Will metalheads rule the world in 100 years?
I've been on a metal posting kick and probably will be for another week or so. There's so much new to see now that I'm no longer a 13 year-old infatuated with Beavis & Butt-Head, which unfortunately was the last time I spent much time with it.
One thing that jumps out is how high the solidarity is among metalheads, far greater than for fans of any other type of music. Looking around over the past 20 years of various culture wars, they're about the only major subculture that has consistently been founded on strength of community and keeping their traditions sacred, where others have descended into petty status contests and "moving beyond" their ways once they become too well known and hence no longer fashionable.
Metalheads still look pretty much like they did 30 years ago: slim-fitting light blue or black jeans, black or white t-shirt (often with sleeves cut off), white tennis shoes or black boots, and long hair parted in the middle (perhaps with bangs). Even the nu metal people, arguably a separate species, haven't strayed so far from that costume. In contrast, look at how differently the fans of rock-for-the-college-educated have looked from 1975 to 2010, going by five-year intervals. Hair length is all over the place, eyeshadow is present or absent, colors are varied or monochrome, the overall look is hyper-tailored or disheveled, and all according to the trend in the larger society. About the only constant is Chuck Taylor shoes.
Metalheads therefore take their community membership much more seriously: their appearance is supposed to be above the fickle shifts of the stream of fashion, much as the more traditional religious groups still sport a look that's hundreds of years old. "Moving beyond" this cultural inheritance in order to stay in touch with the times would be sacrilege. Other subcultures are more likely to view their community membership as fleeting, something fun to do for now but nothing they're going to commit themselves to over the long haul, let alone sacrifice anything for.
This suggests that unlike most other groups of white people, metalheads have a strong potential for collective action. (Readers of Peter Turchin will know this by Ibn Khaldun's term "asabiya.") True, they're not as strong as they were in the '70s or '80s, but neither is anyone else -- and those other groups are even more faded or divided. Punks, post-punks, goths, country, electronic, pop, mainstream, you name it. While there are short cycles up and down, this group-mindedness really rises and falls on the order of centuries -- maybe two or three for a complete cycle up and down again.
It comes together when one group finds itself on what Turchin calls a "meta-ethnic frontier" -- where the people on the other side might as well come from a different planet culturally. This intensifies the Us vs. Them distinction, and often makes you band together lest you be overrun by Them. Ground zero for the heavy metal scene in the U.S. was southern California, but that was before illegal immigrants flooded in, so I don't think it's so much a white vs. other racial frontier. It's more internal to white people. Part of it is class, since classes are close to ethnic groups in America, but that's not the whole story. After all, country and western fans are working class, but most of them haven't conserved a fairly coherent way of life over the past generation or two; they blend in with the mainstream. They probably couldn't name more than a couple Hank Williams songs, don't know who Kitty Wells is, and wouldn't recognize the face of mega-babe Emmylou Harris.
The culture associated with country music is also too self-pitying to galvanize a large mass of people into conquering the faction-riven mainstream culture. It's also contaminated by appropriation by the elites, where they pretend to like country and folk and even bluegrass music, as part of their affectation to care about the honest working man. You could find some music by Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, or Tom Waits in an elite person's collection -- but never any metal from '75 or so onward.
Metal has never won any elite praise, so it's been safe from being diluted that way. Again this rejection by just about every other subculture heightens the Us vs. Them distinction, giving them a greater sense of solidarity. Plus the music tries to work the listener up into feeling like they're a macho soldier in the advancing metal army. If they had their own country, we would call such songs patriotic. Here are just two by Judas Priest: "United" and "Take On The World". You don't hear such rallying cries among any other group, except the religious traditionalists.
Returning to the differences with country, the latter is lyric poetry set to music, whereas metal tends to shun the personal and focus more on third-person narration, often aiming for the epic. There's one big exception to that, which is the power ballads, probably the most well known being those by Scorpions and then later those by glam metal bands. Really, though, this combination is no different from the speech of Marlowe's Tamburlaine -- mostly virile, bombastic, and epic, but occasionally intensely emotional when talking to his main love. He was another leader of a people whose high solidarity was forged along the frontiers of civilization, whose squabbling and dainty elites they later conquered.
Of course, that took a long time, but the same could eventually happen with some mix of metalheads and religious traditionalists. If we're looking into the next 100 or so years, I'd actually give metalheads a distinct advantage in one area that may make the difference -- they're not infected with political correctness and they don't put faith in social science to design society for the better. Those seem to be the two main diseases eating away at Western civilization from inside, mostly in indirect ways. America overall is fairly religious, so the religious traditionalists don't face a strong meta-ethnic frontier, unless they're Amish, Mormon, etc., but these groups are not as large as the group that's sympathetic or drawn to metal. But who knows what their population sizes will be in 100 or 200 years. Too bad we won't be there to see them getting along, or not. Perhaps the conquest of the existing mainstream culture will be lead by Mormon metalheads.