Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Editorials

Social Justice Warriors Are Not Invading Heavy Metal

Does heavy metal really have an SJW problem? No. Duh.

Does heavy metal really have an SJW problem? No. Duh.

This past Monday, Decibel Magazine published an article on its website titled "Does the Underground Metal Scene Really Have A Social Justice Warrior Problem?" The article was written by Jeffrey S. Podoshen, Ph.D an Associate Professor of Business, Organizations and Society at Franklin and Marshall College. The thrust of the article is that the extreme metal subculture within the larger heavy metal community is being infiltrated by so-called Social Justice Warriors who are using concerns about inclusivity and safety issues as a smokescreen to deprive musicians of their freedom of speech an expression. This is a ridiculous claim.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

To begin with, there's no such thing as a Social Justice Warrior (SJW). The term is a relatively new pajorative that's used to dismiss people the user wants to paint as reactionary or hypersensitive. It's a hollow insult that only has meaning in the most broad terms. I've been called an SJW for reasons ranging from criticizing the use of homosexual slurs in metal culture, not including racist bands in an article about black metal and simply writing about female metal musicians. It's true that people will occasionally adopt the SJW label for themselves, but it's generally done out of irony or as a way to strip the word of its negative connotation. People do this sort of thing all the time. Consider how "Nerd" has become a positive self-identification over the last decade as an example. However, regardless of the term's validity, Podoshen doesn't bother defining what he means when he uses it anyway.

Beyond his failure to define a term that he himself admits is vague and open to interpretation (more about that in a moment), Podoshen doesn't bother presenting evidence to support his claim that a cabal of SJW scene tourists has infiltrated the extreme metal subculture. In fact, he doesn't even bother presenting an argument at all. He presents an assertion as an accepted fact and moves on from there. His one attempt to provide evidence in support of his spurious claim is to cite a recent article written by Neill Jameson of Krieg and published on Decibel's website. The article is about an individual who may have to affiliated with Antifa – a loosely organized antifascist activist group – who sprayed pepper spray into the audience at a Taake concert. Podoshen uses this event as evidence of his SJW conspiracy theory even though there's no reason to suspect this is anything but an isolated event perpetrated by a random asshole. Podoshen also fails to identify specific people, publications, websites or organizations which are part of this band of nefarious cultural SJW nomads, although he does allude to knowing the identities of some of the individuals.

Clearly, I had some serious problems with the article. I wanted to speak directly with the author, so I reached out to him via email to request an interview. Although he declined to speak to me on the phone, he did say he would consider addressing some of my concerns if I emailed him some questions. So that's what I did. Our exchange was brief but I'm presenting it completely unedited. I had to fix some formatting issues, but nothing has been cut out or altered.

Dr. Podoshen

I apologize for contacting you through your university email, but I wasn't able to find an alternate way to reach you. My name is Shayne Mathis and I'm a freelance writer who currently contributes to MetalInjection.net and Noisey.com. I also produce a podcast called Full Metal Hipster (www.fullmetalhipster.com) that focuses on underground heavy music. I read your Decibel article yesterday and I wanted to contact you about potentially setting up an interview for an episode of my podcast.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I'm familiar with the narrative you touched on in your article – that the heavy metal subculture is being invaded by ideological outsiders – but I disagree with it and don't believe it's supported by evidence. I also take issue with your article which presents several questionable assertions as fact without providing any supporting evidence.

With that being said, I'm not interested in shouting matches or gotcha questions. I welcome the opportunity to speak with you and give you the opportunity to clarify some of your positions. If you're interested, I'm available most evenings and pretty much any time on weekends. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Regards,

Shayne Mathis

Shayne,
Thanks for reaching out and thanks for being upfront about your thoughts. I appreciate that.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

I'm not really interested in a podcast. If you have some questions you'd like to send me via email, I might answer some.

Jeff

Thanks for getting back to me, Jeff. Below are some questions I have about your article.

Also, are you open to a phone or Skype interview at all? I can transcribe the conversation for use in my own article without using the audio in a podcast. My main concern is that the typical Q/A email format isn't conducive to an actual conversation.

Either way, thanks again for getting back to me.
1. Your article deals with so-called Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) but you didn't define what the term means. In my experience as a heavy metal writer, SJW is largely a meaningless pajorative that's used to dismiss people concerned with legitimate issues within the scene. What's your definition of an SJW?

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

2. You claim that extreme metal has recently been infiltrated by these SJWs who are using concerns about inclusivity and safety as a cover to stifle artistic expression. Who specifically are these "scene tourists?" Which articles, blogs and zines are you referring to at the end of the 2nd paragraph?

3. Why weren't links that support your claims provided in the article?

4. The one article you did link to was a Decibel post written by Neil Jameson of Krieg detailing an incident where an individual who may have ties to Antifa sprayed the crowd at a Takke show with pepper spray. You tie this to what you call a "growing clamor for the end to free speech and free expression" on the part of interloping SJWs. Where is the evidence to support this claim? Who are some of the specific individuals involved in this conspiracy?

5. Boycotts, protests and public criticism are Constitutionally protected forms of speech. Should people refrain from exercising their right to public dissent if there's a chance an artist may lose money in the form of cancelled shows, being dropped from a record label, etc?

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

6. As you said, transgressive art is meant to upset and repulse the audience. Should transgressive artists expect that people will try to silence them? If extreme art doesn't enrage and offend the audience to the point that they want to silence it, it is actually extreme?
Regards,

Shayne Mathis

Hi Shayne,
I think its important to note that this article was written as an editorial – not a news article. I'm giving my take on a topical issue. Many people are reading my article as "news." It is not news. Decibel has now put the "editorial" label more prominently on the site.

I'm averse, generally, to Skype, phones etc. because of issues with my hearing. I do not hear well, especially over electronic mediums. I apologize for that, Shayne.

I'm not going to point out specific individuals and organizations. If you dig deep enough, you'll find them. The goal of my piece is not to give publicity to these people, rather its to express my thoughts about my perception of their actions. That's all. It's ok to disagree. I view my piece as an opening to a greater discussion NOT as the definitive discussion.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Answers to some of your questions:

"SJW" is a term that can mean many things, but a number of individuals have openly become self-proclaimed "SJW's." I think the term right now is rather fluid. Some use it pejoratively. Some use it proudly. I was scheduled to speak at this event  and a number of people with "SJW" in their handles tried to cancel the event and drag the promoters through the mud. There was quite literally, a pile-on directed towards the promoters and everyone who participated in the panel. It was completely uncalled for. When someone sends divisive and directed comments my way with "SJW" in their handle/profile, I'm going to assume that they want to be referred to as SJWs. The panel went off without a hitch and was fabulous.

"4. The one article you did link to was a Decibel post written by Neil Jameson of Krieg detailing an incident where an individual who may have ties to Antifa sprayed the crowd at a Takke show with pepper spray. You tie this to what you call a "growing clamor for the end to free speech and free expression" on the part of interloping SJWs. Where is the evidence to support this claim? Who are some of the specific individuals involved in this conspiracy?"

Shayne, while I wish I had names of individuals who decided to use pepper spray and or tear gas at shows, I don't. I HAVE, however, been gassed/sprayed at shows myself. It's not fun. I was gassed at a GWAR show because someone apparently didn't like GWAR's politics and decided to pull a canister in the middle of the set. Individuals should be able to go to shows without the fear of physical harm from protestors. I do expect to be hit with various stage prop type fluids at GWAR shows, I don't expect to have to leave the venue to keep my airway open. Whether or not Taake is a Nazi-band (and look, they aren't), is besides the point. When one goes into a crowded room and pulls a tear gas canister or sprays people in the crowd with pepper spray it is not just the artist affected. Bartenders, bouncers, merch people, cleaning crew etc. are affected by these actions. If you don't like Taake – then protest all day long. Stand with signs, chant, sing, picket, distribute literature on public walkways, etc. When you physically attempt to harm someone, that's not ok. Additionally, calling club owners and managers and directing them to cancel shows because a particular artist is "a Nazi" when they clearly aren't a Nazi, is not ok. It's an attempt to shut down artistic expression.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

As a college professor, I do experience a growing clamor to end free speech as we know it on a regular basis. Free speech is an integral part of the college experience and an integral part of the concert experience. Free speech should continue to protected. Art should be continued to be protected. You don't like a speaker – protest. You don't like an artists – protest. Don't destroy the art and the individuals interested in the art.

"5. Boycotts, protests and public criticism are Constitutionally protected forms of speech. Should people refrain from exercising their right to public dissent if there's a chance an artist may lose money in the form of cancelled shows, being dropped from a record label, etc?"

I believe everyone should be able to engage in constitutionally protected forms of free speech. Should people refrain from exercising their right to public dissent? Of course not, but I believe the free speech being exercised should be in compliance with the law. Burning down a venue and/or tear gassing a crowd is not protected dissent. It's premeditated violence.

Should individuals use libel and slander to disparage an artist and cause economic harm? No. Again, calling a promoter and trying to get a show cancelled because someone deliberately and erroneously labels the band "a Nazi band" or the like is not ethical, in my opinion. Calling for the shut down of a panel discussion because some individuals don't like the ethnicity/background of the panelists they've identified may be protected speech but may also be unethical. Panelists should be on panels because of their experiences and expertise and not to fill a particular quota. If you don't like a panel or its make-up – why not make your own panel?

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Hope this helps,
Jeff

Jeff,

An editorial is an expression of an opinion or point of view. Your article presents a number of assertions as fact and you didn't provide any evidence to support the claims you're making. Writing an editorial doesn't absolve the author of supporting what they're saying with facts. The crux of your article is that the extreme metal scene is being invaded by people who are using social justice issues as a smoke screen to deprive artists of their freedom of speech and expression, but there's no evidence to support that assertion. The claim you made is fairly outlandish and if you expect your argument to be taken seriously, you need to provide a substantial amount of supporting evidence.

Ultimately, it's your decision how to present an argument, but if your intention was to foster serious discussion you went about it wrong. You don't begin a reasonable debate by conjuring a horde of boogeymen to blame for some isolated incidents. The truth is that every group of people has bad apples.

I'm familiar with the Grimposium row you referred to and I can assure you I've taken much more abuse from the anti-SJW crowd. I've gotten death threats, someone emailed one of the websites I write for to try and get me fired and I still get randomly pestered occasionally over articles I wrote more than a year ago. And there are so-called "SJW" writers who get MUCH more abuse than me on a regular basis. I'm not trying to play the Oppression Olympics with you, but I want to illustrate that this isn't the one-sided issue you're presenting it as.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

I thank you for taking the time to respond to me, but you didn't address most of the questions I brought up. You even failed to define what you consider to be the definition of a Social Justice Warrior, which is a fairly crucial component to your argument. I'd definitely appreciate more concise answers but if you don't want to continue, we can leave it at that.

Shayne, I'm very sorry to hear you've received death threats and abuse from the anti-SJW crowd. No one should receive death threats for their writing, their art or their opinions.
At this point, Shayne, I'm done speaking with you because you weren't honest with your intentions, and from your last email, its quite clear you are seeking "gotcha questions." I have no problems speaking with the media about issues I raise but you have to come with a bit more honesty.

Don't contact me again.

Sincerely,
Jeff

As per Dr. Podoshen's request, I didn't attempt to follow up with him or pursue the conversation further. I'm disappointed our exchange ended the way it did, but I'm satisfied with the way I approached it. I was honest with Dr. Podoshen from the beginning and I presented him with a series of questions I felt would help clarify and expand on the claims he made in his article. His response was to dismiss responsibility to support his assertions with evidence, ignore most of my questions and talk at length about several situations which had nothing to do with his article. I don't know what student life is like on his campus and frankly I don't care in the context of this conversation. Nor do I care that some people on the Internet yelled at him one time. He was referring to a panel he took part in earlier this year, by the way. There was a heavy metal conference called the Grimposium help in Philadelphia in April and he was a member of a panel that was going to discuss, among other things, racism, misogyny and homophobia in metal culture. The initial line-up of the panel consisted entirely of white men and people predictably got upset. Things escalated into insults on Twitter and Facebook as they do, but that was the extent of it. It was standard social media drama. It certainly wasn't evidence of a shadowy SJW cabal bent on stripping artists of their Constitutional rights.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

It's telling that the one question he actually answered had the least to do with the article. He didn't even bother explaining what he thought an SJW was. In fact, he all but admitted it's a meaningless term. His accusation that I was being dishonest with my intentions is absurd. He agreed to an interview and then dodged or ignored legitimate questions. When I called him out on it, which is what any interviewer should do in that situation, he essentially called me a liar and terminated the exchange. At this point, it's very hard for me to believe that he thought his article was actually going to lead to meaningful conversation. There's plenty of opportunity for debate about any number of issues within extreme metal's subculture, but you don't foster those conversations by lobbing unsubstantiated claims that that have no basis in reality, which you then refuse to support with evidence. As it stands, Podoshen's Decibel article serves as little more than a dog-whistle directed at a very small and very vocal minority within the heavy metal community that views even the slightest push for basic human decency as an outrageous assault on the subculture.

I do agree with one thing Podoshen said, though. Many of the artists and musicians involved in extreme metal seek to be as shocking and transgressive as possible. In a lot of cases, that involves blasphemy and aggressive iconoclasm as well as adopting fascist imagery and ideology. Like it or not, these things enrage people. If you're going to court an ideology that's responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people or attack the sacred symbols and beliefs of major religions, you have to expect that you're going to get push back. Criticism is not censorship. Boycotts are not censorship. Unless the government is punishing you for what you're saying or doing, your 1st Amendment rights are not being violated.

The reaction that most people have when they're presented with something upsetting is to try to silence the source of their distress. That's the trade-off you have to live with if you want to exist in this community. No one thinks it's acceptable to pepper spray people at a concert or attempt to shut down shows with threats of violence, but the fact that those things happen isn't evidence of a shadowy SJW conspiracy. You're free to disagree, of course, but don't expect anyone to take you seriously if you can't even be bothered to support your own claims.

Show Comments / Reactions

You May Also Like

Lists

Decibel Magazine are ahead of the game again. Having tight publishing deadlines, they already have come up with their top albums of the year...

Feuds

Since there really aren't any major stories today, we thought we should share some teasing between two entities that we happen to be big...

Lists

Our good friends at Decibel Magazine always seem to be the first out of the gate with a Top Albums list, and that's because...

Latest News

With the government-imposed lockdowns in the United States, we're going to sadly be seeing a lot of stories like this. Due to the lockdown...

Advertisement