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Heavy metal as vanguard of culture

Heavy metal as vanguard of culture
November 22, 2013, 08:19:41 PM
 In 1999, Jarl Ahlkvist presented a unique multi-week exercise for using music in the sociology classroom, he had students take the entire musical genre and explain it as a cultural phenomenon.

In lieu of the textbook, Ahlkvist combined articles, monographs, and reader sections and used these readings to serve as guides for engaging in cultural analysis.  After taking about two class periods to lecture on basic concepts, sociological imagination, and symbolic interactionism, students began the cultural analysis of heavy metal music.  In an early in-class assignment, students learned to examine the multiple dimensions of any cultural product by moving beyond musical and lyrical analysis and looking at the visual dimensions of heavy metal music.  Students were split into small groups and asked to examine the visual imagery found on album covers and select common symbols.

Ahlkvist’s next objective was to illustrate the ways in which people and objects are rooted in specific social contexts.  Through lecture on the history of the genre and playing segments from various popular songs, Ahlkvist brought out key themes in various subgenres of heavy metal. Students were asked to use the internet to find material about specific heavy metal bands, lyrics, and subgenres and incorporate their findings in both class discussion and a short paper.

Students were also required to create an “ideal type” heavy metal fan using the data they collected from the internet as well as lecture material and earlier projects.  After creating this “ideal type” students had to explain why their profile was ideal.  Ahlkvist stated, “Once they see the correspondence between their ‘ideal-type’ heavy metal fan and the music as a cultural object, students realize that culture is like a tool kit, a resource from which people choose the ‘tools for living’ that help them make sense of their social experience” (Ahlkvist 1999:131).