Ask A Musical Pathologist: Steel Panther and Genre Exceptionalism

steel-panther

Earlier this year, I brought Dr. Rebecca Mellor (no relation) on as part of the Bollocks! team to answer your questions regarding music and your mental health. Dr. Mellor is a well-established and respected musical pathologist and she’s helped me a lot over the last year and a half or so. Recently, we received the comment and accompanying video you can see here (update: I guess Universal Music Group posted the video to You Tube and doesn’t want it embedded here; if you click the video anyway, it’ll take you to You Tube and you can watch it in all its “butt metal” glory) about the band Steel Panther.Will asks us, “How much long term damage to my brain am I doing by listening to Steel Panther?” Well, Will, I ran your question and the video by Dr. Mellor, and she wrote the following response:

“Hello Will. Let me congratulate you on being the first submitter to the Bollocks! ‘Ask a Musical Pathologist’ page. Though I’m very busy with my normal work, I’m always happy to stop by and help my friend Chorpenning with his musical issues (or those of his 10 to 14 – on average – readers). It’s much easier to do this on a volunteer basis than it is to have him call or – much worse -barge into my house at three in the morning.

“In trying to determine how much long-term damage you’re doing to your brain by listening to Steel Panther, we must first determine both your reasons for listening to them and, in the case of the video for ‘Death to All but Metal’, the extent to which you agree with the sentiments expressed in the song.

“There is a certain amount of ironic enjoyment to be had from listening to bands like Steel Panther because, much like the fictional band Spinal Tap, they remind us how flagrantly silly and musically unbearable the 1980s were. Now, there are many high-functioning American adults who listen to the broad genre known as ‘Metal’ music, but Steel Panther quite clearly traffic in what some pejoratively refer to as ‘Hair Metal’ or ‘cock rock’ (my friend Mr. Chorpenning calls it ‘alcoholic stepdad music’ which tells you more about Chorpenning’s sordid past than it does about the music itself). This style is not the same as, say, the darker, more aggressive musical stylings of Mastodon or Disfear or even early Black Sabbath. ‘Hair Metal’ is more melodic (‘radio-friendly’ is a term that comes to mind, though it’s less applicable today than it was in the ‘Hair Metal’ heyday of the Reagan era) and the subject matter tends to be about one of two things: women (particularly their breasts) and/or how awesome metal is. All this is to suggest, Will, that rational human beings would not form strong attachments to the music of a Steel Panther when vastly superior forms of that kind of metal exist (Chorpenning will even grudgingly allow that the first Guns ‘n’ Roses record, Appetite for Destruction, is not only an iconic ‘Hair Metal’ album, but it actually contains some pretty good songs). Let me give you an analogy that might clear things up: some people believe that playing violent video games causes kids to become violent. People blame games like Grand Theft Auto for school shootings, often in a misguided attempt to blame somebody for a situation that is hard to comprehend on its own. In reality, video games can only inspire violent behavior in people who are already of unsound mind and have trouble distinguishing the real world from the video game world that allows them free reign to destabilize society to their heart’s content. Many of the most peaceful, nonviolent people I know play exceedingly violent video games and have no trouble functioning in society. So listening to Steel Panther, for someone who cannot recognize how clearly absurd their music is (that is,  someone of unsound mind – and, as perhaps the only articulate Guns ‘n’ Roses fan to respond to Chorpenning’s review of Chinese Democracy, Will, it is my professional opinion that you can count yourself of very sound mind indeed), could lead to long-term brain damage. But the upshot is, if you’re not brain-damaged to begin with, you can listen to Steel Panther as much as you’d like. After viewing their video for ‘Community Property,’ I was quickly able to ascertain that Steel Panther is not a band that takes itself too seriously. Therefore, we’d be doing them a disservice if we took them too seriously ourselves.

“I do have some concern, however, regarding the sentiments expressed in the video for ‘Death to All But Metal’. Any musical pathologist worth their salt must keep their mind open to the positive possibilities in any musical genre. There is even hope (though little evidence, in my opinion. And not to brag, but I am one of the most highly regarded musical pathologists in the United States, if not in the entire world) in the musical pathologist community that, one day, a ‘good’ emo song will appear and become the exception that proves the rule of that otherwise insipid genre. Steel Panther’s assertion (I’m paraphrasing here, so bear with me) that every non-metal genre is worthless, if treated as some sort of moral imperative, could cause severe damage to your psyche in the long run. Our minds like variety and truly healthy human beings allow their assumptions to be challenged. It’s easy to hate mainstream hip-hop (we in the musical pathology world have long treated President Obama’s off-the-cuff remark that Kanye West is a jackass as an objective medical fact), but mainstream hip-hop is not representative of all that hip-hop has to offer. As I write this, I have the new Brother Ali album playing on my stereo and it is very satisfying indeed. Again, though, this has to do with the state of the listener’s mind when they hear the song. If you’re a generally open-minded music fan, you can listen to ‘Death to All But Metal’ all day long without treating its main thesis as some kind of gospel. However, an already brain-damaged individual could hear this song and think that metal is the only decent genre of music.

“The belief that there is only one right genre of music and that all other genres are inferior and/or completely worthless is a disorder I call Genre Exceptionalism. It amounts to musical tunnel vision and stems directly from the same sort of utterly failed logic and probable insanity that led Adolf Hitler to articulate his theory of the Aryan ‘Master Race’. In effect, if you truly believe that one and only one genre of music is good and all others are bad, you are behaving like a musical Hitler. And no rational person would want that. Now, there are some interesting clues to me within the song ‘Death to All But Metal’; primarily, I’m fascinated by the musical performers that Steel Panther chose to call out by name. They list the Goo Goo Dolls, Blink-182, Papa Roach, Eminem, and Mariah Carey among the musicians who should die or, as I believe the singer points out, ‘can lick a sack.’ While explicitly decreeing death to all but metal, the band only really names some of the worst offenders in modern music. Your mental health will suffer much more from listening to Mariah Carey than it will from Steel Panther, regardless of the content. And, some in the musical pathology field even blame the rise of ‘pop-punk’ bands like Blink-182 for the death of Joe Strummer (I cannot entirely embrace this rather extreme theory, yet I cannot entirely dismiss it either).

“So at the end of the day, Will, Steel Panther is not the worst thing you can do for your musical mental health. It is far worse to close you mind to the wide variety of music available today than it is to listen to a hair metal band that clearly has fun doing what they’re doing and obviously does not take themselves very seriously.”

That’s the word from Dr. Mellor, Will. I think it’s pretty good advice. If anyone else out there has a question for the good doctor, you can email her at askdoctormellor@gmail.com

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