Scene Sciences #1: Victimhood Culture in the Hardcore Scene – ‘Oversensitive Snowflakes’?!

In today’s post, I am going to explain the concept of victimhood culture coined by Campbell and Manning and apply it to the hardcore scene. Afterwards, I will tell you what I think about this concept and how I think it can be useful and harmful at the same time.

Before we get into this, I would like to remark that this post will only be somewhat academical. I came across this concept at university. When I first tried to find out more about it for a presentation, I realised that most publications on this topic seem to be based on a conservative school of thinkers who are generally seem to be more likely to be critical of victimhood culture, as you will see later on. Therefore, I would like to emphasise that my criticism of the concept is based on my personal opinions and my experiences in the hardcore scene. Consequently, my criticism will be based on the theory itself and my logical thinking, so take it with a grain of salt.

Nowadays, society seems to be divided in two sides with an ‘us against them’ mentality as in this picture taken from John Hain on Pixabay

The Way to Victimhood Culture

Campbell et al. think that the moral systems of western societies went through a development consisting of several stages (Campbell et al. 12). According to them, victimhood culture marks a new stage in this development. I will briefly touch on the preceding stages of societies’ ‘moral evolution’.

The first stage in this development are cultures of honour, in which one’s idea of honour forces them to respond to offenses with violence: ‘members of honor societies are often expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them’ (Campbell et al. 12). According to Cooney, whom they cite, in an honour culture you are expected to defend your honour. If you fail to do so, it is interpreted as your moral failing and you lose face (Campbell et al. 12). Therefore, people in a society in which this moral system is prevalent, are willing to use violence to avenge offenses because otherwise they would be shunned for not defending themselves. Examples of such cultures include conservative Arabic states, street gangs in western societies and states without or with lacking legal authority (Campbell et al. 12).

The next stage of development according to Campbell et al. are cultures of dignity.

Campbell et al. cite Berger et al. who claim that cultures of dignity are the ‘exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others’ (Campbell et al. 14). You do not have to prove your honour, since others cannot take it away from you. On the contrary, according to Campbell et al., you are taught to shrug insults off without retaliation. If offenses provoke consequences, the police is responsible for resolving the conflict. With the rise of legal systems, dignity cultures replaced cultures of honour in the west for the biggest part (Campbell et al. 15).

This finally leads us to victimhood culture.

What is Victimhood Culture?

Campbell thinks that society is developing to another level of its moral development, which he labels as ‘victimhood culture’. Instead of taking abuse without retaliation as it would be done in a culture of dignity, victims of discrimination reach out for help and oppose discrimination (Campbell et al. 16). In this respect, it is similar to honour culture because you do not accept the discrimination or abuse. However, the way in which you respond to it differs from cultures of honour, since you do not use violence as retaliation against offenses (Campbell et al. 16). In conclusion, victimhood culture is a label to describe a new development of moral culture that differs from honour and dignity culture, since it encourages victims of abuse (racism, sexism etc.) to ask for help. Instead of taking the abuse, you fight back by seeking support of officials so to say. In short, everything that reacts and takes position against discrimination and marks discriminatory behaviour as such could be considered victimhood culture.

Campbell mainly uses examples from university campuses when referring to this concept. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements could be considered broader examples of victimhood culture. Instead of accepting discrimination and oppression, people spread awareness about these issues and try to ensure that there are legal consequences for rape and hatecrimes.

How does this apply to the Hardcore Scene?

Campbell and Manning criticise cancel culture in their work. I do not agree with all of their points but some of them perfectly describe the issues in the scene. Cancel culture describes the concept of stopping the support for public figures or brands because of controversial statements. You cancel them (Dictionary).

Victimhood culture applies to the hardcore scene because it overlaps with the values of the scene: you do not take the abuse but retaliate and shun it. This makes sense because why would you tolerate intolerance and why should you just ignore bigotry? However, this can develop into a one-sided and extreme direction and potentially into a culture of shunning. I feel like the scene has already reached this point, at least to some extent.

The hardcore scene is highly political and since its beginnings it has had some key values. It is against racism and discrimination in general and supposedly tolerant. That is, in the perception of many members of that scene. Normally, intolerance and discrimination are not tolerated in that scene. However, many people seem to be rather intolerant themselves and fail to realise this. Additionally, a subculture with a certain set of ideas can easily turn into an echo chamber, in which you are only exposed to people with a similar mindset and similar opinions, especially if that subculture has some preset values like the hardcore scene. These are a few examples showcasing that tendency of intolerance:

Veganism and Straight Edge as Dividing Lines

when you're a vegan and haven't told anyone in 8 minutes #FUNNY ...
This is a cliché

There is a tendency of intolerance towards straight edge kids (people who chose not to do drugs) and based on that, said people may become less tolerant of people who do not live according to this lifestyle.  This is quite similar to complaints by non-vegans about vegans. There are ‘two sides’ with opposing opinions radicalising each other. People on either side experience offenses by the some people of the opposing side and therefore, they develop an antipathy towards people of the opposing mindset. Because of this, people new to these two normally positive mindsets, straight edge and veganism, may refrain from giving these lifestyles a shot, since people may have given them a bad representation due to the aforementioned conflicts. This is an example of victimhood culture and it illustrates how people who take action and stand up for something (in the case of veganism for the rights of non-human animals) may ironically create an aversion of others towards the values that they want to promote by no longer accepting opposing opinions. However, both parties in this conflict are responsible. Vegans are often insulted and when they respond, people try to cancel them, which in turn may lead them to cancel non-vegans as a response. This cycle repeats and people on both sides become less tolerant of each other and of opposing opinions in general. In this case, both sides, vegans and non-vegans attempt to cancel each other and in doing so, the dialogue between them becomes increasingly harsh. The same applies to straight edge and its opponents. This does not concern the entirety of the scene but there are plenty of people who are intolerant.

Lack of Diversity while advocating for Diversity

As stated earlier, people in the scene view themselves as open and tolerant, which would suggest that it is a great place for diversity. However, it is not diverse at all. It consists mostly of hetero cis males. Bands with female or queer vocalists let alone, entirely female bands, are still exceptions. Some bands are even criticised solely because they address topics related to their identity that deviate from the heteronormative status quo in the scene.

For instance, the feminist hardcore band Sharptooth, which is female fronted, is criticised under their music videos and interviews on YouTube to a ridiculous extent just because they promote feminism. The people who do so are not representative of the scene because they are most likely also the ones who claim that “hardcore is not political” and that “politics should stay out of music” but it still proves that there are intolerant tendencies, especially when it comes to more established labels in the mainstream of the scene, in this case Pure Noise Records.

Some of the comments under their videos are just ludicrous

I think this illustrates the problems of modern discourse: Everyone has their own views and is no longer willing to accept differing opinions. The harsh feedback under music videos by Sharptooth could be interpreted as an expression of the aforementioned problem. The band merely promotes positive values but there is a massive backlash because some people just are not willing to question their own views and therefore, they try to discredit the band because they do not share their opinions. In this case, this manifests in sexist slurs under the band’s videos. This is a response to victimhood culture probably in form of conservatives who do not want to have their world views challenged by progressive people.

A Scene of Posers? Where are the Political Statements?

Picture taken from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

The main point I want to address regarding victimhood culture and intolerance in the scene is the creation of echo chambers and social bubbles. Nowadays, there are barely substantial statements at shows. In the scene, it is not uncommon to address political issues between songs and promote some positive values. However, oftentimes people resort to the same statements over and over. Among these would be statements that can be cut down to: “racism is bad” or “fuck the police”.

This is bad for several reasons: first, it does not have any substance. It should be an established fact that racism, anti-semitism, sexism and bigotry in general are bad. Most people present at a show will most likely know this already. By emphasising these obvious things over and over again, people strip statements of their value and create an echo chamber. They mobilise not only against these mindsets but also against people who do not share their opinion and whom they consider to be intolerant based on this. Additionally, this mobilisation through undifferentiated statements often feels forced and seems to happen for the sake of presenting oneself in a certain light. These statements will not change anything. By using statements as a means to create an image for yourself, you do not contribute to a positive change. Additionally, a bubble of like-minded people develops and there is no real conversation. Ironically, addressing these issues then, does not promote but hinder the dialogue about them, unless it is done in a way that provides new nuances to the discussion and actually leads people to discuss these topics.

However, this does not mean that bigotry should be tolerated. We have to take a stand and be wary of the way we tackle these issues to make sure that we approach them appropriately.

Because of the aforementioned aspects, I feel like the hardcore scene leans towards a cancel culture, in which you do not accept differing opinions and cancel “your enemies” (people who do not share your political views or opinions). This is reminiscent of Campbell et al.’s main concern with victimhood culture, namely that it may turn into a culture of shunning in which a dialogue between people with contrasting views becomes impossible because neither side accepts the opposing side’s points.

Based on my personal experience, I can say that there are definitely some people in the scene who indulge in cancel culture and who are no longer interested in a dialogue with people that do not share their opinion and that is a massive problem, since this mentality might contribute to the success of populists.

Victimhood Culture vs. Right Wing Populism

All over the world, right wing populists are rising to power and they appeal to people who feel let down by the establishment. Right wing populists appeal to these sentiments and create narratives, in which they depict outside groups, for instance refugees, as enemies who are responsible for this perceived bad status quo. That way, people who feel let down by the government feel understood and they can project the responsibility for their situation onto someone else. That sucks but this wrong depiction of reality does not change the fact that these people often have real problems and feel left behind for a reason. If we just cancel them and do not let them speak their (admittedly oftentimes ill-informed opinions), we just affirm these people in their mindset. In their perception, they will only feel like victims whose real problems are not considered by the rest of society and therefore, they will vote for people like Trump or Bolsonaro.  

The facial expression is really on point. Trump would probably approve of the halo. Picture by gfk DSGN on Pixabay

Similarly, in a public setting, there is a tendency for populist parties to play the role of a victim because other parties and the media ‘cancel them’. This is particularly frustrating because populists actually tend to be the ones offending others. If we just cancel them, that will put them in a position in which they can keep on playing the role of a victim. So not only in a private setting but also on a bigger scale, in societal discourse, we have to find a way to take position against right wing populists’ strategies that does not allow them to play the role of a victim who is “cancelled” by the rest of society. We need to be more aware of how we tackle these issues because otherwise, bigots will keep playing the role of victims.

Criticism

There are several aspects about this concept that I think are questionable. Nonetheless, I think that we can learn a lot from this. Again, I have to stress that these are my opinions.

Overall, people seem to be really critical of the negative consequences of victimhood culture, mainly in form of cancel culture, but the sources seem to be rather one sided because most of them seem to lean into the same direction, which seems to be a conservative one.

I find it questionable to expect people to take abuse and not respond to it because that would imply that discrimination is okay and that is not the case. Therefore, victimhood culture in form of non-violent retaliation and within the confines of law should a legitimate way of responding to discrimination. Discrimination has real consequences and it can ruin lives so you cannot expect people to just shrug it off. Plus, you cannot equate people who try to defend themselves against discrimination with radical leftists and the radical right wing. (Yes, Campbell does so implicitly (Campbell et al. 242)).

An interesting aspect touched by Campbell is the way that “free speech” can be used as an excuse for hate speech. He remarks that ‘The attacks on speech emanating from campus victimhood culture might increasingly be met with counterattacks from ideological enemies rather than defenders of free speech. Here again, opposition leads to imitation’ (Campbell et al. 242). If people criticise others for hate speech, the latter may claim that their right of free speech is disrespected and use this as an excuse to launch attacks on their ideological opponents under the pretense of ‘defending free speech’.

Campbell et al.’s approach to victimhood culture can be helpful to improve our strategies to counter right wing populism. If we resort to cancel culture and just shut down all opinions that do not match ours, we will just affirm voters of populist parties in their mindset. Therefore, we have to be more aware of how we respond to their claims and we have to make sure that they cannot play the role of a victim while they are actually the offenders. Democracy is based on discourse, so we have to maintain it, which we cannot do by just cancelling contrasting views. The following quote illustrates this:

‘Victimhood culture may triumph at colleges and universities while dignity culture withers away everywhere. The only opponents of victimhood in the larger society may end up being right-wingers who eschew dignity and are just as thin skinned and intolerant as the campus left’ (Cambell et al. 242).

The quote above illustrates exactly what we need to prevent from happening. People of especially the far right may assume the roles of defendants of free speech while they are actually just intolerant. Other than advocates of victimhood culture, who cover a smaller portion of society, right wingers and conservatives can appeal to a larger portion of society, as we can see everywhere in the world at the moment. Because of this, the two fronts in this ideological conflict could turn into both extremes, which would prevent any real dialogue because neither side would be really open to dialogue with the opposing side.

As a result, both sides could continue to brutalise public dialogue as populists have done already. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that someone like Trump would become the president and that politicians may say things he says, so that just proves how right-wing politicians have brutalised the dialogue. I’m going to ignore that Campbell equates left and right in this context because I think that is a different topic that would require much more time to go into. Nonetheless, I think that we have to make sure that we do not contribute to this process by just cancelling opinions that we do not agree with. I think we have to deconstruct them instead and prevent bigots from playing victims. Accordingly, we have to be more aware of our use of language and the way we respond to right-wing populist ideology. Otherwise we will contribute to their success.

Conclusion

  • victimhood culture is a label used to describe how people react to discrimination by seeking the help of others
  • in an environment with many like-minded people, like the hardcore scene, it could potentially develop into a one-sided cancel culture, in which you do not accept opposing opinions
  • right wing populists and bigots can profit from this, because they will be able to play the role of the victim who is cancelled by the rest of society
  • that can encourage their voters to keep voting for them because it affirms them in their mindset, i.e.: ‘we are the victims and outcasts of society and all these evil people cancel us, so let’s vote for the populists who understand us and promise to improve our situation with easy solutions’
  • we must not cancel people with opposing opinions but find a new way to respond to them or they will resort to playing the victim role
  • we have to stand up to intolerance and bigotry but in a way that prevents the aforementioned things and does not contribute to their success
  • we need prevention to make sure people do not become bigots
  • we have to prevent populists from using the fears of voters

That was my position on victimhood culture in the hardcore scene. As always, it comes down to being empathetic. We have to make sure that we do not affirm people who fall victim to right wing populists’ propaganda in their way of thinking. Instead, we have to try to make them understand that these parties and candidates just use their fears in order to come to power. As you can see with the corona crisis at hand, right wing populists like Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson do not have any substantial answers for problems. However, if we just cancel their supporters, they will not turn into progressive people and instead it will probably just push them further into the arms of the aforementioned populists.

Standing up to discrimination and oppression does not mean that someone is extra or a snowflake. Noone should have to accept sexism, racism and bigotry in general. Apart from that, bigots tend to get triggered fairly easily so they should not play the victim card or claim that progressive people are snowflakes. If you seriously use the word snowflake, maybe ask yourself what you would do you were in the position of a supposed snowflake. I do not think you would be pleased if you were discriminated against.
This post was only somewhat academical so if you are interested in this topic, you may take this as an incentive to start learning more about it and to form your own opinion. Hochschild’s publication Strangers in their own Land. Anger and Mourning on the American Right provides an interesting approach to the mindset of people who vote for populist parties and candidates, in this case Trump. She portrays their perception of society like a queue with people of minorities cutting the line and marching past these voters. It is really interesting and helps to understand what voters of populists may feel like and thus, what we need to consider when responding to their claims, so I strongly recommend it if you are interested in this topic. You will find the citation in my sources below.

As a bonus, here is a song by Enter Shikari, which summarises the current discourse and the issues of right wing populism nicely.

‘Nuance ain’t nothing but a nuisance. You’re either good or you are evil. You play a prick and there’s no sequel. And that’s the will of the people’. All of these statements reflect how populists portray the world in an overly simplistic way.

As always, thanks for reading.

-sovlpvnk

Sources:

Campbell, Bradley; Manning, Jason. The Rise of Victimhood Culture. Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the new Culture Wars. London, Palgrave macmillan, 2018.

Dictionary: “cancel culture.” In: Dictionary.com, URL: https://www.dictionary.com/e/pop-culture/cancel-culture/ [01.05.2020].

Enter Shikari. “{ The Dreamer’s Hotel } (Official Video).” Nothing is True & everything is possible, Silva Screen Records Limited, 2020.

Hochschild, Arlie Russel. Strangers in their own Land. Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York, The New Press, 2016.

Sharptooth. “Rude Awakening.” Clever Girl, Pure Noise Records, 2017.

Next on sovlpvnk: Ace-Rep #1: An Ace Alphabet: What is Asexuality?

https://sovlpvnk.com/2020/05/17/ace-rep0-an-ace-101-what-is-asexuality/

Published by sovlpvnk

This is my personal blog about culture and sustainability. It is mainly concerned with topics that I'm interested in, mostly the alternative music scene and its ethics as well as LGBTQIA+ -related topics and veganism. I post my content in English and German.

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