Sunday, July 18, 2010

Metal and Progressive Politics

Today, I came across an interesting article (found here) on the popularity of Iron Maiden and other metal bands in Middle Eastern countries, and how, for the author at least, this situation hints at the possibility of development of economic models which are alternatives to neoliberal globalization. The article discusses Maiden's ethos, if I am permitted to use that term, and claims it could serve as the basis for a more inclusive conception of politics, one grounded on the principles of "DIY." Seeing this surprised me, as Maiden, while of course crucial, certainly could not be called a model of the ethical and political positions which undergird the DIY movement, such as it is. Multimillionaires who tour the world in jets have little to do with Food Not Bombs benefit shows, as much as most bands who would play one of those shows also would probably count Maiden among their favourites.

Putting this question to one side, I want to take issue with the more important claim that metal shows can create "a multi-national assemblage of people sharing a rare moment of true community and joy." 'Multi-national,' sure. 'Joy,' absolutely. But 'true community?' I admit that I have come away from concerts feeling like I had been a part of something greater; an Evens show several years ago made me realize that just being in the same room as Ian Mackaye is enough to be inspired. However, as much as my inner punk screams at me for saying so, the danger here is that it is easy to forget that in a concert situation, there is no place for discussion and disputation, the bedrock of 'true community.' The band plays ferociously, the crowd responds with unanimous deafening cheering. In this situation, there is no possibility for dissent or difference, and the creation of a space which allows for dissenting opinion free from persecution is, for me, both the purpose for and the ultimate goal of politics. Mass gatherings by their nature cannot provide this. Additionally, seeing or participating in the activity of gigantic groups of people responding to spectacle is only inspiring if you happen to share the political views of the organizers or performers involved in the spectacle. Think of the commonly-felt abhorrence, one which I share, when someone is confronted with the misguided and misinformed inanities of Tea Party rallies.[1] The passion and fervour present in those situations indicates to me that those people are inspired in exactly the same way as I am when I hear "Dear Coach's Corner." The viewpoints are radically opposed, but the effect of enflaming the passions is, I believe, identical. This leads me to the conclusion that as much as public organization and whipping the crowd into a frenzy can be a legitimate political tactic, it cannot be the basis of a stable political situation, something I took to be the author's wish. Rather, such a basis can only be found in careful argument and discussion, which requires, for want of a better term, calm, something in short supply at shows, rallies, and most other gatherings of crowds. Maiden can inspire, yes, but any tendencies to enlarge the importance and good effect of what, sadly, for most is merely a youthful diversion and nothing more must be viewed with suspicion. For me, this is done in order to combat the slide, always a risk, of permitting the public artists to become instantiations of demagoguery.

[1] As an excursus, it is also important to think of the power of the rampant disdain heaped on G20 protesters by what opinion polls tell us is the majority of Canadians. In the technological age, it is no longer necessary to be in close physical proximity to 'gather.' The tendency of sensationalist media images to sway public opinion indicates, to me, the real importance of the DIY sub- or counterculture: the development of alternative modes of production and consumption concerned only with the dissemination of ideas. Maiden, which I must again emphasize are excellent, hardly can be said to do this.

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