Tag Archives: David Cameron

No Holds Barred Deathmatches of Note: US vs UK edition

 

David Byrne vs David Cameron

The combatants: Try to picture David Byrne in boxing gloves or a karate gi. You can’t: the two mental images, of “martial arts” and “the guy from Talking Heads”, are mutually incompatible. Byrne has never fought a day in his life. Even at school, when the other boys surely must have been bewildered by or outright contemptuous of his otherworldly ways, he probably would have reached for a guitar or a zen koan to resolve disputes instead of resorting to his fists. In an ideal world, we’d all do similarly. But in the real world, where semi-organised combat between partners matched up in the most arbitrary fashion possible dominates the airwaves, it’s a quick way to end up as a stain on the floor.

It’s not like Byrne’s up against that fearsome an opponent, though. It’s all but a cliche at this point to bring up David Cameron’s Eton upbringing, the class-based entitlement and casual, “this is for your own good” cruelty such a life has engendered in him. It’s still true, and he only gets depicted as a condom-headed grotesque in political cartoons because that’s genuinely what he looks like. The point is, Cameron’s not a man who gets his own hands dirty if he doesn’t have to. Being forced to fight his own battle might end up being a humbling experience for him, assuming he doesn’t find a way to wriggle out of it.

The result: The bell rings, and for a good few seconds David and David lock eyes, each approximating a boxer’s stance. They try to take it seriously. But it’s no time at all before they both break down laughing. This isn’t who they are, and they know it. Cameron enthuses about how much Remain in Light means to him, and Byrne almost believes him. He has the sense he should be a bit sterner with his opponent; he read an article the other day about families being priced out of London. In the end, he settles for suggesting how the city’s cycling lanes might be made safer and more appealing for commuters. At the end of their chat, Cameron refuses to settle for just a handshake, suggesting a blokey hug instead.

As they exit the clinch, Byrne collapses and is rushed to hospital, with Cameron declared the winner by default. The rumors fly. Concealed stiletto blade or fast-acting poison injection? The chief surgeon has his story, Cameron has his.

 

Michael Gira vs Michael Gove

The combatants: There’s more similarities between these two than you might think. Both have been through some shit. Gira was a drifter, a drug dealer and a prison inmate all before his 16th birthday, and toiled in obscurity for years before Swans became critical darlings. Gove’s life has been far less dramatic, but being an orphan can’t have been any fun, especially as a young Conservative adopted by Labour-supporting Scots. And there’s only so much insulation that MP’s expenses can provide against all those snide, ideologically-motivated critics questioning your innocent desire to return the UK education system to the Victorian era.

Both Michaels are motivated men, passionately dedicated to achieving their goals in the face of an often hostile public. For Gira, that means making uncompromisingly personal music and working, working, working for decades until your art gets the recognition it deserves. For Gove, it means drastically reconfiguring a country’s school system to both thwart the desires of those Marxist teachers’ unions, and to make sure that a generation of children come to see the world in the right way. Neither man enjoys a fight, but if they have to in order to achieve their dreams, then fight they will.

The result: It’s over before it even begins. Gira stands, arms folded, glaring at his opponent from beneath his cowboy hat. Gove steels his nerves, remembering all those he’s bested in the past. The pen is mightier than the sword. But no one has ever given him such a look before, and Michael Gove is a man who’s used to getting looks from people. In the end it’s too much for him to bear, and he throws in the towel.

Gira goes on to play a six hour set with Swans that night: the band is loud enough that they can be heard from passing aeroplanes. Gove goes back to the Justice ministry and cuts public defence solicitors’ salaries again, while Sarah Vine writes a Daily Mail column on the leftist bias inherent in combat sports.

 

Nicki Minaj vs Nicky Morgan

The combatants: Nicki Minaj certainly doesn’t take any prisoners, as any of her guest verses can tell you. That doesn’t mean she’ll brawl with just anyone, though. If she doesn’t think it’s worth her while, it’s not going to happen, and making Taylor Swift upset on Twitter is not enough of a challenge to count as a fight. She’s had bodyguards for years now precisely so she can keep this sort of bullshit out of her life. But once in the ring with someone like Nicky Morgan, it’s not implausible that she’d settle things swiftly and decisively, just so she can get back to whatever it is she’d rather be doing as soon as possible.

And let’s be realistic: Morgan’s not a fighter, in any sense. Having seen Michael Gove’s defeat from ringside, she feels a sense of duty to put in a good showing for her predecessor as Education Secretary, but her heart’s not really in it. If it were up to her, she’d prefer to go on a nice run with Minaj, maybe grab a coffee afterwards. Get to know each other, talk things out. Maybe explain that she only opposed the same-sex marriage bill because she thought that’s what her constituents wanted. She’s not one of those Conservatives.

The result: After a minute or two of bobbing and weaving and light jabs here and there, Morgan calls for time out. Isn’t there any other way to settle this? Minaj is willing to listen, at first. She nods through Morgan’s Rocky IV speech, keeping her polite face on. They’re both agreed on the importance of kids staying in school, and are almost warming up to each other personally. Until Morgan gets to the part about how “I think you could be a really good role model for girls, if you weren’t so sexual all the time”. With that, it’s all over. Minaj rolls her eyes ostentatiously before fixing them in a “really, though?” stare, then walks out of the ring. This isn’t even deserving of a meme-worthy putdown. She hops in the limo and drives off, in search of something more worthy of her time. Newspaper columnists across the country declare Morgan the winner, and praise her civility in the face of such an uncouth opponent.

 

Danny Glover vs Danny Dyer

The combatants: An interesting study in contrasts, this one. Based on his more action-oriented performances, it’s easy to think of Danny Glover as a man who’s taken some knocks, who’s fought his share of battles. He dealt with a Predator about as well as Arnie did, after all. But in the real world, violence is clearly not his thing. Throughout his life his political activism, whether in support of Occupy Oakland or in opposition to the Iraq war, has been entirely peaceful. He’s a revolutionary, but not a soldier. He can probably take care of himself if he has to, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be enthusiastic about it.

And then there’s Danny Dyer. No one on this list would be more eager to take part in a quasi-celebrity deathmatch, nor as certain of their fighting prowess. All that time he’s spent profiling London hard cases for Sky documentaries and playing wide boy rogues must have rubbed off, surely? It’s in the bag, ain’t it. Given how much of his life has been spent building his personal brand as the Pearly King of England, he shouldn’t have any trouble winning a fight or two. He pretty much has to win. If he doesn’t, all that time will have been completely wasted.

The result: Almost before the bell’s been rung, Dyer leaps out of the corner and presses his opponent, jabbing wildly and keeping a steady stream of patter flowing. In his mind, he’s the Cockney Muhammad Ali. For Glover, it’s like watching the episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em where Frank becomes a boxer. He’s not certain if that episode was ever made, but he feels like it should have been.

Dyer owns the show at first, forcing his foe on the defensive. But he can’t keep his mouth and his fists running for long, and his persistent remarks about the quality of Lethal Weapon 3 enrage Glover. He’s soon reeling from a barrage of Predator-felling haymakers, and before long Eastenders’ finest son falls, spent, to the floor. Glover dedicates his victory to the Kurdish PKK, igniting a mild outcry from Fox News. Upon awakening Dyer is confused and angry, but decides to be the bigger man and congratulate Glover nonetheless. He loved him in The Color Purple, after all.

 

Next week’s US-UK card will feature: 

George Clinton vs George Osborne

Annie Clark vs Anne Widdecombe

Frank Zappa vs Frank Butcher

Captain Beefheart vs Captain Birdseye

A Model For Feminist Extreme Metal

Reinventing the Steel: A three-part discussion of how extreme metal could reinvigorate itself through explicit ideological engagement with feminism

3) A Model For Feminist Extreme Metal

It’s telling that this final article on metal, patriarchy and feminism has taken me much longer to write than the ones before it. Where those were engaged in critiquing the metal scene as I see it, this one involves proposing a way to change things, a far harder task. I’m hesitant to suggest any kind of definitive answer to the problems within metal, but I’m fairly certain the solution isn’t for us to feel personal guilt over problematic lyrics, and shy away from the genre as a result. It’s OK to listen to those lyrics if we admit there’s a problem with them, rather than getting defensive about how metal bands don’t actually kill women. More helpful than avoiding the problem, or trying to justify the status quo, are active attempts to create an alternative narrative- a model of feminist extreme metal.

I hope that my previous posts on heavy metal subculture and its links to patriarchy have demonstrated that there is a serious problem, in this subculture and more widely, of women being denied representation and treated with horrific violence, metaphorical and literal. I’d argue that feminism- which I understand as a movement to improve the lot of marginalised people, including but not limited to women, by demolishing patriarchal power structures- is the most suitable ideological trend to remedy this situation. It’s always easy to find people who balk at even the mention of the name, however. And not just the internet-dwelling Men’s Rights “activists” who will loudly insist that forty-odd years of limited progress toward gender equality have turned the tables and created a “misandric”, matriarchal society: plenty of girls and women, from the playground to the editorial pages, are reluctant to explicitly identify as feminist. (To be fair, there’s a world of difference between those who are hesitant to criticise patriarchy, and the many women of colour who feel excluded by high-profile feminist movements that tend to ignore their specific concerns and focus only on the issues of white, middle-class women. I can hardly blame those women who feel this brand of feminism doesn’t speak for them, and instead prefer titles such as womanist, or no label at all.)

While there has been an increased media focus lately on the myriad ways feminism’s goals have yet to be achieved, there remains a perception that we somehow have moved beyond the need for a women’s movement. Those feminist arguments that do receive serious mainstream attention are very often individually-focused, aiming at getting a few women into leading roles in the capitalist hierarchy. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” brand of feminism is the most prominent example of the neutered rhetoric that talks of female empowerment without critiquing patriarchy as a system1.

If feminism was truly irrelevant or unnecessary in today’s “post-feminist” world, its opponents would not spend any time attempting to discredit or disparage its ideals and practitioners. If it were as silly or “irrational” as is claimed, they would simply ignore it, instead of expending energy trying to counter it. But feminism continues to invite ridicule, disdain and rebuttals (as well as attempts at co-option) because it poses a very real, existential threat to patriarchal systems of power. Its radical critique of patriarchy as a system propping up massive inequality is threatening to the people who benefit from that structural inequality. What could be more dangerous to patriarchal power than an ideology that repudiates its very structural underpinning?

Make no mistake, feminism is still a dirty word for far too many. Student Jinan Younis, for example, was recently hounded by online abuse from boys, simply for daring to start a feminist society at her school2. This is merely one example of the relentless threats women face for expressing feminist viewpoints, or even for just existing in online space3. The hostility is not limited to internet harassment from those who lack social status and therefore lash out at those with less than them, in an attempt to feel powerful. UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissive attitude toward female MPs is well documented- for example, shutting down Green MP Caroline Lucas’ questioning about the continued presence of the Sun newspaper, with its prominent nude modelling pictures, on Parliament news stands. Whatever your feelings on the No More Page 3 campaign against nude modelling in “family” newspapers, the dismissive response toward the concerns of women by the leader of a modern, supposedly enlightened nation should be extremely concerning. And outside of nations with at least the façade of a commitment to gender equality, official responses to feminist activism are marked with outright hostility, rather than smug indifference. The Pussy Riot case in Russia shows the extent to which dictatorial leaders and massively powerful religious authorities, who logically should feel secure in their absolute dominance of social life, will crack down on any feminist challenge.

For metal bands to explicitly align with feminism, then, would be a radical act in of itself, one that might restore some genuine counter-culture credentials to an increasingly apolitical art form.

 

What would feminist metal consist of?

A feminist approach to extreme metal would start with the organisation of bands and shows. It’s important to have more groups with female members in central roles – there are already plenty of bands entirely made up of dudes. And not only women, but people of colour and LGBT people as well; all of these groups are massively under-represented because they fall outside the genre’s white, male, straight, cissexual norm. Intersectional feminism ought to mean centralising not only female voices, but also those of women (and men) of colour, as well as trans people and/or gender-non-conformists. In addition, there needs to be an effort to make shows more welcoming to these groups. I’ve heard too many stories from female friends about sensing an unwelcoming atmosphere, or even outright hostility, at metal and punk shows. When race enters the mix, this feeling only increases. Laina Dawes highlights this in What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal: “sexual and racial stereotyping and threats of physical harm can limit the participation of black women fans. (…) Some of the women I talked to… were fearful of being at the receiving end of racial slurs or getting physically attacked”4. It’s on us white, male, straight metal fans to make sure shows are inclusive and welcoming to people who might not fit the stereotypical image of a metalhead.

As well as demographics, the themes and content of metal could be adjusted to accompany feminist consciousness. In the Post-Zeitgeist blog piece “Extremity in Metal”, the author offers a potential model for reconfiguring the “extreme” aspect of metal: “To me, true shock, true extremity should deeply unseat more than an individual’s taste or stomach. In fact, I would argue that it is not necessary for extremity or shock to be negative”5. Simply by presenting alternatives to established discourses, intersectionalist feminism welded to metal extremity could potentially shock listeners into questioning the patriarchal organisation of the genre. Wouldn’t metal with explicitly feminist lyrics and presentation- that reflected reality by including the perspectives of women, LGBT persons and people of colour- rekindle a sense of the danger metal once possessed?

By itself, this inclusion wouldn’t immediately demolish the music’s patriarchal structure. But by channelling the experiences and voices of people outside the genre’s white, straight, male norm, it would at least present something different to what we’ve heard before. Who knows what new and exciting approaches to metal we might be missing out on by not giving equal representation to female, LGBT and PoC perspectives?

 

Forced Gender Re-imagining

At this point, it might be helpful to take an example of an existing metal song, and imagine how it could be reconfigured to reflect intersectional feminist concerns. The aforementioned Post-Zeitgeist post discusses an apt candidate in Cattle Decapitation’s “Forced Gender Reassignment”, which gained minor notoriety last year for its video, deemed gruesome enough to be banned from Youtube and other video-sharing sites. The song’s lyrics and their accompanying visuals depict violent retribution committed against fundamentalist Christians. The victims in question are forcibly put through gender reassignment surgery by “a stereotyped sadomasochistic, implied homosexual”, presumably as a punishment for religious bigotry. The implication is that this is a horrific fate for religious fundamentalists, because of their misogyny, cissexism and adherence to the strictly defined gender roles their religion helps the patriarchal system to prop up. But the reassignment-as-punishment device leaves the assumption of a rigid gender binary unchallenged- it is taken as read that the victims have been gender-switched simply because their anatomy has been forcibly altered. The song’s lyrics ultimately “suggests that gender is merely biological, which we all know by now it is not”, and thus “merely reinforce rather than transcend or properly critique sexual stereotypes”6. In the same way that Cattle Decapitation rely on well-worn metal hostility to organised religion (however well-justified), they ultimately fail in their attempt to shock the audience because they are still working within conventional notions of gender. “Forced Gender Reassignment” ends up being nowhere near as transgressive as it wants to be, no matter how gory its video. But it would be entirely possible to write a song with the exact same title that explicitly incorporated feminist/queer gender theory, while still remaining true to the established characteristics of death metal.

Imagine a baby assigned one of two binary genders at birth, who grows up wishing to be on the other side of that divide, or even outside it entirely. Imagine an intersex baby with ambiguous genitalia, forcibly assigned a specific gender and operated on by doctors in an attempt to get it to conform to that gender. Imagine the pain and strife that could result if this gender identity does not fit the child’s preference, if they would have wished to exist outside the gender binary, an opportunity denied them before they were even truly conscious. Imagine the dysmorphia that trans, intersex and/or gender non-binary people often feel when forced into an inappropriate gender identity- a visceral body horror that one cannot escape from. Is this not a creatively fertile area for exploration, one that allows for emotional expression in a recognisably metal way, but that hasn’t been overdone?

It wouldn’t be necessary to focus on the negative side to be shocking here, either. As the Post-Zeitgeist piece asks of “Forced Gender Reassignment”: “Why was it not possible for the creators of the video to create a beautiful version of forced gender reassignment among consenting peers? What about representing fluidity, transformation and possibility as key shock tactics(?)”7 Showing the positive potential of gender fluidity would certainly be as shocking as revealing the injustices faced by trans and/or non-binary people, maybe even more so.

An entire metal concept album constructed around these issues wouldn’t be at all implausible. A central narrator’s rage and frustration at the rigid gender binary and the position within it they were forced into, their own body dysmorphia, or the discrimination and horrific violence faced by trans and non-binary people, would all make ripe fodder for extreme, aggressive music. If you wanted to uplift and inspire listeners, as well as make them angry, you could also highlight the empowerment this character finds in discovering a gender identity and expression that’s not recognised in the mainstream but is still “right” for them. What part of that isn’t metal?

Of course, if this hypothetical album were to speak from a place of experience and authenticity, it would have to be written by a trans and/or gender non-binary person. Simply finding someone interested in bringing their perspective to a project like this would not be easy: as poor as women’s representation is within metal, it’s an even worse situation for trans people. About the only trans musician with a relatively high profile in underground metal that I’m currently aware of is Cretin and Repulsion guitarist Marissa Martinez, for example.8 Yet a project like this would be ideal for bringing attention to both queer theory and trans and/or non-binary musicians, who might end up as role models for young metal fans questioning their own place within the gender binary. This isn’t to say that trans musicians in metal have to sing only about gender issues or feminism, of course. They would, however, be more qualified to talk about certain issues surrounding the gender binary than the cisgendered. Metal music would be greatly enriched by representing the perspectives of people who have traditionally not had a voice within the genre, especially if these would help challenge those areas where the music has reinforced patriarchal assumptions.

 

Nobody Knows If Nobody Sees

For a political, social or musical movement to have any effect, people need to know about it. And often, spreading awareness means getting coverage in mainstream media. Even in an age where social media networks make it easier than ever for people to get informed without relying on print and television news, it’s still necessary to get that coverage if you want to reach the widest audience possible. Given that, I’m not all that optimistic that feminist metal would get much play in dead-tree media, whether that be major newspapers or specialist monthly publications. Ideologies that pose a significant challenge to existing social norms will not get taken seriously in corporate-owned titles. Even in metal magazines with an ostensible counter-culture slant, socio-political discussion is scarcely to be seen, especially if it would critique the genre’s patriarchal structure. You could make a hypothetical comparison here with riot grrl, the early 90s wave of female-led punk bands affiliated with third-wave feminism. The limited mainstream attention paid to bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile or Huggy Bear was mostly negative, misinterpreting pro-women stances as anti-men (for further examples of this false dichotomy, see any mainstream report on any feminist movement, ever). The impact of the movement on wider punk circles was limited in scope- and given that punk has historically given at least token support to feminism in a way that metal hasn’t, there’s little reason to suspect a similar movement within metal would be any more influential.

But it’s important not to be too negative here. Riot grrl might have influenced only a relatively small amount of bands worldwide, but for those who did adopt its DIY attitude, explicit political involvement and activism, it offered a model for how to carve out a space for women in an increasingly macho punk scene; how to create a subculture within a subculture. A similar movement within metal, expanded to incorporate the input of people of colour and LGBT persons, could achieve something similar: perhaps not changing the world, but making a small part of it safer and more comfortable for those who’ve been excluded from it up to now.

It’s probably unlikely to expect feminist metal to make much headway in the mainstream, or even to alter the structure of metal subculture all that much. Any change it did effect would be gradual, limited at least initially to small local scenes. But that doesn’t mean introducing intersectional feminist perspectives into extreme music isn’t worth doing. If it makes things more comfortable for fans who don’t happen to be straight white dudes, or inspires even one person to start a band who wouldn’t have if they hadn’t seen people like themselves playing metal, it’ll be worth it.

 

Footnotes

1 For an excellent deconstruction of Sandberg’s “faux-feminism”, see bell hooks’ article “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In”. http://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/17973/

2 “What happened when I started a feminist society at school”, The Guardian, June 20th 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/jun/20/why-i-started-a-feminist-society

3 Further discussion of the nature of online sexism and misogyny can be found in Laurie Penny’s Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet, quoted in the previous post in this series.

4 Laina Dawes, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, 26. Expect a post dedicated to this book in the near future.

5 “Extremity in Metal: a Buddhist’s Perspective”, Post-Zeitgeist, 13th November 2012. http://post-zeitgeist.blogspot.jp/2012/11/extremity-in-metal-buddhists-perspective.html

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Coincidentally, Martinez’ Cretin bandmate is none other than Matthew Widener, the musician behind Liberteer, who I discussed in the first part of this series. For an excellent interview with Martinez about her transition and musical influences, see here: http://www.invisibleoranges.com/2011/01/interview-marissa-martinez-cretin/