Unexpected Allies: Decibel Magazine’s Feminist Take on the DC Reboot

In the December 2011 issue of Decibel magazine (“America’s only extreme music magazine”), I read the interesting, but expected Dave-Mustaine-this-time-he-is-totes-over-his-feuds-he-means-it-even-if-he-is-called-SuperDave-and-Junior-isn’t-called-Junior story; lots of short articles with bands filled with fourth-degree clones of Zakk Wylde; and the usual review of extreme albums that I won’t be listening to.

But unexpectedly, especially for a magazine dedicated to metal and other extreme music, there is an actual for-real feminist take on the DC reboot that says that treating women as soulless objects is not entertainment. For an audience that reads a magazine featuring bands with album covers that will give children nightmares.

Unfortunately not online, Joe Gross’ one-page column dissects the reason why the reboot doesn’t make economic sense, by turning away girls and women (and men and boys) that aren’t interested in a “cruel, violent vibe and crueler sexual politics”, asking the question “Who the fuck is this crap for?”

He says that between the reboot “and a noticeable decline in women creators at DC, it would be tough for the company to have constructed a bigger “Fuck you, we don’t want your money” to potential female readers”. And that is a potentially huge loss for an industry that could use new readers — or at least not lose older newly disgusted fans. Perhaps it is just those that I know, but a large percentage of the comics fans I know *are* people of difference (such as women/girls, people of color, gay/queer, some other other, or a combination) — not the stereotype of Comic Book Guy.

One of the benefits of having this article written for this particular audience is demonstrated by the pull-quote on the page:

I’ve seen hardcore, [gnzo p!@#] that treated women with more dignity that DC is treating those two gals [, Catwoman and Starfire]

THAT knowledge is not likely to be found by writers from traditional feminist sources, even third-wave ones.

Gross also references “the terrific essay” by Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their “Liberated Sexuality”.

Thank you, Decibel. And to Shortpacked (who created the economics of comics comic above). And to all of the disappointed seven-year old American comics fans, may I suggest mahou shoujo (and manhwa)? It isn’t without issues, but that’s where I’m sending the comics-loving kids in my life.


Today in WTF: Grammys combine Hard Rock/Metal Awards

Among music fans/geeks, the news circulated quickly (mostly on Twitter)`that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences –  the folks that run the Grammys – plan to eliminate 30 of its categories , mostly to avoid redundancies among categories. Fair enough, right? Best Hawaiian Zydeco Instrumental Duo will probably only have one  nominee every year, correct?

But as a metal fan, I’m both amused/slightly annoyed at the news that the best Hard Rock and Metal performance categories would be combined.With this new change, bands like Velvet Revolver, Buckcherry and Nickelback will be considered as the same genre of bands like Slayer, Iron Maiden, Mastodon and Dragonforce. According to the Grammy’s, attempting to distinguish bands between the two genres was “splitting hairs.” To that I say, sure it’s splitting hairs if you only listen to metal from the 1980’s.

The hard rock/metal category was always rife with controversy from the very first  award in 1989, when the Grammy’s infamously snubbed Metallica in favor of Jethro Tull. Actually, it’s fair to say the Grammy’s never understood anything about metal considering they only just awarded Iron Maiden this year. But I have long hoped that the existence of a metal category meant at some point when the old industry vets finally retire, the award could actually mean something for the genre, in a small way,  that the best metal releases of the year would MAYBE be nominated, and MAYBE win and MAYBE turn on new fans in the process. Silly thought, I know, but a girl can dream.

Instead, I anticipate a lot of  Kings of  Leon and Daughtry to take up space in that category in the coming years. In the meantime, there’s definitely room for metal publications/blogs like Decibel or MetalSucks or even *sigh* Revolver to play the role of tastemaker while reflecting the scene more accurately.

Guide for the Perplexed: Heavy Metal 101

Last week I (Keidra) participated in Heavy Metal 101,   part of a monthly series organized by Chicago creative collectives Homeroom and You, Me Them, Everybody. Thanks to Fred Sasaki for the invitation, Nell Taylor for the introduction, and co-presenters Michael Robbins and Bryan Wendorf for a great conversation. It was a blast.

Inspired by the interest we’ve had and the success of that event, we at The Learned Fangirl decided to start a new series of posts on varied aspects of fandom for beginners. We are calling them “Guide for the Perplexed” and my (tequila fueled) Heavy Metal 101 PowerPoint presentation will kick it off.

Some readers may already know that I have a long and passionate history of metal fandom, most notably recounted in an essay I wrote for Bitch Magazine a few years ago. Since that essay was published, my metal fandom re-emerged stronger than ever, and I hope to explore some aspects of metal fan culture a bit further in subsequent blog posts.

What fandom and cultural context can tell us about the Obama Hope controversy


Creative Commons photo of La Justicia no es ciega in Chile-- Another interpretation of the Roman Goddess Iustitia with her scales broken

There’s been much bloggage about the AP-photo based Shepard Fairey Obama Hope poster, but one issue I haven’t seen discussed in the midst of discussions about fair use (or copyright violation) is the role that cultural context can play. A related issue is the attribution/ownership/licensing of the original photo, discussed on Fresh Air — plus the initial filing in the suit (PDF).

So what role can cultural context play in quoting / remixing / appropriating /  the work of another? I give you

(Lady) Justice metal-style and

(a) Supreme Court Justice’s Imagin(ation).

Unless you are a fan of metal or hardcore, you are likely unaware of the deep admiration that The Dillinger Escape Plan and Metallica have for each other (NSFW info).

Based on this mutual crush, DEP made a shirt with the graphic to the left available for sale for one day only, with Greg ranting on their blog (entire post Greg-style NSFW):

Here’s a preview…(please don’t sue us Lars! I know you’re reading! It’s an homage!!!)…
Inspired by the Metallica album “…And Justice For All”, and the lady justice visual, this limited edition “82588 : NO JUSTICE FOR ANY” shirt features a headless Lady Justice crumbling and falling apart on the front, with “Dillinger Escape Plan” written in the classic Metallica “Justice” font at the bottom, and the uneven scales of justice being tipped by money on the back. … Then after you order one make sure you listen to something gnarly off of that album like “Dyer’s Eve”, or “Shortest Straw”, or the middle part of “Blackened” on a loop for 30 minutes…

So for you non-hard music fans, your eyes have glazed over, so how about some cultural context about Lady Justice and and the imagery as used by Metallica? For anyone who is within the metal/hardcore subculture, the shirt is meant to honor the contributions of Metallica as almost legendary — their music, their imagery, and their importance. Yet it uses much of the original to make its point.

Would this quoting or homage count as fair use under copyright? Especially for those in the know, it uses a large amount of the original, yet does so in a call-back respectful way — NOT as a parody. Oddly enough, if the DEP used musical elements that recall Metallica, yet sound different, this community may consider it to be more of a “copyright” violation than this shirt. And note that the idea of symbolic justice, even justice being destroyed  — as portrayed in a similar means by Lady Justice — is an idea that has been portrayed elsewhere because of its larger cultural resonance.

So moving beyond copyright — what about possible confusion / dilution of trademark issues? Metallica does not seem to have a trademark in the complete imagery — Doris, the Metallica stylized writing, etc, but they do have a trademark on the well-known stylized Metallica writing — 2213592 & 2038081. But would a reasonable hardcore fan get confused by the two? Hardly! That is about as likely as confusing The Mechanix with The Four Horsemen!

One of Metallica's trademarks

Another divergence about cultural context and fair use — think about John Lennon’s song Imagine, about an idealized possible world that includes lyrics mentioning a lack of religion. If you owned the copyright and were protective of the song , you might not want it to be used without your permission to compare life without religion with communist dictators. And sue the filmmakers.

But why would the filmmakers want to use *that* song? Because it has has larger cultural resonance — a larger cultural meaning that Supreme Court Chief Justice Alito uses in his majority Free Speech clause ruling in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (PDF), quoting the entire song lyrics in a footnote (footnote 2). To make this almost time-travel circular, now can I quote the footnote to make a point about the case? What about John Lennon and Imagine? If it’s good enough for the Supreme Court and fair use, what about regular people?

I hope when a court determines whether the use of the image from an AP photo by a freelancer remixed by an artist into a new work is fair use the transformative cultural context is considered. After all, this image now has a larger cultural significance — hanging in both the National Gallery and on flagpoles all over Chicago.

Interview: Heavy Metal Writer/Publisher Ian Christe

sofbI was pretty psyched when I learned that music journalist Ian Christe had started his own book publishing company focused on heavy metal, Bazillion Points. His 2003 book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, is a favorite of mine: highly informed, without being snobbish and accessible, even for music fans who you couldn’t pay to listen to a Slayer album.

It was one of the few books that I feel gives metal an honest, critical examination that’s free of the usual sweeping generalizations that seem to come with a lot of writing about metal, as a genre and a subculture. You know what I’m talking about: people thinking it’s just noise, appealing to only numbskulled, uneducated teenagers, and so forth.

As a metal fan, good books on the genre are hard to find, I’m looking forward to Bazillion Points expanding the critical coverage of heavy metal – the music, the musicians, the fans. There’s a lot to cover, as it’s a scene that’s quite active and diverse, despite very little mainstream airplay or major label support. As a writer and publishing geek, I’m interested in how this DIY company is going for a pretty narrow niche (but dedicated) audience, kind of like blogs. I’m pretty sure this approach is going to be the future of the print publishing industry. I sent Christe an e-mail last week and asked him for a phone interview. Here’s some of our chat:

Keidra: So without getting too fangirly on you I just wanted to tell you that Sound of The Beast is one of my favorite music criticism books.

Ian Christe: Yeah, thanks. It had to be done, it was about 10 years overdue when I started writing it. It just seems so obvious of a topic.

K: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of a red-headed stepchild, like there’s a feeling that it’s not worthy of exploration, and I feel like the book gives the genre some critical legitimacy. Was that a big motivation to start Bazillion Points?

IC: It was borne of frustration for sure, even though I think Sound of The Beast was a success by mainstream publishing standards it didn’t make it make it any easier [to get a book on metal] the second time around. I knew a lot of writers who were experts on different subsections of metal, like Jeff Wagner with progressive metal and Jon Kristiansen, “Metalion” from (extreme metal ‘zine) Slayer Magazine, and these guys would never get a mainstream book deal, and yet if you look at other genres like 70’s folk rock, something that’s very micro-niche, and there’s like two dozen books about it, because it appeals to the sensibilities of many book editors, it seems like a safe bet. Meanwhile, the progressive metal scene is thriving, obviously black metal is thriving.

I felt like it’s a very frustrating process to work with a mainstream publisher anyway, and you do about 90% of the work yourself. I learned a lot from doing Sound of the Beast and the Van Halen book [Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, 2007], and basically I felt like there’s only a few aspects of the [publishing] industry that I don’t know anything about, so I think I can probably learn those and fill a void, you know?

K: There’s a big fanbase for this kind of stuff that’s probably not on the radar of a lot of publishers. Even within mainstream music magazines there’s not a whole lot of options.

IC: There’s a lot of talented music writers writing for the metal magazines, but where do they go outside of that, I dunno? How do you break out of that, where do you go next? It’s tough.

K: Are you working on any kind of follow up to Sound of the Beast through Bazillion Points? A lot’s gone on since 2003.

IC: Nomit still belongs to Harper Collins, the only thing I can do is release it in a language it hasn’t already been licensed in, which I thought about .. but right now there’s about 15 translations, and in the past 15 months, they’ve licensed to Japan, Italy, Portugal, which includes Brazil. Those were the three big translations that I wanted to see, and it took six years for that to happen, but I am perfectly happy to let Harper Collins continue to do what they’re doing. I still think they are super surprised, though. I think the reason they were happy about the book coming out when it did was because “The Osbournes” [TV show] was really popular at the time.

K: Oh wow…

IC: It kinda showed their awareness of heavy metal. But that’s OK, metal is supposed to be underground, it’s supposed to kind of an outsider appeal.

K: Yeah, but it’s funny because now you’ve got all these documentaries out now that have done pretty well: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey was on VH1, the Global Metal sequel, Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Has that helped Bazillion Points at all?

IC: Not as far as I know, it’s helped me get on random VH1 documentaries on metal, and get back in touch with people I haven’t seen since elementary school by being on those shows, I guess it does impress people in someway, makes me seem more legitimate than I really am [laughs] actually I think the big cultural motor right now for heavy music is Guitar Hero. Metal’s kind of in danger of taking itself too seriously, so now you’ve all these goofy 14-year-olds flopping around to the stuff. Assuming that maybe later these kids start getting into bands like Dragonforce or something; To come from a place that dorky its kind of important.

K: I feel like most metalheads usually start out dorky to begin with, I think there tends to be a big correlation between being dorky and liking metal.

IC: Yeah, the whole outsider thing, definitely, dorks are welcome!

K: So I know you’ve got the Slayer book, a book on Nightwish, what else is planned for Bazillion Points in 2009? I know there’s one on prog metal…
IC: The progressive metal book comes out in fall 2009. In general, I’m taking on new books as I can handle them, the next one for sure will be the [biography] of Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks. That was actually the very first book we were working on, it’s just taken longer for different reasons, first being that it had to be translated from Finnish. Hanoi Rocks, next to Van Halen, were probably the biggest inspiration to the glam metal scene in Hollywood in the 80’s, yet they were basically a bunch of homeless, Finnish Gypsys living in a subway station in Stockholm. They’re the real deal, and Andy McCoy is a pretty interesting guy. The book originally came out in the 90’s and Hanoi Rocks has kind of comeback and started playing a lot of festivals since then.

I’m working on a metal logos book with [artist] Mark Riddick, who’s done a lot of metal logos (Decesased, Dethklok, God Forbid, The Faceless, Black Dahlia Murder).

I was working on my own book and found out that he self-published his own book on a smaller scale, so we joined forces. He a designer, so talks about them in terms of headers and descenders and scaling, it’s really great.

Part 2 next week! More about Nightwish, fan culture, micro-niche publishing, and other stuff.

Banking on the 1,000

One of my favorite metal bands, The Dillinger Escape Plan, recently left their record label, Relapse, after their contract expired. According to the following interview with lead singer Greg Puciato, the band has tentative plans to go independent with their next full-length release, inspired by the Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails model:

It seems so unnecessary now to sign a contract that’s based on an industry model that doesn’t exist anymore. Relapse did everything they could for us and everything is cool with them, but after being on the same label for ten years it feels unbelievable to know that we could literally self-fund a CD and just put it out the way Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did. We can do whatever we want, y’know? The fact that we managed to not get big, but big enough, means that we have enough of a cult following that people might buy just as many records from us as they would from a store. There’s no point of having a record label behind you unless you have a chance of becoming a Walmart band like Nickelback or some huge entity. We don’t really foresee that in our future. I think we’re starting to get to the point where we view bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead as our peers, and even bands like Aphex Twin. Those are forward-thinking bands. We see ourselves regardless of any genre of music, and we don’t see ourselves aligned just with heavy bands. Like I said before, we have a cult following and we’re not little but we’re not big. I’m happy with where we are, and if we can just maintain the same quality control over our stuff as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead do, I’ll be happy.

Why is this news, you ask? Because I think if they do go this route, their success would bea perfect example of Wired founder/important dude Kevin Kelly’s theory of “1000 True Fans.”

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Clearly far from a household name, the band has, nonetheless, developed an extremely passionate and loyal fanbase, due in part to their ridiculous chaotic energetic live performances, as best exemplified here:

IMO, a household name artist with a past track record of mainstream success would never be an ideal test for this theory, but DEP is. They’ve been demonstrating it for awhile now. Take for example their recent promotion, where the band has sold limited edition t-shirts inspired by the titles of songs from their latest album. Sold only from the band’s MySpace page, the t-shirts have been repeatedly selling out. No middle man, no label, just selling directly to their passionate fans, and said fanbase (myself included) is lapping it up.

And for bands with niche audiences like DEP, maybe this model is more appropriate. Their brand of discordant, multi-tempo, aggressive metal doesn’t really have much chance of hitting it big on mainstream radio, and the record industry, still focused on hit-making. would brand these guys failures, despite a loyal fanbase that would continue to support the band, album after album and for every tour.

The real test of this model, at least when it comes to the music industry, is touring and promotion. 1000 True Fans don’t mean squat to a venue owner of a 2,000 seat theater who plans to book you for a night. That’s where casual fans do make a difference.

Having the PR muscle of a label (even a smaller label, like Relapse) behind you is crucial when you’re out on the road, and DIY promotion can only do so much, when you’re trying to get the word out in the areas where your True (and casual) fans can best be reached. Of course, this is where social media – MySpace, Facebook, etc. is a boon, but can it match what a label can do?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting to purchase DEP’s next limited edition shirt from their MySpace page.

Metallica’s Mission: Screwing Over Fans?

I have a long history with Metallica, as they were essentially my introduction to the world of metal, along with other young Gen-X metal kids, now grown adults, who watched Headbanger’s Ball on MTV. I was fully devoted all the way up until Load, when suddenly they became a jam band and they never really got me back from that. I’ll still rock out to their pre-Load but I can’t bring myself to say I am a fan in the same way.

The whole Napster thing didn’t harbor any fan goodwill, but another thing that’s kind of bugged is the way Metallica has monetized the fan experience so thoroughly, essentially charging their most hardcore fans for their devotion. A standard fan club membership won’t get you access to a good chunk of the website; gotta shell out a bit more for that. Then their Mission: Metallica website gives fans a chance to download the new album – for $12 bucks, higher than the usual going rate of digital downloads, $9.99. No thanks guys, I think Lars has enough modern art paintings to sell at Christie’s.

Now comes word from Ars Technica that the guys have cracked down on bloggers and journalists who have reviews a leak of the new album, even though the band was the one who invited said bloggers and journalists to a listening party in the first place:

Here’s the scenario: internationally known heavy metal band with long history in the business invites music critics in London to listen to six tracks off the band’s forthcoming album. Those critics then write reviews based on what they’ve heard. Despite the total lack of any non-disclosure agreements and the fact that the band must have known what it was doing, its management then contacted the blogs in question and asked them to take down the reviews.

Actually, “asked” may be a polite way of putting it. The music blog Blinded by the Hype contacted The Quietus, one of the blogs that had run a review, wondering what had happened to the piece. The answer, from editor Luke Turner, was clear. “The Quietus kept our article up the longest and, as no nondisclosure agreement had been signed,” he wrote, “[we were] not prepared to remove it merely due to the demands of Metallica’s management. We only removed the article earlier today to protect the professional interests of the writer concerned.”

I nott makes absolutely no sense to invite the media to preview an album and then put a gag order on it. They are going the Prince route of not only punishing fans for their devotion, but also the media for having interest. Devotion has its limits; I would not be surprised if they get the cold shoulder from the media once the album is done and ready for promotion. It would serve them right, IMO.