Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


OCTOBER 29, 2009 11:51PM

Cognitive Linguistics

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 Sorry for the length.  I realize that the opinions expressed here may be incredibly controversial.  Please keep the comments civil.   



According to Wikipedia, Linguistic Relativity is the idea that: "the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it."

The classic example when I was in college was that because snow and ice are such a prominent environmental reality for indigenous people living above the arctic circle, their language has evolved many different words describing snow.  Because they have precise language to describe very fine gradations in snow conditions, their children learn early to recognize and experience snow conditions differently than the rest of us. This precise vocabulary for snow shapes how the speakers of these languages perceive and experience snow. A similarly detailed linguistic dissection of a particular musical genre recently altered my own perception and experience of that music. 

On 10.22 Skepchick's daily question for readers, Afternoon Inquisition, prompted me to disparage both the band Rush and Rush Limbaugh.  Here's the question from Skepchick Sam Ogden:

Would you be upset if your creative material was used as part of controversial interrogation methods? Do these musicians have a right to be upset? Isn’t R.E.M. music torture, whether your detained at Gitmo or not? What songs would be on your prison torture playlist?

Here's my comment (I've inserted a hyperlink in case you're in the mood for seven minutes of auditory self-flagellation. I made it to 0:27.):

Torturers would merely have to threaten to play simpering effing Rush and I would: tell all my own secrets, tell every other secret I know, and fabricate lies just to keep them from turning on the hell storm.  (for clarification, I’m referring to the band called Rush, but either Rush would break me)

As always, comments are fascinating.  Amid the Weird Al Yankovic worship and hilarious fellatio jokes there was a lot of friendly back-and-forth about who does or does not like certain bands, as well as some interesting seemingly credible comments regarding auditory triggers of PTSD.  The most relentlessly interesting string of comments came from "killyosaur," and I nearly overlooked real-time linguistic anthropology because I tend to be dismissive of the metal musical genre. 

My experience with metal is admittedly limited.  The impression I have from peripheral exposure during my tenure as a high school student is: exhausting length, extreme volume, colossal mullets, hedonism, and uninhibited misogyny. I once spent a weekend with a friend who listened to Back In Black incessantly for two days, so my opinion may be tainted by that overdose.  
Metal fans seemed to be mostly disaffected white pubescent males, and while I could relate to the anti-authoritarian appeal, I didn't really like the music.  
It was an era of excessive (societal) mediocrity which produced such hair metal bands as Whitesnake and Def Leppard.  The Trophy Husband just informed me that these bands are not representative of "real" metal bands.  Whatever.  This is what I think of when someone mentions metal music:  
Whitesnake Image Via: Band Envy 
My bias is both unfair and uninformed.  I had not bothered to explore the evolution of the genre, and significant expansion of the style has occurred since the mid 1980s .  Killyosaur vastly expanded my perception with a string of comments ending in hyperlinks to various metal sub-genres:  

Commenter Imrryr then responded with: Yay! Viking Metal!

And Killyosaur continued:

Commenter Trotter Jelly suggested: Yay! James Joyce Metal!

Killyosaur continued:

At this point Imrryr jumped in with: King Diamond, and Yay! Heavy Metal Covers of Classic Rock Songs! (The culture of cover bands is a topic for another post.)

Killyosaur kept going:

Imrryr then suggested: Doom Metal

Before moving on to punk, Killyosaur finished with two more:

My Trophy Husband disturbingly mentioned an adolescent horror wet dream band called Gwar and was subsequently vague about how he first learned of it. He also suggested Asian Metal.

I decided to check in with a credible friend who is a musician himself, steeped in metal culture, and very knowledgable.  He was very generous with his time, and I appreciate his candor. He began with a religious analogy:

and if you don't know who this guy is, if there was a metal pantheon he'd be a central figure.

I was curious about a few other things:
AU: "Where are the metal girls? Is my impression of a (generally) misogynistic culture accurate? Are there any mainstream girl metal bands?" 
Member of the Metal Tribe: "I have no clue.  If you find out, please let me know. 
Actually, though... Metal, in and of itself, tended to be pretty misogynistic.  The macho picture completely turns on it's face if you get beyond all the main marquee bands.  Punk, hard rock, hardcore and a lot of the various subgenres are well represented by women.  I've even noticed it locally and at big shows.  Girl fans are more present and IN the bands we play with on the various tour circuits.  It's way different than the things you used to see, say, back in the 80's.  If you are interested look into the following bands:
L7 (Girl punk/grunge band with some metal influences.  Now defunct.  Key Album: Bricks Are Heavy & Hungry For Stink)
Kylesa A woman fronted southern metal band.  They are probably one of the most 'important' bands going right now, and they are from Savannah (I think), Georgia.  It's part of a whole group of sludge/stoner/avant garde metal bands coming from the south; there is a vibrant scene down there that is responsible for producing quite a few really great bands like Mastodon, Torche and Kylesa.  I saw them open up for Mastodon in Boulder and was instantly converted.  Two drummers and this... lady.  The album Static Tensions is their most recent release, I'd check that one out.
Kittie Pretty sure this is a marketing schtick to sell things at Hot Topic but a girl metal band nonetheless.
Other big ones:
OtepLacuna Coil, The Distillers/Spinerettes (Brody, the front woman, is a key figure in woman/modern music).
It's one of those things where on it's face, yeah, the general vibe of it all is pretty macho.  Once you get past that top level/marquee though and actually start looking at bands playing in clubs you'll see a lot of girl metal/punk bands.  It's also to the point where it isn't even a shtick or surprising to see it anymore.
AU: "In my research, I noticed something called NuMetal, described as a fusion of rap and metal.  Is Kid Rock an example of this--'cause didn't he have that one song about hip/hop/metal?  But seriously, is this the future of metal?"
Member of the Metal Tribe: "NuMetal is a much (and rightfully so) derided sub-genre.  It was kind of what popped out of the 90's and became a catchall term for bands like Kid RockLimp BizkitKorn and all their brethren.  It's all the posturing and extreme misogyny of hip-hop and all the loud noises of metal without any of the artistry.  It was widely extolled as the future of the genre but fortunately people got really sick of it really quick.  Rightfully so.  Most people - critics, musicians and fans have written the genre off.  I have too.  You'll still find pockets of fans here and there but it never stood on it's own and only had one real band come out of it that had any significance beyond selling a crap ton of records to a lot of really dumb 'bros'.  This was big when I was in college and if we can give NuMetal credit for anything was that it pissed a lot of really talented people off and probably helped give a lot of inertia to indie metal bands/scenes.    This is NOT the future of anything besides maybe a few weight lifting hernias and DUIs.  Think of it as the mid to late 90's version of hair metal.
In case you were wondering, the one band that did come out of NuMetal that was worthwhile was System of a Down.  Incubus and Rage Against the Machine sometimes gets lumped in, too, and if they are well they're pretty OK also.  
If you want to listen to two or three bands that are the REAL future of the genre check out Mastodon, Kylesa and Lamb of God.  Queens of the Stone age are a good one, too - but they are sort of all over the place and are idle right now.  Lamb of God gets kind of a bad rap sometimes because of the fan base they appeal to; it's loud and aggressive so you can get kind of an image problem with attracting a lot of the meatheads but it's a real legitimate response to create an 'American' metal band and throw off a lot of the more Euro sensibilities that had been starting to pervade.  Kylesa was above.  Mastodon are THE big band right now.  They are one of the few metal bands that are accepted by mainstream critics and press.  If you are feeling brave check out the band Dillinger Escape Plan, they've been the future of hardcore/metal for as long as they've been a band.  Ire Works is the most accessible album."
AU: Are there any major warring factions in metal culture?
Member of the Metal Tribe: "Sure.  Hardcore fans hate everybody, and everybody hates hardcore fans.  Seriously.  I hated playing shows with hardcore bands on the bill because that means you'll get hardcore fans.  On the whole, though, it's a pretty cohesive scene.  When mainstream press marganilizes what you do it's easier to get along in a big camp.  The metal/hardcore/punk/indie hard rock scene is kind of like the Republcans; kind of big tent politics.  Everyone gets along and has common goals but there are certainly small divisions and personal feuds but on the whole cohesion is the general rule.  It's not like it was back 'in the day' when bands like Guns N' Roses would trash talk everybody in a magazine.
If you ever want to read up on a really interesting feud in hard rock, read about the back history of Dave Mustaine, singer of Megadeth versus his old band... Metallica.
If you ever want to read up on one of the worst moments in metal, look up the death of the guitarist of Pantera, Dimebag Darrell.  99% of concert goers/fans are awesome but also we do attract the crazies more than any other genre." 

AU: "Are you a fan of the band Rush? If so, why?"
Member of the Metal Tribe:  "Not a fan.  I get what they are doing.  They are totally into what they are doing.  Esoteric references, super nerdy prog rock, yeah.  That whole thing.  Their fans are totally into what they are doing.  I, however, started in on punk early on and thus never developed the attention span for epic drum solos or extreme virtuosity.  Mastodon is a stretch for me.  I could never do the Rush/Yes/Dream Theater thing.  Like if some of their radio friendly songs are on, yeah thats OK but I just don't have the capacity to nerd out on that level."
Killyosaur's enthusiasm totally hooked me, and I sampled all of his suggestions as well as those of my informant in the culture.  I had no idea there was so much diversity.  While I probably won't become a huge fan of metal, I actually really liked the viking band Tyr. (Well, I liked the one song I listened to with the awesome video... and the fact that the language is Norwegian Faroese and I have no idea what they're saying may help.) I liked several other bands as well, especially the ones with girls, but notably did not enjoy Dillinger Escape Plan.  
I decided to see what else I could find on my own. I was astonished by the Christian Metal sub-genre.  It just hadn't occurred to me that Christian Metal existed. It seems bizarrely incongruous, but I prefer it (and even Rush) to the white supremacy metal faction I read about but declined to listen to. I just did not want to waste even one web view to that ridiculous clan. I also stumbled upon Israeli Metal and Inuit Metal. The sheer volume of music and cultural traits is overwhelming, and I'm sure I've missed much.  
The entire metal phenomenon is surprisingly fascinating. My informant from within also suggested a rockumentary about metal, which I look forward to watching. 
Thanks to Killyosaur's linguistic dissection which roused my curiosity, I can now appreciate some of the fine distinctions within the category. I even learned some symbolic language specific to the culture: m/.

None of this, of course, changes my opinion of Rush (or of the other Rush). 
UPDATE: I'm astonished that as of mid June 2010, this post has gotten nearly 5000 page views.  It was a blast to write, and it's awesome that so many of you are reading it.  You might be interested in my further exploration of metal culture: IIIIIIIVVVI.  

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rush, culture, heavy metal, language

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Thanks for the comment Stellaa! I'll go check that out.
Wow, I inspired a blog post. That was an entertaining read, and I now have a couple of additional bands to check out that I hadn't heard about. Thanks!
Killyosaur: Thanks for stopping by! Thanks for the inspiration!