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Since Thursday when I posted an article entitled A Brave New World of Misogyny concerning sexist and/or misogynistic content in the video for Combichrist’s Throat Full of Glass, the article went mildly viral in the world of industrial music. Many people linked to it on Facebook, the director himself Twittered about it, an unknown number of online discussions began, and as of this writing, this blog has registered close to 2,000 hits since the article was posted. Over all, the discussions I engaged in were mostly civil, thoughtful and level-headed, whether the people discussing the topic agreed or disagreed with my commentary on the video. That said, a few people definitely took what I was saying out of context, some of which didn’t even seem to have made it past the article’s title before jumping into the fray. I’m happy to say they were in a distinct minority and that the aftermath has been a generally positive experience. A few misconceptions do exist that should be cleared up and a few recurring rebuttals should be addressed, however.
One of the most common remarks among people who disagreed with my assessment was that sexism is nothing new, going to the point of asking if I’d ever paid attention to mainstream media in the first place. The answer is, predictably, yes; I am under no illusion that industrial music has the market cornered on sexism and commercialized misogyny. In fact, I will demonstrate as I did in one Facebook thread the distinct similarities between the Combichrist video and a mainstream rock video:
Combichrist – Throat Full of Glass (2011)
Limp Bizkit – Eat You Alive (2003)
So no, even the particular quality of a man hulking over an intimidated woman and screaming in her face isn’t particularly new. Nowhere in the article did I make the claim that sexism is a problem unique to the industrial community; rather, I did try and point out the fact that industrial, as a counterculture, should ideally counteract themes that are found in the mainstream culture it ostensibly distinguishes itself from, and this has ultimately not happened where sexism is concerned. There’s nothing transgressive or edgy about using imagery of women being subjugated, objectified or humiliated by men. Turn on any music video channel on television and you’re probably going to see those specific themes within a few videos. Ultimately the problem is that industrial culture has been infiltrated by some of the most brainless, insidious elements of mainstream culture, and those elements have not snuck in under the radar, but barged through the front door beating its chest and hollering.
Another recurring theme was that art should not be censored, no matter what the content. I’ll refrain from giving an opinion either way about the artistic merit of Combichrist, but I happen to agree for the most part. Art chiefly exists as a creative expression of humanity, but one of the most valuable elements of this existence is to challenge our perceptions of what is good, what is evil, etc. I don’t think the problem is that the video was made; rather, it was that the video, as so much of Combichrist’s violent, sexist, chauvinistic material and imagery, is not greeted with a critical appraisal by most of the band’s fans, but with wild, mindless cheering. The article was intended primarily to spur on actual consideration of the video’s content and message, not to tell people they were bad humans and they were going to Hell if they watched it and didn’t think it was gross.
A few people made remarks to the effect of, “Industrial is all about controversy and if you don’t like it, it’s not the genre for you.” To this I say that if we’re not willing to discuss controversy, then what the hell is the point to begin with? If everyone was told to get out every time something objectionable was produced or a dissenting opinion was given, the community we’ve all chosen to be a part of would be quickly sterilized of the ability to think critically about itself. I’m assuming I do not have to explain why this would be bad. I also freely admitted that sexist imagery and aesthetics are not new to industrial, nor do they find their source in Combichrist’s work. However, as controversial content goes, this is not the canny utilization of the tactic by Throbbing Gristle or Laibach. This is something much more brutish and, ultimately, mindless. Controversy does not work very well if it’s the rhetorical equivalent of punching someone in the face and screaming unintelligibly.
Furthermore, from some reactions, I got the feeling that some people were just angry that someone had the audacity to criticize a band they like, or were upset that “one of their own” had leveled an objection to the output of a band that is very popular within the genre. After years and years of arguing with people about whether industrial is dead or dying, I would reply that the moment this genre is so weakened that it cannot stand up to one single person issuing a critical objection, one person standing up and saying, “Hey, wait a second,” then we are indeed well and truly fucked.
In some of the discussions I engaged in online during the heat of the debate, several people admitted that they were frustrated by a general intellectual erosion in the scene at large. In support of this I would offer an example: When the video’s director Twittered a link to my original article, one of his followers expressed a deep desire to sodomize me with her footwear. That could be taken as irony, if that’s your thing, as well as evidence of a marked low point in the intelligent discussion of the relevant topic. Yes, anal rape lady, I’m calling you stupid.
Ultimately, I do not feel that we are indeed well and truly fucked as a community. A lot of people were in absolute agreement with my original premise and concerns, many of which linked to it through their respective social media presences, and I thank them for their support. On the other side of the coin, I also thank all of the people who did not quite agree with me, or disagreed entirely, yet still were mature and cogent enough to offer very intelligent rebuttals and were altogether civil and agreeable in their remarks. From the downturn in hits to my blog since Friday’s peak I’d say my fifteen minutes of fame on the topic are over, and I’m happy to say that for the most part, it has actually made me feel better about how smart and culturally savvy people still are in this scene. Don’t let anyone tell you that you think too much.
Finally, the problem itself: No, it’s not Combichrist’s fault. No, it’s not their video’s fault. No, I’m not accusing them of being raging misogynists, because I don’t know. The problem ultimately is that, owing to the proof that Combichrist’s lyrical and visual content provides, there is an extremely busy market for blatant sexism in industrial. This does not mean it started with them, or it will end once they inevitably disband, as all bands eventually do. Rather, it is a reflection of how chauvinistic our scene is, whether we like to think about it or not. Think about it: A vast majority of the bands in this genre are male-fronted, if not 100% male-crewed, and many of the bands which are not face accusations that their music was ghostwritten by men, especially if they have male members in their live band lineup. Most of the DJs are men, most of the label heads and staff are men, and women are often relegated to public roles that are confined to visual objects: go go dancers, models for flyer and album cover artwork, etc. As much as it might suck to admit, we do have a problem with sexism. If there’s one good thing the video and its resulting controversy has done, it has forced many of us to address that problem, one which we as a community have been ignoring for far too long.
For those of us who got into this music and joined its community because we didn’t want to be part of the mainstream, this is an important issue. How can we say we’re an alternative to the usual when we thoughtlessly ape the attitudes of the culture we say we’ve rejected? We can be better than that, and if the response I’ve gotten indicates anything, it’s that we will be better than that. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion.
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.