UPDATE II 2/20/11 9:34PM: I’ve published a postmortem to this article in which I’ve recounted my experiences since the internet went a little nuts, as well as some reflections on the subject. It can be found here: Controversy Postmortem (Or, How To Stop Worrying and Love Your 15 Minutes)
UPDATE 2/18/11 2:29PM: Holy cow, I was not prepared to go viral over this. A few things I would like to point out to people finding this now:
- I am not making the argument that sexism in industrial began with Combichrist, nor that Combichrist is to blame for it. Rather, I am trying to call attention to the pervasive sexism that often borders on misogyny that has been normalized in the genre. Combichrist’s content is a symptom, not a cause, and I don’t intend to argue otherwise.
- It may take awhile for comments to this article to show up, because I do have a strict moderation policy. However this is not due to any desire to censor dissenting views, but rather is a policy that has been in place for months because some nut decided to start leaving harassing remarks long before this article was written. Comments will be approved as soon as I can get to it!
- Finally, the response to this article (by which I mean approving and dissenting responses) has been overwhelming and, for the most part, inspiring. The people who agree with me and have disseminated the article I thank very much, and the people who have dissented and offered counter-arguments I congratulate for producing well-worded, thoughtful critiques.
I’m actually quite pleased to report that as of this writing, I haven’t had to deal with a single case of ad hominem attacks!Unfortunately this is no longer the case, as upon the video’s director Twittering about my critique, one of his female followers expressed a profound desire to sexually assault me in turn. This could be taken as irony if that’s your thing.
This has been a pretty incredible week when it comes to institutionalized misogyny in industrial. On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a music video was released by what is arguably the most prominent industrial band active at the moment: Combichrist. The band in question has never been slow to embrace controversy; front man Andy La Plegua, a transplant from Norway to Atlanta, GA, famously donned a shirt with the Confederate flag emblazoned on it for a round of publicity photos (which also featured pubescent-looking models wielding chainsaws), prompting some to call foul. To the best of my knowledge La Plegua never clarified whether he felt one way or the other about what the utilization of a symbol traditionally associated with slavery, civil war and the ongoing internal strife in America. The image in question:
(Note: Flint Arthur, a Southerner himself, went into detail about how objectionable this decision was in his LJ blog: http://flintultrasparc.livejournal.com/40479.html)
Unfortunately, these concerns pale in comparison to the video mentioned above. It is linked below, as I don’t particularly want to go on and on about a controversy and then not show you what the controversy is over. I wouldn’t want it at work, though.
Over time, Combichrist has evolved (or possibly devolved) from a campy rhythmic noise-inspired band featuring people smeared with fake blood into the sole economic powerhouse band in the industrial genre. That they are able to fund a well-produced and professionally-shot music video in a genre where most music videos are low-budget and involve band members staring wistfully into the distance at an old car factory should tell you something of what they’ve been able to pull off. Yet if you watch this video, a slick production that likely took many, many hours of work to create, and you are left with a distinct sense of discomfort, it likely means you’ve noticed the inherent message: Beating and humiliating woman makes you a tough guy.
I understand that making such a statement about the video’s message might seem willfully inflammatory. However this is a video that involves no plot of note aside from the band members brutalizing two women, forcing them to strip at gunpoint, and blatantly intimidating them. There is no effort whatsoever made at depicting these kinds of activities as bad things to do. Instead, the video’s aim is clearly to depict the band as a bunch of hardcore badasses, and beating women is just part of what makes them so awesome. It should worry any fan of industrial who cares about any humanitarian issues whatsoever to see the most popular band in the genre making such a disgusting statement.
I’ve argued with a lot of people about what I’ve seen as the rise of misogyny in the industrial scene, as well as the passive acceptance of racist ideology in its mainstream. When it comes to Combichrist, most people with a decent head on their shoulders that defend the band usually cite their commercial success and the access they give to new fans of the industrial genre. I’m generally of the opinion that if new fans are only attracted to a genre by the aesthetic of mindless violence and hatred towards women, then the genre could probably do just fine without them. The most important and dangerous argument I’ve heard, however, is that the band doesn’t actually believe in any of these things and they’re simply capitalizing on them to sell records. While it may be true that Combichrist does not write songs and record videos that are blatantly misogynistic while nodding their heads along at how right they are on the subject, intention does not excuse them from the effect their music has. In fact, it might actually be worse if they’re seizing upon messages which they do not believe in but they know will sell, because that means they’re simply tapping into a deep undercurrent of woman-hating that already existed in the genre. I can’t think of many more damning verdicts on the genre’s inherent view of equality when people cheer along to songs about beating and killing women without stopping for one moment to think of what they’re cheering about.
I don’t actually believe that views like this are new. There’s been projects in the past which have varyingly hinted at misogyny (:wumpscut:’s constant use of hentai samples and songs about hating his mother) or outright embraced it (Navicon Torture Technologies’ entire career), but this is the first time a major band has poured so much time and money into such a repulsive glorification of the subject. It is a dark day when, as of this writing, the video has been viewed 11,742 times and of the six pages of Youtube comments, exactly three are critical of its portrayal of women. Some highlights of the rest of the comments include:
“Combichrist isn’t the music.. IT IS RELIGION!”
“All I have to say is.. FUCK YEAH!”
“COMBICHRIST ARMY FULL FOCE!!!!!!!!” (sic)
“GIVE US THE UNCENSORED VERSION! Goddamn title cards popping up every few seconds. Can’t even enjoy the video.”
“No more pissing around the subject! Good creation guys!”
That last one is the one that disturbs me the most. What subject exactly is the band no longer pissing around? That women are there for nothing but pistol-whipping and degrading? Is this what this music has come to? What started off so long ago as a transgressive, subversive, radical challenging of societal norms has now turned into something resembling a hybrid of an Insane Clown Posse concert and an Alabama courthouse. I don’t know about the rest of you, but this regressive dumbing down and willful glorification of base hatred and patriarchal dominance is exactly the opposite of what I joined the industrial subculture for. I’m extremely angry and disappointed by what it has become.