The Vicious Cycle: In Which Behemoth Fans Refuse To Let Common Sense Get In The Way Of Picking A Religious Fight
Band Photo: Behemoth (?)
Last August, I penned an OpEd titled “Metal Versus Society: A Vicious Cycle?” It built on the controversy of the fabled “West Memphis Three” to include a broader observation of the often-ugly dynamic between diehard metal fans – primarily those who look, dress, and talk the part – and the scruples of “normal” society that find convenient scapegoats in such black-clad, devil-music-listening hooligans.
I concluded that “we” are equally to blame in this cycle of demonization, whereby we often culturally segregate ourselves and point burning fingers at imaginary forces of oppression, all but inviting others to cast us in the role of pariah once more – and so it goes. What makes this cycle so enduring and vital is its very inconsistency; the controversy du jour is followed by a quiet period, which is shattered by yet another media event that implicates heavy metal music, its demonic fans, and its corruptive powers as agents of societal breakdown. We all know the drill. Sometimes, however, we can’t help ourselves, and falsely perpetuate the cycle by blowing a complete non-event so far out of proportion that it becomes – to some – our latest cause célèbre. In so doing, we sometimes risk tarnishing our own reputations.
Leave it to Behemoth frontman and professional Polish blasphemer Adam “Nergal” Darski to recklessly reignite the cycle this time around. A little over a week before the inaugural April 11th date of the Decibel Magazine Tour, booked at The Brewmasters Gate in Columbus, OH, the venue owners pulled the plug on the gig. Nergal had described the bill as “super-evil… the most satanic tour that’s going to invade the U.S. in a long time,” and when Behemoth’s label Metal Blade Records sought an explanation for the cancellation, management informed them that the owners “specifically pulled the plug for religious reasons.” The official Behemoth-approved press release included a statement from Nergal of such boneheaded idiocy that the mind simply boggles:
“Wow, big motherfuckin’ WOW! We are facing a legendary moment: Amerika, the land of the free, is banning Behemoth coz of religious beliefs. The madness starts in Ohio, but of korz we are playing anyway. Nothing can stop us now. God, please save me from this freedom…”
And I’m not nitpicking his English-as-a-second-language, iPhone-devolved spelling. That would be like tripping a guy in a cast. Let’s give Nergal, a purportedly intelligent and well-read man, the benefit of the doubt and assume he grasps the fundamentals of property rights under the U.S. Constitution. What we’re left with is worse than ignorance: a cynical attempt to rile up metal fans for some free publicity, at the cost of yet another sliver of harmony we may have gained within our society. A reckless breeding of the distrust and scorn he himself has experienced at the hands of censorship-happy Polish politicians, and of the discord he regularly accuses religious institutions of peddling.
To get an idea of what we’re dealing with, let’s examine some of the initial fan reactions to the news. Reader warning: the below statements, unedited, lack common sense and contain graphic scenes of headache-inducing predictability:
“Fuck established religion!!!!! how dare it get in the way of this concert!!!!!” Perhaps excusable, if the commenter meant the influence of “organized religion” on the owners’ consciences. An official “establishment” of religion is barred by the First Amendment, and played no role in the cancellation.
“That’s fucking bullshit what those fascist christian fucks are doing to you in Ohio. Unfortunately most Americans are, in fact, stuck up god loving cunts like that. Reason number one why I want to get the fuck out of this piece of shit nation as soon as humanly possible.” And relocate to the free-speech-abundant Polish homeland in which Nergal faced criminal charges for desecrating a Bible, perhaps?
But this one takes the cake: “Disgusting. Isn’t this America? ANY band should play wherever they want, I honestly want them to show up anyways, That’d be the best thing to do, show them you won’t back down because of intolerance.”
You heard the man, folks – trespassing on private property is Behemoth’s last stand against tyranny! For your information, Mr. Free Spirit, there is a stark difference between coercive prohibition by the state and a private establishment’s lawful exercising of its right to choose with whom it conducts business – however belatedly or ill-advised. For the audacious ignorance of Nergal’s statement, he did get one aspect right: Brewmasters Gate was well within its freedom to cancel, though I doubt he needed God to “save” him from it. The Alrosa Villa, a mere ten miles away, took up that task and rebooked the gig. And the iron-fisted legions of religious intolerance, lurking high and low, were thus defeated with the stroke of a pen.
Contrast this imaginary intolerance with a recent, and very real, affront to property rights in Boston, where last month a citywide police crackdown on moshing ensued after this disturbing scene was reported at a Flogging Molly performance at the House of Blues: “60 concertgoers… were running and ‘colliding into each other,’ including some who were ‘knocked to the ground.’ No injuries were reported.” In other words, one hell of an impressive pit, and some friendly, violent fun. The horror.
Nonetheless, the fuzz saw fit to cite the venue for a license violation because “security did not intervene” in the alleged flouting of safety rules. In a proud rechristening of the House of Blues as a No-Fun Zone, the venue was “ordered to put up illuminated signs saying moshing is not allowed.”
This worst kind of nanny-state action, in which busybody politicians, nosy bureaucrats, and power-tripping police twist the arms of private businesses to protect free Americans from themselves, should have provoked vastly greater and longer-sustained levels of outrage from metal fans in proportion to the Behemoth rescheduling. Instead, it’s already yesterday’s news, and we’ve settled back into our favorite pastime: battling phantom witch-hunters. Another classy reaction to the cancellation, and the clear gold medal winner: “It’s only a matter of time before all the crazy old religious people die. I for one and [sic] SICK of this oppression.”
There’s a “First World” complaint if ever I’ve heard one.
Regardless of your choice of music, “religious people” – despite all the stereotypes neatly embodied by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Chuch – can still be your friends. However, government, notwithstanding the kindliest of social workers, can NEVER be your friend. It is, by definition, a coercive entity, whether Rick Santorum, Barack Obama, or Mao Zedong is at the controls. That is why if we truly believe in freedom, we can’t select our outrage. To sympathize with venue owners that face ridiculous fines by allowing moshing – or smoking, or ladies’ nights – on their own property is surely also to support the freedom of venue owners who opt not to host a band with whose flagrant message they disagree. If you happen in turn to disagree with THEIR beliefs, and if their decision backfires on their wallets, so be it, but let’s not pretend anyone is being “oppressed.”
I suspect the bombastic, over-the-top, melodramatic nature of metal itself is part of what drives some of us beyond issues as seemingly mundane as federal laws, state regulations, local ordinances, and the like (even though such things are snuffing our actual liberties increment by increment). Pencil-pushing bureaucracy and even political grandstanding can feel anathema to the sweeping grandeur of metal, wherein fierce battles between white and black, good and evil, oppressed and oppressor, are fought and blood is spilled. Why brush up on Constitutional law when we can brave the dark, exhilarating catacombs of religious paranoia, where on every street corner lives a cross-waving bigot itching to toss paint on your Slayer shirt as you walk by?
I fear it’s only going to grow worse. I’d never bemoan the free and swift flow of information the Web brings us, but it comes at a cost: in lifting certain burdens, technology can allow our mental muscles to atrophy, and enables instant, half-informed and half-witted “communication” that in earlier times wouldn’t have taken place – because the person would’ve had time to thoroughly digest the information in front of him, think, and react somewhat reasonably.
Instead, we have this, unedited: “Fuck christian fanatics.” “Fuck those relgious ass pussys.” “Fucking losers.” “fucking religious bigots.” “christian retards.” “I would see Ohio endure a nuclear winter.” “they’d like it better if [Behemoth] were speaking German.” “Church burning is funny. Always has been, always will be.”
In the vicious cycle of trolling and accusation, we’re all the afflicted drama queens of our own imaginary tales of oppression, and abuse the Web as a soapbox to trumpet our phony (and profane) rebellious posturing. In so doing, some of us wind up looking exactly like “they” assume us to be, inviting even more scorn and distrust upon the lot of us. Many of whom, myself included, are simply here for the enjoyment of the music we like.
Enjoy playing Columbus as planned in our land of free speech, Nergal, and thanks for nothing.
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