The Common Vernacular of Power Relations in Heavy Metal and Christian Fundamentalist Performances

In Rosemary Hill Karl Spracklen (ed.), Heavy Fundametalisms: Music, Metal and Politics. Inter-Disciplinary Press (2010)
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Wittgenstein’s comment that what can be shown cannot be said has a special resonance with visual representations of power in both Heavy Metal and Fundamentalist Christian communities. Performances at metal shows, and performances of ‘religious theatre’, share an emphasis on violence and destruction. For example, groups like GWAR and Cannibal Corpse feature violent scenes in stage shows and album covers, scenes that depict gory results of unrestrained sexuality that are strikingly like Halloween ‘Hell House’ show presented by neo-Conservative, Fundamentalist Christian churches in the southeastern United States’ ‘Bible Belt’. One group may claim to celebrate violence, the other sees violence as a tool to both encourage ‘moral’ behaviour, and to show that the Christian church is able to ‘speak the language’ of young people who are fans of metal, gore, and horror. Explicit violence, in each case, signifies power relationships that are in transformation. Historically, medieval morality plays and morality cycles had been used as a pedagogical tool. In the modern-day context of fundamentalist religious education, these Hell House performances seek to exclude outsiders and solidify teen membership in the Christian community. Hell House performances are marketed to the young church members, and are seen as a way to reinvigorate conservative Fundamentalist Christianity. Women and girls routinely take part in, and often organize Hell House events. In the context of heavy metal, violent performances do not seek to exclude, but provide an outlet for a variety of socially unacceptable or unpopular feelings. In each context there is an apparent, if not actual, empowering of women who are willing to play particular kinds of roles. The use of violence and gore has a value beyond merely shocking the audience, it is arguably a way that some women find their voice, both for fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist gore metal fans.

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Christine James
Valdosta State University


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