Taking violent music as art, not action

Most people, especially our fellow students, know that a person is not his or her job. But while we have no problem seeing that office workers and manual laborers don’t necessarily define themselves by their work, we tend to assume that artists are similar to their art. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Hyper-confident and hyper-offensive comic Daniel Tosh has social anxiety and doesn’t like talking in front of crowds. Thrash metal band Slayer has released albums titled Repentless, South of Heaven, and God Hates Us All, yet the band’s singer/bassist Tom Araya is a devout Catholic. My third example was going to be a musician who hated their most famous song, but there were too many to choose from (here’s a list of twenty, for those curious). Our opinions of artists are often entirely based on what they create, save for the occasional career marred by scandal.

It’s important to separate the content from its maker because failing to do so leads to unfounded judgements of not just those who create certain types of art, but also the people who enjoy it. 

Every genre has stereotypes surrounding it, but the one genre that I’d like to focus on is metal/hardcore punk/screamo (often incorrectly lumped together): there’s a notion that people who listen to these genres are violent. It’s been scientifically proven that music doesn’t actually make you violent, no matter how vividly grim the lyrics may be. In fact, fans of metal are psychologically similar to fans of classical music according to one study, which describes listeners as “quite delicate things.” Despite this, music scenes continue to struggle with separating their fascination with violence from actually being violent. 

Specifically, the hardcore punk scene suffers from outbreaks of violence both inside and outside its shows. Like heavy metal fans, the vast majority of punk fans are peaceful. However, there’s been no unified response to the small section of the fan base that uses the music to excuse violent actions. The most notorious example as of late has been Tom Alderson, drummer for the band Crosscheck. Before one of Crosscheck’s shows, Alderson was severely beaten to the point that he was put into a coma. While there’s no official evidence, this story from the drummer’s friend Jordan McKinney, one of the people who found Alderson after the beating, alleges that this was committed by Ian Adams from the band Heavy Chains and Ryan Taylor from Suburban Scum. Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true, the fact that a person can be beaten to near death for playing music is insane. 

The vast majority of hardcore fans are non-violent people who simply enjoy angry music. There are plenty of statements and posts from bands and fans alike that shame those who bring violence to their community and are devoutly committed to keeping their scene a safe place. Alderson has received a massive outpour of support from the hardcore community on his GoFundMe page, which was made to help pay his hospital bills. The page has tripled its goal of $10,000, and Alderson is on the slow but steady road to recovery. One of the oldest and most influential punk bands Minor Threat actually broke up partially because of how violent the scene was. Frontman Ian MacKaye claimed that he realized the stupidity of violence after witnessing his brother exchange blows with a random fan. 

But this isn’t about condemning or praising any particular style of art. I’m asking that people start to carefully examine what they consume before making conclusions about it. Learn to differentiate between what promotes violence and negativity, and what explores and confronts negative emotions. Look at the impact it has, the life of the artist, the time and place that it was created and every other thing that factors into the creation of art rather than just taking the art at face value.