Moshing in the Spiral of Silence

Confession time: Moshing annoys me. Kerry King is thundering towards my apartment to confiscate my metal card even as I type this.

I don’t object to moshing in principle. I did more than my fair share of it as a teen, but its appeal has faded for various reasons. The biggest is that it tends to interfere with the listening experience of concert-goers who would rather get close to the stage just to see the band better. Nowadays, I am one such concert-goer.

IO reader DieByTheChord summed up my feelings nicely in a comment on last year’s MDF decompression thread:

“I understand it’s healthy to release some aggression and that this music is a good outlet for it, but the unrealistic spatial demands of it render it as an inherently selfish ritual that penalizes anybody who just wants to get a remotely good view of a band.”

If moshers were to mosh in dedicated Free Speech Zones , it’d be fine with me. But as things stand, getting close to the stage often means that my focus will be compromised by my efforts to defend myself. I’m a good-sized guy and I’ve never suffered a serious injury in a pit, but even mild pits are distracting. It’s hard to let songs fill my headspace when I need to guard that head against swinging fists.

. . .

I have always assumed that this opinion puts me considerably outside of the norm in the metal world. Moshing is a time-honored tradition in metal culture; thrash bands in particular have written many great songs about it. Clearly, I am a grouchy old man who hates fun.

. . .

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Anthrax – “Caught in a Mosh”

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People occasionally push back against moshing’s desirability. Cosmo routinely mentioned that he isn’t a fan. Aaron’s recent IO piece on scary shows drew a reader response full of unflattering stories about mosh violence. And Kevin Stewart-Panko blasted the practice outright in a Metal Sucks post earlier this year. Many commenters there chimed in to concur.

But such examples of anti-mosh sentiment are few and far between. They are also liable to draw a backlash of their own. Stewart-Panko’s piece garnered applause, but also plenty of comments involving words like “oldfag” and “pussy”. Bands are complicit too—”mosh harder, you pansies!” is an old stage-banter chestnut. And moshers will often forcibly ‘encourage’ others to participate if they don’t feel that the rest of the crowd is engaged enough. Try politely asking a mosher to stop moshing and see what happens.

“Moshing = good” appears to be the consensus in the metal world. But perhaps this consensus is false. Under certain conditions, a handful of noisy zealots in a culture can establish an unpopular idea as the norm. The political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called this process “the spiral of silence”, which would be a pretty cool band name.

The zealots punish skeptics who speak out against the idea, thus encouraging silence from the majority who oppose it. If the zealots can maintain this silence for a substantial period of time, the majority may come to believe that most of their fellows actually support the unpopular idea. In turn, skeptics sometimes start to imitate the zealots in an effort to blend in.

I wonder if the “moshing = good” consensus comes from a spiral of silence. Some people obviously love moshing, but many do not. Perhaps people who dislike moshing really are the majority. Perhaps they fail to speak up because they’re worried that someone will call them pussies/un-metal/false. Or perhaps they simply think that nobody agrees.

. . .

There are ways to defuse the spiral of silence. One way is to discuss the norm in question on the internet, which imposes a technological limit on the ability of zealots to isolate and punish skeptics.

That’s where you come in. How many of you out there take issue with moshing? I’d also be interested to hear why pro-moshing folks support the practice. (“That’s just how things are/should be” won’t cut it.) Think of this as a straw poll; if the readers of this site overwhelmingly love moshing, I will accept my status as a fun-hating oldster.

— Doug Moore

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Header picture by Jesús Figueirido.