This thought may seem a bit dated, but that’s only because it’s a meaty topic and it had to simmer for a bit longer in my head. And I’ll admit it still needs some more mental-incubation but nonetheless I wanted to bring out and toss it out on the LE operating table-along with the situation that caused it-and see what happens.
In March I reviewed Megadeth for Ink19 and before the show I responded in a very interesting way to the stereotypical dress code of metal fans, a response that made me think about how we categorize music sub-genres; and what kind of impact acting on the unquestioned beliefs of those sub-genres has on the pure freedom to enjoy the live show of your choice.
On any given day I am wearing the standard cotton t-shirt (usually a band or a Cubs-related one) and jeans. And for this Megadeth concert, for no particular reason, I was wearing a gray t-shirt that has a silkscreen design of a library with a purple dog (sort of like Clifford the big red dog but purple and still cool enough to wear- in most situations,that is).
Well, while on my way to the venue I saw a small herd of loyal Megadeth fans sporting the stereotypical all black heavy metal style garb, complete with 1988 Megadeth tour t-shirt, a wallet chain, a mullet and tattoos.
I then looked down at my t-shirt and turned to my wife and said, “Do you think I’ll get beat up if I wear this shirt to the concert?” Knowing exactly what I was talking about, she said, “Yeah, you better put on a sweatshirt or something.” A sweat shirt? I didn’t have one and even if I did I wasn’t going to wear it into the venue where I knew it was going to be a sweat bath if I took her advice. So I ducked in between two cars, took of my shirt and turned it inside out and slipped it back on, making sure to rip off the size tag on the collar.
With the silkscreen purple dog sticking to my chest now, we headed to the venue and walked in. Then, as I surveyed the crowd, I thought about how silly it was that I had to actually turn my shirt inside out to be able to enjoy the show with out worry about getting beat up or looking like a rejected fashion outcast. Why did I do such a thing?
Then as I looked around at the crowd, at the sea of black shirts and mostly black jeans, I thought about how varied the crowds are at the various shows I attend, and that only in this situation was I so concerned about whether what I was wearing fit the sub-genre.
I then surmised that I’m likely not alone. And that the fear of rejection I felt prior to the concert (that made me take of my shirt and turn it inside out!) is probably a common feeling felt by fans who to side-step this fear by remaining closet genre fans and don’t go to certain concerts because of the fear of going against the stereotypes of a particular music sub-culture genre, afraid of standing out or looking dumb and feeling rejected because of the absence of (in my case) a black t-shirt and dangling wallet chain, and in some cases, a vintage mullet and tattoos. And in reality you can insert any sub-genre into this story and come out with the same unfortunate result.
Yes, organizing and classifying things into categories is usually done with good intentions but sometimes a good intention-like categorizing and labeling-can become a nasty vice that can cause more harm than good.
And I know that music fans these days have several “favorites” and rarely does a fan just go to one type of concert. So I then began to wonder how often fans who enjoy many musical genres succumb to these dress code social pressures and force themselves to wear the “right” clothes when going to a show within a particular sub-genre or subculture that is different from their normal dress code or style?
And ever since that show, I’ve asked myself; am I the only one who does this, or are there Megadeth fans who like the music but don’t go to concerts because they don’t want to dress like the stereotypical metal fan does or be around that particular subculture?
I then looked outside of music culture to see if there were other areas where this happens.
It’s a fact that outside of concert culture, we all play dress-up in other areas of our lives and force ourselves to rightfully obey different social dress code structures all the time; work clothes for work, dress clothes for nice occasions, etc., And usually, we do it because of the fear of being rejected or making someone else feel uncomfortable.
But does the live music experience suffer when we take this social code to an unnecessary extreme? Why do we expect others to wear a certain type of clothing to to a rock show when they might rather wear something else that’s outside of the that particular music-subculture? I thought rock n roll was supposed to be the one sub-culture that gives the proverbial middle finger to conformity and social structures like dress codes?
Not when you look at it’s track record. Even a cursory cruise through music history (and its various subcultures)will show that rock n roll sub-culture is one of the worst when it comes to encouraging and proliferating pretension and self-defeating conformity among its various sub-cultures and sub-genres. Pick a sub-genre, any sub-genre. Examples are plenty.
So in the wake of this Megadeth show, a whole flood of difficult questions came flooding out, questions that I still struggle to answer with each passing live show:
How true is it that fans actually trade in a great time at a live concert of their favorite (or closet/guilty pleasure) band because of this fear of being rejected by a particular sub-genre?
Are fans really happy with missing out on a live show because their caving in to this unnecessary fear of rejection?
Are there other reasons besides the fear of rejection that keep “closet” music fans from enjoying a live show?
And, as genre-conditioned music fans, do we encourage this pretension by not challenging the sub-culture stereotyping, simply because it’s easier to just slap a label or dress code law on music sub-genre and let it go unchallenged because we do that same thing so easily in our minds in other areas of our lives?
The quick and easy answer for now anyway is that, in hindsight, I should have kept my shirt the way I had it and went to the show as is; with my purple library promoting dog riding high on my chest and risked getting a wallet chain to the back of my neck. Next time I will, no matter how hard it may be.
But what about you?
I’d like to hear your story. (I hope you didn’t have to turn your shirt inside out in order to enjoy the show like I did. but if you did, that’s okay, I won’t tell.)