Jamming with Jenna, Round #6: Blurred Lines, the Realities of Hate Fantasies in Grind/Deathcore
There have been countless think pieces written about the dangers of white nationalism in black metal, and, as someone who has written one herself, I believe these analyses are entirely justified. Yet, one recent tweet caused me to wonder if there’s another discussion that we have entirely missed:
Racism and sexism aren’t exactly apples-to-apples comparisons, but as intersecting systems of oppression, they work similarly in a variety of ways. For example, proportionately-speaking, people of color are far more likely to be victims of police violence in the United States, and, for women, there is a significantly higher chance that we will be subjected to violence in our interpersonal relationships. In other words, structural violence is often written into the experiences of historically marginalized groups. While violence against people of color has been carried out in black metal through menacing symbols and sentiment, other metal genres are not blemish-free in terms of illustrating hate-driven bloodshed. The often-blurry line between grindcore and death metal is where hate against women breeds.
Using imagery of women torn apart at the seams while bellowing the details of sexual assault is a significant part of the grindcore brand specifically. That’s not to say that the bands who fall under this umbrella don’t advocate for general gory violence, and it’s also not to say that other eras of heavy music don’t get off scot-free when it comes to maltreatment of women. But, grindcore and deathcore are perhaps the most overt displays of gendered aggression in the same fashion that black metal has housed some of the most explicit instances of white nationalism. The sheer danger of Nazi symbolism in black metal should not be minimized. There also does not need to be a contest of which genre has committed the most egregious offenses. However, now more than ever, it is vital to speak about how violence against women is a form of hate crime.
Rape culture is so ingrained into society that it is hard to conceptualize as a form of terrorism. Everything from underage girls being told their shoulders are distracting to male classmates, to Tool fans insisting that Maynard James Kennan’s rape accuser is lying, to having a president who advocated for "grabbing women by the pussy" falls under this umbrella. These examples do not exist in a vacuum. Since the early 1990s, they have been internalized by the terrorist group known as the Incels. While Contrapoints explains the nature of this Internet-based extremist sect of "involuntary celibates," the brief summary is that they resent women for refusing to have sex with them -- sex being an act to which they believe they are entitled. In worst case scenarios, this rhetoric has bubbled up violently offline, which resulted in the 2014 Isla Vista massacre and the 2019 Toronto van attack.
A killing spree ending in a lawn littered with slain sorority sisters sounds like a plausible plot for a grindcore video, but unfortunately, this was a picture that transcended the confines of fantasy at UC Santa Barbara. Yet, contrary to what you may be thinking, I remain a steadfast horror fan. Ever since I was a little girl, I would watch commercials for the latest scary movie, dreaming of the day when I’d be old enough to walk my happy ass into a movie theater and watch franchises like The Ring or The Grudge. I watched the real-life ghost story docu-series A Haunting every day after school and checked out books on cursed tourist destinations from the library. Accordingly, I became enamored with the folk tales and occult imagery conveyed in doom metal, as well as the solemn sounds of dungeon-rattling depressive black metal. Whether you’re watching, listening, or both, experiencing nightmares play out in an aesthetically pleasing way is as thrilling as a roller coaster at sunset.
Horror takes another direction, however, when it masks expressions of hate. While my experiences as a woman in metal have largely been positive, there have been a few unfortunate exceptions. When I was 21, I attended a festival out of state by myself, the fodder for my first-ever piece of music journalism. After watching one of my favorite bands perform, I ran into a man with whom I was familiar from my local metal scene. His band -- a popular grindcore act -- was headlining the following day. After being followed by a strange man prior to arriving at the venue, I was happy to see a familiar face. After becoming increasingly intoxicated, I agreed to go back to his hotel with him. Nevertheless, I can still see snippets of the events in my head.
We walked into his private room and immediately went out onto the balcony to smoke. Eventually, and at first, consensually, he bent me over a chair, and we began hooking up. As things moved back inside, I was growing increasingly done. After going at me some more in bed, I told him that I was in pain and asked him to stop. “Oh, are you hurting?” he said in a seemingly sympathetic voice that feels sarcastic in retrospect. Still, he proceeded on. I was so exhausted that I just laid there and watched the ceiling spin until eventually, it was over. I managed to get my clothes on and leave as he called after me. I stood under the hotel’s portico staring vacantly into my Uber app, trying to snap back into reality enough to figure out how to get back to where I was staying.
I made it back safe that night, but I continued to live in denial about what had occurred for years to come. He had said that he had believed in my writing and that he could help me. I told myself that I would just have to subject myself to his treatment if I really wanted a career. It took me experiencing a suspect situation with another man to realize that I was encountering a pattern in my life; one that cannot necessarily be prevented but can change course by cutting off men whose minds have become fully infiltrated by toxic attitudes. Unfortunately, on the heels of this festival, I came home with my self-esteem in the gutter. I woke up one day to a friend request from the frontman of a regional deathcore band. I accepted.
At his invitation, I went to see one of his band’s shows. I got knocked down in the pit trying to photograph them, but I didn’t mind. I had the mentality that any musical event was a potential feature. After their set, I was excited to show him the digital previews of the photos. He was less than enthusiastic, alleging that he doesn’t like pictures taken of him while he’s performing. He proceeded to get jealous as I spoke with the show’s promoter (who, ironically, tried to get me to go to hotels with him when I wasn’t old enough to drink by bribing me with alcohol). Growing tired of the whole situation, I eventually left, but he stayed persistent. I woke up the next day to 40 Facebook notifications all from him. He had liked about all my photos from the past year. The texts poured in as well. Afraid to outright reject him, I tentatively agreed to go to a show with him.
I woke up on the day in question feeling under the weather. Yet, I dragged myself into work at 6:00 a.m. and surprisingly got a text from him at that early hour. He told me how excited he was for our date and I responded letting him know that I had a sore throat and body aches, but I would try to power through. I was disappointed in his response, but not surprised: You better not cancel on me. I shivered, and not just because I was feeling feverish. Knowing that he has music videos featuring underwear-clad women being tied up and mutilated made it all feel so much more menacing. His text became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I confided in a girlfriend and she encouraged me to no-show. I did, and I blocked him on all platforms, too. She and I stayed in instead, ordering Chinese, drinking Coronas, and watching Sex & The City -- a night well-spent.
The reality of dating as a straight woman is that in the back of my mind, I’m always wondering if this is going to be the guy who cuts me up and throws me in a dumpster. At 24, I still grapple with the feeling that I constantly owe men something just by being in their presence. I must tread carefully to decline advances onto their god-given right to my body so that I do not encounter life-threatening danger. It is so easy for a grindcore band to indulge violent fantasies that they claim are encased in fiction, but it is so hard for me to carry the burden of what the implications have for my real life.
A lover of the macabre, I am confident that there is a way to incorporate horror into metal without putting entire sects of people in danger. Ghost, demons, and all things that go bump in the night are fair game, but my body is not. Of course, I’m not intending to speak for all women, and I acknowledge that some may legitimately enjoy listening to stories of mutilation and are aroused by consensual bondage practices. Just for me, as a woman who has been through horrific realities, I will not condemn radical figures in black metal while giving grind and deathcore a free pass. My right to live should supersede the freedom to express hate-motivated twistedness.
While I acknowledge I cannot silence these bands, I can at least say enough is enough and put them on indefinite mute.