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.