[IMGLEFT] http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff307/elapheg/russell.jpg[/IMGLEFT]By Andreas Rana UM is pleased to publish a feature by Andreas Rana, who has recently completed a degree in the media and communications field. His thesis looked into the sociological aspects of being a metal fan, and while the original was in Swedish, he has been kind enough to translate a summary into English for UM's readers. So, ever wondered about the promiscuity of metalheads or their favourite drink? Read on... Dear Metalhead, before you mosh your way into the crowd again, may I briefly ask you: who are you and your fellow comrades? What are your opinions and what do you think? How do you regard your reality and what are your feelings towards the world? If questions like these puzzle your metallic mind, do not despair, a recent Culture Sociology thesis is ready to hand you the answers. Like most other subcultural elements in our postmodern society – may it be punks, ravers, rastafaris, skinheads or whatever – metalheads have long been subject for myths and preconceptions, at times causing vivid political debates and moral panic, and always frowned upon by the surrounding world. But, are these myths really true? If not, what is the truth? And why is that true? I, Andreas Rana, Ph. B. in Media and Communications, writer at Sweden Rock Magazine and author of this article, have put Swedish fans of heavy metal under the magnifying glass in my bachelor’s thesis. This quantitative study – entitled They Call Us Metalheads: a Culture Sociology Mapping of the Swedish Metal Public – was based on an extensive Internet-questionnaire with themes ranging from social background and aesthetic taste, to politics and religion, as well as everyday business, alcohol and drug use. It thoroughly investigates the values, ideals and lifestyles rooted among the social group of headbangers, aiming to outline overall cultural patterns and tendencies among the fans, and relating their cultural position and characteristic aesthetics to the society in whole. So average even Jesus listens... Though his friends don't believe in him As it turns out, presumably to no one’s big surprise, the stereotypical headbanging Swede is a 29-year-old, white, blue-collar male living in an urban area. An atheist, he votes slightly to the left and considers his family and friends to be the most important aspects of his life. Music is, of course, essential too and consumption is high. He’s been a fan of metal for more than ten years and spends on a monthly basis up to SEK 250 (equivalent to €27, £21 or $41) on metal CDs and/or LPs and downloads up to five albums during the same period. With the exception of metal he’s mostly into rock but also enjoys some classical, blues and jazz music; in stark contrast to commercial genres for which he possesses a strong abhorrence. This pattern is repeated in respect to other culture products like films, TV-shows and literature; predominantly young, masculine, niche underground genres, such as horror and fantasy are hailed, along with a slight thumb-up for legitimate genres. While touching on record collecting, another aspect that makes the average metallian a legitimate culture enthusiast is his passion for musical instruments; the results of this study tell us he is likely to play the guitar. Although metal per definition is a form of popular culture, its fans evidently consider underground culture to be “good” and “right” and commercial stuff “wrong” and “bad”. What this basically means is that headbangers create their own cultural avant-garde which helps to legitimise and maintain their deviant aesthetic ideals. These ideals seem to be more closely linked to 'legitimate' culture ['high culture' in the US/UK - RG] than many forms of popular culture are, a fact manifest in the fact that a lot of fans explicitly look down in disgust on all that is (perceived as) commercial mass culture. But even though we shout “sell out!” and “posers!” to these forms of popular culture, that doesn’t mean we share bourgeoisie values. In fact, this study suggests we definitely do not, shown in our collective aversion to all kinds of religion, our political taste and the fact that 63% of those questioned come from working class homes, and only 5% from corporate ones. This hints we’re dealing not only with a subculture, but an anti-culture, as the “profane” and “destructive” aestethic ideals that rule metal often are rooted in a direct contrast to both the commercial and bourgeoisie aspect of the mainstream concept. Many a metalhead, about 50 % of the 530 respondents in the study, also think the surrounding world regards them as anti-intellectual, ugly and aggressive, and close to one third have the perception that people look down upon them as sociopaths. Some might say this only confirms what everyone already knows. That headbangers have a “fuck the world”-attitude (and the more you’re fucking the world, the more “metal” you are) is certainly nothing new. What does come as a small surprise – despite all the myths and prejudices you’ve heard about the “freaks of metal” – is that these individuals lead pretty goddamn normal lives. Around 60 % earn their living working – one fourth report they followed or are still following a technical or industrial branch in school – and about 30 % study. In fact the rate of unemployed Swedish bangers turned out to a be on par with the rate for the country as a whole: 7 %. An insult like “cut your hair and get yourself a job!” doesn’t quite seem to have any connection with reality... Startlingly normal? Another prejudice that can be dispelled is the assumption that metal fans dislike sport. Two thirds say they perform some recreational activity at least once a week. Six out of ten have had sex with a single partner the last year and, not surprisingly, about the same proportion are in a steady relationship. Two out of ten metalheads report sleeping with between two and five persons during the same period. Swedish headbangers are – in accordance with the stereotypes – big beer drinkers. Lager is, by a long way, the drink of choice, while the least favourite is white wine. One quarter of all respondents get drunk once or more a week, and an additional 45 % at least once a month. But that’s about it when it comes to drugs. Less than a third smoke cigarettes, and this includes those who smoke occasionally. 34 % have touched cannabis, but very few do weed on a regular basis, and only 14 % have indulged their curiosity in other drugs. Did I hear the words “extreme lifestyle”? All this is rather reminiscent of any other blue-collar bloke born in the '70s or '80s, in juxtaposition to the promiscuous party animals and infamous junkies you may have heard or read about. However, one should keep in mind here that weed-use, for instance, is not quite as common in Sweden as in many other European countries and the US. So, what do we learn from this? Metalheads in Sweden do not actually appear to be that different from the average person sharing their social background. Indeed, many aspects of their collective lifestyle (those not directly connected to aestethics) are to be regarded as more or less normal. Judging by the quantitative results of this study, metal fandom functions as a way of taking a critical stance against the established mainstream, without necessarily interfering that much with other (i.e. “non-metal” aspects of life. The need to rise against, and break free from, the mainstream society – whether this be an explicit awareness or merely a subtle persuasion in one’s subconscious – might be rooted in the fans’ collective social background; in classic sociology, young members of the working-class have a low position in the overall hierarchy. Furthermore it is clear the deviant ideals in metal music do not turn its listeners into “freaks”, but help people to deal with disillusion, weariness, powerlessness and other confusions resulting from our complex modern world. Despite the striking normality of the average metalhead made clear in this study, myths responsible for boiling media debates in the '80s and the formation of censorship organizations such as PMRC, obviously still exist to this day. Just the other week a teacher in Sweden was fired after the school board found out he was playing in a black metal band. This is a sad thing indeed, but is nevertheless a healthy sign for metal: that’s what keeps our proud anti-culture alive. UM extends many thanks to Andreas for contributing his study. The full thesis can be found in its entirety (in Swedish) here. An abstract in English can be downloaded here.