We desire identity. You can be a student, a feminist, a metalhead, a Labour voter, and this allows you to connect with others on some level. You empathise with young people up to their necks in debt, you want to smash the patriarchy, your clothing is black all year round, you get a sick thrill from comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Owen Smith.
We put these labels in our Twitter profiles and plaster them on placards at rallies. We express them through our clothes and our word choice. These identities become a part of us and they inform our ideas.
But what happens when an idea fails?
At the start of 2016, Phil Anselmo of the legendary metal band Pantera ‘jokingly’ threw a white power salute at a gig. The heavy metal community was sold to me as a haven for the weirdos, the rejects, the misfits, the others. That implies an openness to everyone and a welcoming attitude that says we respect those who respect us and view others in our community as siblings. That is destroyed when we tolerate a sieg heil.
Sure, there was a little fuss, some thinkpieces in metal publications, and a vlog from Robb Flynn of Machine Head. Mostly though the storm passed and Anselmo is back to being the celebrated musician he has always been.
It weakens your faith in the ideas you live by.
What ought to be inclusive is actually predominantly white, predominantly male, and predominantly heterosexual. The metal community claims to be against the mainstream yet it is dominated by middle aged white men – one of the most poisonous aspects of a ‘mainstream.’
The worst backlash you will get for saying we should talk about Anselmo’s white supremacist salute is a suggestion he was joking. Then it comes down to you to decide whether you believe that and whether a nazi joke can ever be considered a joke.
Your sense of identity fractures. You want to be a metalhead in this metal community, but the hivemind is confused over something that has shaken it and it can’t agree. This beloved figure has done something that has not only tainted him, but has drawn attention to just how un-alternative the alternative claims to be.
What happens when this plays out on a much bigger scale?
When Kim Kardashian posted a naked selfie, Chloe Grace Moretz responded by saying young girls should be taught that there is more to them as women than just their bodies. The backlash was fierce, calling her out for slut-shaming and saying that bodies should not be policed.
Indeed, in the wake of the burkini ban in France (and its subsequent removal), bodies absolutely should not be policed. But what transpired between Kardashian and Moretz got ugly fast, mostly due to its very visible nature. At the time of the tweet, Moretz was 19 years old. She is very young and expressed an opinion that might or might not go against the idea of feminism, or your idea of feminism.
There is no rule book for an idea, and both Kardashian and Moretz meant well. You probably picked a side, but the fact that there was a side at all in something that was meant to be a good thing is the problem. Ideas are pitted against other ideas in a binary when it is rarely that simple and that is rarely constructive to progression. Is there a difference between how you feel and how you are supposed to feel?
The worry is that an idea can swallow you up until you become an extension of it rather than an individual. This is most evident in party politics where party members and MPs will never criticise their own policies. The individual gets lost under the ideas, and suddenly no human touch or scope for nuance can survive.
An idea can change the world, but it can change an individual too. What it means for you to be something, to be a feminist, to be part of a music scene, to believe in a political movement can be empowering and can allow you to find your community. But it can overpower you, and you become lost, or you become the mainstream, or you become a part of the mob. How do we keep our individuality, our power and our passions, while also being in dialogue with ideas we strongly believe in?
Scott Wilson is a Linguistics graduate, freelance journalist, and a bit sweary. He’s interested in metal, masculinity, wrestling, and sounds that give you pleasant tingles.
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