As a white male its not often I face negative discrimination but there are certain prejudices that can affect people of any race, religion, gender or sexuality. Prejudices that discriminate against specific subcultures and their forms of expression.
Yesterday I saw this advert for Virgin Trains that perpetuated all kinds of negativity towards heavy metal.
Whilst thankfully it is not a regular occurrence, I have experienced various incidents of people judging me based the various subcultures I consider myself part of, particularly when I am openly expressing my involvement in that culture. As a football fan if I go to a match wearing team colours people often assume I am a hooligan (despite the fact that real football hooligans actually frown on displaying team colours) pubs will refuse service and even the police will treat you like a suspected criminal. Once when I was 14 walking home from a match I had a police baton rammed into my ribs by an officer demanding to know where I was from. Apparently wearing a Chester City FC shirt in Chester was not enough evidence to him to suggest I was from Chester (Its not like Chester are a big enough team to have glory supporters around the country). I get similar treatment as a heavy metal fan. Recently on a route to a gig on a packed train wearing a band t-shirt and a jacket covered in various metal bands patches I noticed I was being given much more room than usual. I a large beardy guy with several visible tattoos which some people may judge me for but never to the degree of giving up valuable space on a busy train. Yet the addition of heavy metal attire seemed to be enough for people to judge me as somebody to be avoided. I will admit it was actually quite nice to have some breathing room on a rush hour train but it did make me question why do these attitudes still persist over 30 years after Dee Sniders fantastic speech defending heavy metal to the US Senate? A speech in which he showed a person can be deeply embedded into heavy metal culture and still speak with intelligence and eloquence regardless of the clothes he wears or the music he listens to.
I don’t expect everyone to start listening to metal overnight (or ever), we all have our own tastes in music and fashion and some of us chose to identify ourselves by that more strongly than others. What I find hard to believe is, that given the actual popularity of metal and alternative music, that a major national company like Virgin Rail still sees it as acceptable to risk alienating its fans. As I write this over 100,000 people are gathering for in a field in Castle Donington for the UKs second biggest music festival (second only to Glastonbury), Download Festival, a festival dedicated to metal and alternative music genres which also serves as a celebration of the culture and traditions that surround those genres. Virgin Rail likening heavy metal to stress, disorganisation, shabbiness and unemployability and openly portraying a character who chooses their described “metal” option as a “wrong’un” and being at “rock bottom” is not only an incredibly narrow minded attitude, it is also factually inaccurate and incredibly short sighed given how many potential customers they are alienating. Given the current negativity towards rail operators in the UK surely they should be on a charm offensive to win over as many customers as they possibly can rather than stigmatise a genre that makes up almost a quarter of UK music streaming and has by far the most loyal fans of any music genre.
Virgin Rail are not the only company guilty of this perpetualising of outdated, inaccurate, and negative stereotypes of alternate subcultures but this particular advert is one of the most recent and blatant examples of mainstream culture stigmatising a form of expression that does not fit with what they chose to portray as “normal”. By broadcasting attitudes like this on national media it emboldens more damaging attitudes to alternative culture. I am not saying atrocities like the murder of Sophie Lancaster or the fact that punks, goths and metalheads require protection under hate crime legislation are a direct result of companies like Virgin Rail pandering to negative stereotypes of alternative subculture but they are not bloody helping either. Yes, this is an extreme example of where these ridiculous attitudes can lead but I could write for day exploring how negative attitudes to alternative subcultures can impact peoples every day lives (I am confident I could complete another dissertation just from the tattoo acceptance in the workplace debate alone). Yes many of the ways we chose to express our links to our chosen subcultures are entirely optional but if that is how we feel comfortable and we are not harming anyone then we should not be pre-judged or stigmatised for that
I accept that this form of prejudice pales in comparison to the racism, sexism, homophobia and countless other forms of bigotry that continue to plague our society but it does raise some very worrying questions such as – If mainstream society cannot even be accepting of a specific type of music what hope does any minority group have?
Oh and for the record, if anybody from Virgin Rail should ever read this – when I have used your trains in the past I have usually been listening to metal as its the only thing that makes your terrible service bearable. After seeing this excretion of an advert I will in future try to avoid Virgin trains whenever possible but should I find myself forced to suffer a Virgin Rail journey in the future I shall be blasting something like this into my headphones the whole time and enjoying every damned note of it: