Protesting masculinity: exploring the affective complexities of masculine performativity in contemporary metal music videos

Brown, A.R, Hill, R.L and Riches, G (2014) Protesting masculinity: exploring the affective complexities of masculine performativity in contemporary metal music videos. In: IASPM UK & Ireland Conference, 11-14 September 2014, University College, Cork, Ireland.

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Walser’s typology of styles of masculine performance to be found in heavy metal videos – from misogyny, exscription, androgyny and romance - was influential in challenging the notion that heavy metal fans’ affective investment in the music confirmed masculinity as an essentialist category or gender binary; suggesting that what is actually ‘going-on’ in the communicative exchange is a willingness to explore the ‘anxieties’ that beset the hegemonic performance of masculinity. Sub-genre proliferation in metal music since Walser’s study suggests the gallery of styles is far wider, with tragic (doom), angsty/insecure (nu-metal) and heroic (power) styles contrasted with extreme metal ones that revel in ethnic heathenism (Viking, black), corporeal disgust (death, grindcore) and abjection (black). Analysing a sample of You Tube videos and user posted comments, this paper seeks to explore the affective/emotional space between metal masculine performance and listening/viewing-practices/responses. Relocating the concept of ‘protest masculinity’ to this space allows us to see how metal bands perform and articulate the ‘crisis of masculinity’ described in men’s studies within the ‘safe’ contours of the song form and stage(ed) performance. In this respect, metal’s protesting masculinity is also a protest against masculinity itself or rather gestures towards the limitations of masculinity as a form of expression, while remaining (mostly) within its discursive limits.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Paper presented as part of a conference section entitled 'Rethinking heavy metal's masculine world' which included contributions by Gabby Riches and Rosemary Lucy Hill.

Panel proposal: The panel seeks to challenge the view of the hard rock and metal world as celebratory of ‘traditional’ or compensatory ideas of masculinity, power and control. For example, Weinstein (2000) argues that the world of metal is not just masculine it is ‘masculinist’, and Walser (1993) describes the ways that metal musicians seek to control the ‘threat’ of femininity. More recent work confirms women’s exclusion and their anomalous position within the genre, while other studies reveal that women’s participation as fans and performers is growing. This is important work, but it is not entirely clear what the gender politics are that follow from such analyses. How do we explain the pleasure of female fans in apparently misogynist metal sub-genres or those that exscript the feminine altogether? What about those performers and fans who ‘do’ female masculinity or who seek to appropriate ‘aggression’ for themselves? The four papers critically interrogate the construct of masculinity within the genre in order to problematise ideas of musicians as engaged in an uncritical celebration of masculinity, and the female audience as out of place within metal spaces. We draw on analyses of performance by metal musicians and fans’ descriptions of listening and dancing pleasure in order to challenge the assertion of a genre as one that uncritically supports hegemonic notions of masculinity. We argue that the world of metal provides scope for participants to articulate protest about the notion of masculinity itself; that when women engage in the sensual experiences of the moshpit and the performance of the death growl they destablise notions of a rigid masculinity; and that when we focus on the experiences of fans we can better understand the nuances of the genre. We conclude that the prevailing orthodoxies around hard rock and metal as masculine are insufficient and thus limit our ability to analyse the genre and its cultural complexities.

Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
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Date Deposited: 07 May 2015 17:13
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2022 15:44
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