Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Petoskey‘s Heavy Metal Professor: Sociology Students get a Scholarly Dose of Metallica

Eartha Melzer - April 24th, 2003
College instructor Craig Swanson recently completed a Master‘s
thesis/book entitled “The Heavy Side of Metal: Metallica‘s Counter-Hegemonic Trilogy.“
Swanson teaches Intro to Sociology, Contemperary Social Problems and
Deviant Behavior at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey. The Express caught up with Swanson, a Charlevoix native, to figure out why he chose to
dedicate years of his life to the study of heavy metal
and how he puts what he has learned to use in the classroom.

NE: How did you come to the idea of working with
Metallica as the subject for your master‘s thesis?
Swanson: I listened to Metallica -- it was my first intro
to heavy metal music. Metallica allowed me as an older
teenager to vent my rage and frustration in a
non-harmful way. I thought this would be something of
interest to a sociological inquiry, that the
phenomenon of channeling rage into a more productive
activity was worthy of study. I thought, yeah, I could
write about the messages that Metallica was putting
out in their lyrics and how the messages themselves
had the ability to transform rage into something that
could transform society itself.

NE: Can you tell me some about the course your
investigation took?
Swanson: I was going to do Metallica, Rage against the Machine,
Sepultura, Slayer and Pantera and even a band called
Fight. I quickly learned that the breadth of that was
way out of synch with reality. I knew I wanted to do
just the lyrics. I got resistance from faculty that
thought that focusing on the lyrics was not very
sociological. (There were) a lot of methodological problems
that shed some doubt as to the legitimacy of the
project. Once that was cleared up I was able to
It was enlightening because I had listened to the
lyrics a lot. When I researched what they were saying
I came to understand that these three albums (Ride the
Lightning, Master of Puppets and Justice for All)
really have a pretty coherent message there. It‘s not
just an amalgamation of songs that aren‘t related to
each other, they are thematically consistent with each

NE: Can you give me a little background on those
three albums, when they came out, where they fit in?
Swanson: The first album that Metallica did was called
Kill Them All, which I chose to leave off because
it wasn‘t very lyrically sophisticated. It was about
celebrating rock‘ roll and celebrating pleasure.
James Hatfield, the lead singer of Metallica, started
to watch CNN when CNN started around 1982. Believe it
or not, mainstream news. He started to get really
pissed off about the news he saw, world events
and the use of American military. The album they put
out, Ride the Lightning, in 1984, was a really harsh
critique of some of the things they were seeing. Ride
the Lightning is a direct allusion to the electric
chair. It is an exploration of human-on-human
violence. How it is we come to harm each other through
violent means. It is a very thorough investigation of
this and it‘s a sophisticated one.
The first album didn‘t have that much to say, but when they hit their
second album they became musically much more
sophisticated and lyrically that album was just
Then they moved on to Master of Puppets which is even
more sociological in nature. The album cover for Master
of Puppets has these godlike hands with strings from
them leading to a bunch of gravestones. They are
crosses, and it looks like Normandy. Just to further
make sure there was not any miscommunication, one of
the crosses has a dog tag hanging from it, so it was
clear at that point that it was a direct manipulation
of powerful forces was leading people to slaughter
people in mass quantities. The individual songs on
this album are just wonderful, they talk about spousal
abuse, talk about the military killing machine, they
talk about televangelists and how they manipulate
people. The breadth that they explore in that
manipulation and control is excellent, It‘s
sociologically excellent -- it‘s musically excellent.
It‘s one of my favorite albums.

NE: What year did that come out?
Swanson: That was in ‘86, Master of Puppets was ‘84 and
then in 1988 they came out with And Justice for All.
The subtitle to that chapter in my book is “Injustice
for All.“ In that album the criminal justice system
itself is put on trial in their lyrics and they talk
about how deviance and criminal behavior is defined by
a few powerful folks who use the criminal justice
system to control the population through violent means
by using the criminal justice system and jails and
cops and all that. It shows how money can create an
alternative justice system for the wealthy where
there‘s really no prosecution for people
who can buy off the court system.

NE: Where does Metallica fit in with the heavy
metal scene and history?
Swanson: Metallica is the most important heavy metal
band ever except for Black Sabbath, who started the
whole thing, and bands like Judas Priest that kept it
alive in the ‘70s. They brought a punk kind of an
attitude and sound to what bands like Judas Priest
were doing. They made it heavier, more intense, kicked
up the lyrical content. They took metal in a whole new
direction. Even Judas Priest -- who I really do respect
a lot -- didn‘t say a whole lot, they made some
critiques, they kind of yelled about some things, but
they didn‘t have a sustained criticism of society or
anything like that.
Metallica brought an awareness of
society and an awareness of injustice to music that
was expressed in a way that reflected the degree of
their rage. The people who made this music were
extremely pissed off at what they saw, they saw wars
that were killing people for no reason, they saw
massive starvation all over the world, they saw
religious stupidity all over the place.
Metallica put a certain level of discipline and
structure to heavy metal that wasn‘t there before. It
was not just a stupid generalized angst -- it was a
focused attack on the things that were causing the
things he (Hatfield) was angry about.

NE: I was in junior high in the ‘80s and I
remember seeing some kids in Metallica shirts and
thinking that they were sort of like, “stoner kids,“
and I didn‘t really imagine that they were involved in
a political critique and a movement that was organized
around heavy metal music. How much do you think the
Metallica message was consciously received by fans and
what was your experience of Metallica as a kid?
Swanson: I don‘t think that those people you saw in
Metallica shirts really knew a whole lot. I think
either Beavis or Butthead wears a Metallica shirt,
which says something. I asked Dina Weinstein about
this. She wrote a book called Heavy Metal and is one
of the foremost experts on the subject. I asked her
why it seemed most people didn‘t have awareness of
Metallica‘s message. What she said to me is that your
friends aren‘t interpreting these lyrics differently --
they simply aren‘t interpreting. Most of the people
just listen to the music and pick up a few key
messages here or there. Most of the people who listen
to Metallica, sadly, are not really internalizing or
analyzing the content of those lyrics.
Most of the people just have a general idea of the
attitude of the music. That is one of the reasons I
wrote the thesis. Metallica are amplified sociologists
and they are not given any credit for that. I wanted
to educate the academic sphere as to this band that is
writing this wild stuff they‘d never listen to and I
also wanted to cross-educate Metallica fans that had
been listening to it but never really knew what it
said. I had a dual purpose.
I didn‘t get into Metallica until I was 17. When I saw
Metallica shirts in the early ‘80s, I was an idiot -- I
had no idea whatsoever.

NE: Can you give me an example a passage from a
Metallica song that you think casual listeners might
not have caught but is important somehow?
Swanson: Sure. In the album And Justice for All, there
is a song called “Eye Of The Beholder‚“ which is
the central focus of that album in a
critique of who exactly it is that defines what normal
and abnormal is. How it is that some people can have
an opinion about normality and criminality and then
impose that opinion on entire societies?
There‘s a lyric that goes, “You can do it your own way if it‘s
done just how I say.“ In American society we have the
message that we have a free society and people are
free to make their own mistakes that even if they
think in a way you don‘t agree with, they can still
think that way. But the song puts the idea forth that
you can think whatever you want, you can even do
whatever you want, as long as it‘s done within the
parameters given to you. As long as it‘s done within
the framework of what is acceptable in our society,
what a small group of old white rich men say is okay,
other than that you will be punished. Freedom is an
illusion in our country.
People hear that line and they think, ‘yeah right!“
They think of parents or of a teacher saying that but
they don‘t think of the broader implications for the
entire society.

NE: You are teaching sociology now at NCMC, how
has your study of Metallica and heavy metal music
informed your teaching style?
Swanson: I use Metallica and other bands like Sepultura
in my class. I rely on Pink Floyd a lot and even Rage
Against the Machine. I‘ll bring in my ghetto
blaster/portable radio and play them a song and have
the lyrics in front of them. A lot of people hear
songs all the time but don‘t pay attention to the
lyrics. Every time I have a first class I play “Imagine“
by John Lennon and have people actually look at the
lyrics, because what the lyrics say is ‘imagine another
world,‘ and that is what sociology is all about.
I teach to the idea that C. Wright Mills brought out
called the sociological imagination. He talks about
how it takes a certain leap of mind to understand the
connection between society and the individual. There
is an interplay between the biography of individuals
and the history around that individual in society. And
the song “Imagine“ by Lennon really ties in nicely with
that. I am able to use music and lyrics to bring in
people to sociology. Music has an emotional component
to it that just dialog doesn‘t. When you can use that
to turn on somebody‘s mind to alternative
possibilities then you are opening their mind to
different ways of thought, different interpretations
of things. Then they can start to learn sociology.

NE: Have you heard the ads for extreme learning at
NCMC? Do you think that your classes and this style of
teaching is part of what is being referred to there?
Swanson: When I first heard about the ads I thought they
must be talking about me. But I learned from the
administration that, no, it wasn‘t really me they were
talking about but rather the innovative work/study
programs. I do like to think that because they are
advertising extreme learning, that gives me more of a
mandate to teach extreme things.

NE: Do you think parents are going to be able to
understand and get along better with their heavy metal
listening offspring as a result of these
explorations? Have you experienced any practical
Swanson: I have a lot of friends with kids that are
teenagers and because they trust me and know that I am
not violent or harmful when I tell them that Metallica
and other heavy metal bands have a positive message
rather than a destructive message I have eased some
minds that way.
But for the most part Metallica really does represent
a radical restructuring of culture and society and
that by itself is threatening. In that way the more
conservative parents still won‘t be happy with the
message Metallica is putting out because it is
counter-cultural in a way. It is talking about peace
and justice in terms of violence.
American culture isso keyed up on violence. Any child that doesn‘t
embrace violence is considered homosexual. People just
aren‘t respected or trusted if they aren‘t acting in
some kind of violent way. Especially around here in
Northern Michigan it seems to be to the norm to be
overtly violent especially if you are a male --
hunting, fishing, beating up friends.
I don‘t know if parents can take a whole lot of
comfort in the real message that Metallica is saying
unless they happen to be enlightened
folks, unless they can understand that Metallica is
really pushing for a reduction in harm reduction and
an increase in justice as opposed to just wanting to
create chaos, that is not the case at all.

NE: Have you looked into hip hop?
Swanson: I know that there is definitely a split in hip
hop just like there is in metal. Most metal doesn‘t
pass muster in terms of lyrical content; a lot of it
is a celebration of machismo and violence and I
understand parents‘ trepidation with that stuff and
rap or hip hop has the same thing.
There is a clear demarcation between those who are celebrating violence
and those who are merely reporting the reality of a
situation. And the hip hop that is just a sincere
reflection of life as it is in the streets of America,
that‘s hip hop that I really dig because it‘s sending
out a message of reality. It‘s violent stuff,
sometimes brutally violent, but that‘s what life is
like where they are, and for parents and others to
criticize that is really just telling them to shut up
about it, just deal with what you got and don‘t tell
us, we don‘t want to know.
So I think that hip hop is extremely important -- almost more so than metal because
it has got a more urgent message because it is coming
from a racial group that is more overtly oppressed
than the white poor people that Metallica represents.

NE: Can you recap your thesis?
Swanson: The subtitle of my thesis is The Heavy Side of
Metal: Metallica‘s Counter-Hegemonic Trilogy. Hegemony
means the control of the public through force,
through the criminal justice system or through war, and
through their own consent. Our whole nation is really
duped into accepting the control that‘s put over them
to the point where they are not even aware that they
are being manipulated and controlled.
Metallica is putting out a message that is attempting to awaken
people to what I call their “hegemonic fog.“ This haze
is created by the media that puts nonsense into our
heads, things that make no difference at all like
celebrity gossip and manufactured crises around the
world that take our attention off the cause of the
trouble in the world. There is trouble all over the
world and you can find that most of it starts right
here in the United States. Americans are uniquely
situated to be able do something about the world‘s
trouble at the source and it‘s hegemony that keeps
people from knowing anything about that. So
Mettalica‘s message is counter-hegemonic in that it is
trying to raise awareness,to create an image,
Metallica serves like a sun that is trying to burn off
all that hegemonic fog that people are living in.

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