Guest Commentary: Social Justice Warriors Aren’t a Problem in Metal. But Assholes Are.


The following is special guest editorial column written by Publicist UK vocalist Zachary Lipez.

Decibel, a magazine that I’ve long loved, ever since seeing the word “Deadguy” on their cover over 10 years ago, recently ran a guest op-ed piece by one Jeffery Podoshen. Prof. Podoshen (PhD) teaches at a university that, according to the Internet, exists. Having barely finished high school and muddled through to an Associate’s Degree from a school best known for its campus shooter wearing a Sick of It All T-shirt, I’m not going to try to match my esteemed colleague’s erudition on this, or any other subject. My only qualifications are that I’m in a band signed to Relapse and some of my best friends are problematic.

The issue at hand is whether “Social Justice Warriors” are a threat to extreme metal. Now, let’s set aside the initial elephant of whether one should care about the “threatened” existence of what is, at best, a niche art form or, at worst, a hobby for those who think riding a bike is political or feel that their consumption of limited edition tape and/or vinyl is a subversive act. We’ll set that aside because, clearly we (he for writing the initial post, me for responding, you for reading/skimming, commenting without reading, etc.) do care. Here we are. Talking about Social Justice Warriors in metal like a bunch of adults in studded Defend Pop Punk t-shirts.

First off, let me say this: It’s hard to rebut a guest op-ed that names no names, cites no evidence and claims victimhood from a crime not specified. The closest thing to details are allusions to a Sacramento Antifa member pepper-spraying a crowd at a Taake show. While that was undoubtedly unpleasant, and you could — sans divine assistance — fit the fucks I care about Antifa on the head of a pin, I’m not sure this counts as a Kristallnacht for black metal fans. Podoshen talks of cancelled shows and silencing tactics but there’s not much to parse, as there’s not much here besides blanket accusations and adolescent assumptions of bad faith in fellow metal fans. I have bad news for Podoshen and his ilk: VERY few people pretend to like black metal. Indie kids like it because the guitars are real pretty. I know some fancy themselves real dangerous (and Podoshen seems positively giddy at the notion that some metal musicians/fans might have been incarcerated at one point), but aesthetically the line between them and Archers of Loaf is thin and getting thinner. There are rarely (outside of the occasional predatory musician looking for cred or sounds/fashion to poach) “scene tourists” in a scene, no matter how niche or seemingly inaccessible (a brief once-over of Podoshen’s bibliography will show a penchant towards the use of the word “tourism.” Which I grok, it’s a great word for both dismissing your perceived enemies and for booking a fun weekend.). In 2016, no music is inaccessible. You listen online and if you like it, you show up. Acting like there’s a moral component to being troo is just something people who liked something first tell themselves when they confuse taste with ethics. Liking Manilla Road in 1985 isn’t the same as marching at Selma, so maybe take it down a notch. People, being people, will always have complicated reasons for what they enjoy. And perhaps some people will enjoy the social aspects of a music more than the sounds, but aesthetics are wild and we live in the sensual world and it’s safe to assume that if they didn’t at least enjoy metal they’d be at another scene. There are easier ways to drink. And caring about another person’s motivations for liking what they like is some bullshit unless it’s personally affecting you.

Which brings me to my main point: diverse groups of people, minorities, leftists, degenerate Jews and, worse, The Ladies, being part of and, apparently the problem, a vocal part of extreme music is NOT. OPPRESSING. YOU. Any of you. Not a one. You’re going to be fine. Hell, being white and a man, you are going to thrive like a motherfucker, politics and/or mediocrity be damned. As long as deniability exists and people actually like their songs after Cowboys From Hell, Pantera will never not be booked for shows and Podoshen, despite the muddled alt-right think pieces, will undoubtedly get tenure. All that is happening is those men who, for many pre-internet years, existed in an echo chamber of “godDAMN you are transgressive and good!” are now hearing “how is this transgressive when it’s been the dominant ideology of the state for hundreds of years?” and it’s hurting their feelings. And, like the fabled social justice warriors of yore, they are going online to cry about it.

Look, I get it. If you spend a lot of time online or live in Williamsburg or Antioch or the Bay Area, you are around a lot of people whose politics are perhaps left of yours. And sometimes tiresome people of any ideological stripe are exactly that—tiresome. Thinking that’s the world is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you already lean towards myopia. But homophobia and racism and sexism and transphobia are the ideologies of the powers that be. When you align yourself with them, you are not transgressing shit. This fethishization of wild and wooly unsafe spaces where shirtless Norwegians can dribble and rail against a social safety net (or immigration or impurity or whatever bee is in their cosmic entropy bonnet) is absolutely absurd in the face of many marginalized peoples unsafe every day reality. Donald Trump, a man whose racism has been self-evident since the mid-’80s is a presidential candidate for president. His opposing candidate will, while perhaps slathering it in liberal lip service, undoubtedly slaughter brown people by the thousands, without remorse or apology. And you think your COMPLETE IDEOLOGICAL AGREEMENT WITH THESE PEOPLE, so long as you accompany it with corpse paint and naughty words, makes you some sort of rebel? Satan doesn’t care if you’re an Islamophobe but Kissinger is totally into it.

Moreover, if your entire existence as an artist is based of provocation and chaos and evilllllll, then you perhaps shouldn’t whine when you provoke and get chaos in response. If you just wanted to scream your dark feelings and shirk the reaction, then it’s time to admit that you were never about that chaos life in the first place. You just wanted an insular drama club, like Cabaret in reverse, with the Nazis as the heroes and Sally Bowles as the mean old SJW shitting on your white power parade. Man, maybe scrawling swastikas on your chest is very important to you. Maybe you absolutely need to talk about raping women and occasionally smack around your partner around. Death In June shirts and Burzum covers strike you as free speech on par with Martin Luther’s Ninety-five theses. OK. But, see and here’s the thing, you can do all those things and what will happen, more than likely THE ONLY THING THAT WILL HAPPEN, is that many, many people, mostly without power to protect themselves let alone do harm to your person, will call you a fucking moron. And they will be empirically correct. That’s not about safe or unsafe spaces or triggering or inclusion or any of the buzzwords Podoshen threw out there in his basic defense of assholery. It’s about finding out, as all adults eventually must, that you are not the only person who matters. A casual perusal of Immortal lyrics will tell you, it’s a bitter world. You push and you’ll get pushed back. Maybe you won’t get to play in Portland. But you’re not disenfranchised. You’re not put upon. You’re not even mildly inconvenienced.