OPINION: The Public vs. Heavy Metal – Round??

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By Ann Sulaiman

“Does Heavy Metal really need any defenders in the public eye?”

Those of you who know me might remember a spontaneous rant on my blog about a media pattern that irritates me. A pattern often responsible for the question above.

That particular blog post was sparked by an article on the rock/metal news site Blabbermouth, in which Laina Dawes defended Heavy Metal against a study, conducted in the Netherlands, that claimed listening to ‘rebellious music’ led teenagers towards a life of anti-social delinquency, and claimed to have evidence for it.

It wasn’t so much the study that irritated me, or whether I disagreed with Dawes (on the contrary, she has valuable points about Heavy Metal’s role as a catharsis), but the ongoing pattern that seems to take place within the media:

A socially respected professional attacks Heavy Metal – a metalhead runs to defend it. Another socially respected professional attacks Heavy Metal – another metalhead runs to defend it.

Rinse and repeat.

Really, there are more than two ways to feel about this cycle:

Those who want to be left alone by society over their musical preferences, could embrace Heavy Metal’s defense against the scrutiny of the public eye, that polices their every move.

Some might even take the fact that the genre is being lambasted as a cause for celebration; a sign that the spirit of rebellion is alive, well and keeping the mainstream scared.

Or others will just push the whole debate aside, for it brings nothing of value or interest to the table. At least nothing that’s not been raised several times before.

During the 1980’s, Judas Priest were accused of leading the teenage son of a ‘wholesome’ American family to suicide through subliminal messages. Some people believe that pregnant women who listen to heavy metal will harm their unborn babies. And – according to the Jordanian band Bilocate and noted musician Ashmedi (of Melechesh fame) – metalheads in the Middle East have been sent to jail on the pretext of heresy, regardless of their actual beliefs.

It’s nothing new. Society overreacts to different subcultures all the time (you could argue I do the same for hipsters, but I’ll get on to my disdain for that group another time) and subcultures, in turn, defend themselves.

But does Heavy Metal need to be defended in the public eye?

My immediate reaction is ‘no’; simply because I’ve found that even if you speak in earnest about your passion for something, people can still mock you for it. They will still label you a ‘freak’ because they don’t share your understanding, as innocuous as it is.

And it’s not just Heavy metal; other musical genres are unfairly punished too.

It wasn’t that long ago Indonesian punks were being forced to have their heads shaved, and back in the UK Sophie Lancaster was attacked and killed for being a Goth (or ‘mosher’, as she was termed by both her assailants and passers-by who phoned the emergency services).

So to put a stop to such extreme persecution, over musical preference, should Goth, Punk and Heavy Metal defend themselves in the public eye?

I’m afraid that it might be more complicated than my immediate response, especially when you stretch it out to a wider picture. And without doing any disservice to people who have their own privacies, lives and safety violated at the hands of others, due to blind fear and hatred, I don’t have a fitting answer.

But what I do know, what’s more within my own sight, is this.

No matter what we say about the music, what its positive effect are on our lives, or how it makes us feel – mainstream society isn’t going to listen.

Ann Sulaiman is Birmingham Review’s resident metal head, and author of Me(n)tal Meltdown.

Read more from Ann Sulaiman at http://metalmelt.wordpress.com