trophy of hunt on hirself, actually being the animal, embodying the notion of a deer, or of someone in a deer-suit. In extreme states of anger, sensible people act like animals, “go ape”, and their behaviour is hard to predict whereupon the worst is feared. Who is the one pretending to be dangerous; the singer who growls in order to attract an audience? The insecure male exposed as having a crisis in Fight Club? Are the angry eyes of the beast simply frustration and fear of suffering, or fear of representation and misunderstanding?

Eyes are often seen as the keys to ones soul, as in these one can witness apathy, fear, or shame. I do believe it was Imre Kertész, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor, who said that it was the eyes of a bovine behind bars that made hir a vegetarian, remembering the terrified eyes of people who died at the hands of Nazi Germany. In the video, only the singers cry out to us with their eyes, and these are the ones not engaging directly with tools of technology (instruments). Those who do, are they the ones who hear no, see no, and speak no evil?

In the video, prison bars are closing in and hiding people behind their musical instruments. Only people with instruments are seen behind bars, lost, inhumane, expressing themselves but chained to conventions of musicality, structure. The singers are made out to be clear of this, maybe because they are both actors, both voices, both humans, taking the narrative further. Here I want to warn readers of the notion of primitivism, of a belief in the necessity of going back to a time before symbols and expressions, or as some would have it; a better time, the good old days, pre-verbal/pre-symbolic states. Some of these people believe that language is captivity, a trap, a cul-de-sac qua the the poetry of outcry, qua the cri de coeur of emotions and direct expression for these people are that which can connect man to “nature” itself, or something “other”. For Heidegger, being lets things be while poetry gives us unique access to this letting-be quality of Being. Another metal band, The Agonist, expresses something which I'm afraid could be similar, something I'm afraid many environmentalist seem to be unaware of:

Here once stood one hundred million species
undiscovered until extinction
Here once stood unnatural amounts of prey
turned product mechanized slaughter
The Sentient flaunted their machinist superiority
an ersatz compensation for real instincts lost

Metal to bystanders often seems to be “just noise”, unsophisticated, low art, but there is no denying that the cries , growls, shrieking squeals and also the mangling of shredding and blast beats are direct somehow, akin to notions of romanticism. The growling of death metal singers is precise and strike at the heart, incite emotion (whether it be aggression or happiness) thus according to some primitivists not obfuscating, obscuring, the true meaning, message – even though it in this case is mediated and thus part of the hyper real from which we must turn (shy) away from. The symbolic for primitivists can be compared to the following quote, where the symbolic and cultural world is tied to men:

“The cliched sexist image of a bikini clad blonde draped on the hood of a muscle car is the classic phallic fantasy: both car and women are seen as possessions of the male, prime symbols for (representations of) the phallus whereby, through possession, the man masters the symbolic order.” Quote

Are Deadlock trying to dismantle the masters house with the tools of the master, deconstructing culture with the use of culture? For most (non-primitivists, even if the distinction is not either-or) this would not seem to be a problem except for the selling out-part. Even if Deadlock have no intention and definitely have no notions of primitivism transmitted/activated inside themselves which expresses itself through symbolic means, there is still the case of using metaphorical, atavistic beasts for the appreciation of lovely beasts – and the problems inherited with this strategy. It is similar to the travails facing the one discussing prejudice by acknowledging/constituting categories which one may compare and address. For bell hooks one can employ the strategy of "talking back” because only as subjects can we speak – as objects we remain voiceless, our beings defined and interpreted by others. What can the fetishistic object say about the object itself or about the being it is a part of? The taking up of place, of having the word, of displaying agency, can thus be seen through the lens of this talking back, or similar to the notion of talking back, the lens of Spivak's “strategic essentialism” through which one can find oneself claiming identity in order to claim respect and rights. For Zizek, subjects are important because:

The defense of the category of the subject involves first a vindication of the notion of subjectivity for an adequate descriptive political theory. Žižek argues that hegemonic regimes function by interpellating individuals into social roles and mandates within a given polity: we cannot understand how power functions without some account of the psychology of political subjects. Secondly, there is the vindication of the "category of the subject". Following Lacan, Žižek contends that subjectivity corresponds to a lack (manque) that always resists full inscription into the mandates prescribed to individuals by hegemonic regimes.


Cut to music video. During the solo, the camera changes perspective to birds eye view; are we metaphorically looking down on someone? Is the change in perspective a mark, a reminder that we have entered another world where rules are different? This world we have entered is just an extension of what has come before us but if there ever was a doubt, here comes the metal performance par excellence: guitar solo – embarked upon in the footsteps of dead dinosaurs. Is this a warning, the shallow man standing in a pool of water at the brink of extinction/exhaustion? Dinosaurs allegedly died from “natural causes”, from meteors (the asteroid collision theory) that to me sound like something far away from the influence of a holistic rendering of Terra as Gaian creature (which primitivists/environmentalists often believe in). There are theories stating that dinosaurs simply failed to diversify as ecosystems were changing though, a precarious condition which can be juxtaposed with that of man's.

I accept the agony applause
Brave as I am
An insane dance
At the brink of death
In your circus of the obscene

Far away from my home
Caged behind rusty bars
Beaten and mortified

Far away from my home? This is the voice of other animals! Remember: they who shall conquer and vanquish the tyrants of oppression are the ones who after victory become those in power.