overground scene


Metallica in Glastonbury: Ethics and popular music

A few hours ago an extraordinary campaign for the world of popular music started taking place, a campaign to ban Metallica from playing in Glastonbury festival. The official reason behind this campaign is Hetfield’s indeed appalling hobby of bear hunting. Although I agree with the basic premise, I disagree with the conclusion.

Practices of musicians, promoters and audiences alike, that have a moral dimension are not a new thing. In fact, they are an everyday phenomenon. Every time that a fan of Malevolent Creation – who likes their music but hates their politics – does not attend one of their gigs, this fan makes a morally informed decision. It could also be said that all those fans who attend the concert also make a moral decision, either with their approval or with their acquiescence. Jello Biafra’s decision to not appear with his band in Israel has a moral dimension, as well as the practices of all those other bands that do appear in Israel.

What it all comes down to is, should we reduce the identities of musicians down to their capacity to create music or should we take into account all other aspects of their identities? Musicians are people whom most of us have decided to judge based on the music they create rather than all their other personal and social practices. However, the advent of the internet and the tendency of even alternative media to treat musicians as celebrities have opened a window to musician’s personal lives. I personally lost respect for many of my music heroes over the years.  I sometimes think that I would prefer not knowing about musicians’ personal lives. On the other hand, I would not like to support fascist bands. It appears that enjoying music regardless of musicians’ politics and staying true to one’s values are two things that are very difficult to be reconciled.

The heavy metal genre had working class origins within which very specific discourses operate. Based on the context within which heavy metal was born, it would be very unlikely for sexism, for example, to not be present. A moral stance that punishes all musicians who are sexist would mean the dismissal of the heavy metal genre in its entirety. Of course, social actors based on their different biographies have differential degrees of agency within any structure. Accordingly, heavy metal musicians can be sexist to different degrees or even be critical of sexism. In any case, the social, cultural and economic contexts in which music happens should be taken into account, without this meaning that we should absolve musicians and forgive their shortcomings.

Now, there are two reasons why I find the reaction to Metallica’s appearance a bit hypocritical. The organisers of the campaign argue that removing Metallica is important because:

"This is a cruel and abhorrent thing to do. 
Killing animals for food is one thing. 
But killing for so called sport is wrong.

They have thus arbitrarily decided that killing animals for sport is wrong, but killing them for food is ok, which I find problematic. The other interesting thing about Metallica‘s headlining appearance in Glastonbury is that when it was first announced, I witnessed some negative reactions in various online forums. The reason seemed to be that the audience associated with Glastonbury has not been a heavy metal audience historically. One of the things that I read was that people who had already bought tickets before the headlining act was revealed would definitely be disappointed.

This is the basic reason I have to question the motives behind the campaign against Metallica. Metallica’s appearance would disappoint lots of people who have bought tickets and would have preferred another headlining act. Additionally, all the douchebags who buy a bunch of tickets in advance and then sell them back in super-inflated prices to people who did not manage to secure a ticket, would also be disappointed. Who says that the campaign was not started, or, if not started, supported, by some of those people?

Would Glastonbury’s audience accept Dave’s Megadeth to appear in the festival? Dave has written the song “Countdown to extinction”, a song explicitly critical to practices such as bear-baiting. Yet, Dave also has some pretty radical right-wing views. I personally think that what it comes down to is probably musical taste and opportunism. Nevertheless, this development raises interesting questions with regard to the changing relationship between artists and their audiences, the role of social media in the democratisation of decision making, or corporate responsibility and the role of the public, among other things.

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