Really interesting thoughts about how history repeats itself. I’ve thought of this before: people aren’t more terrible now…we’re just confronted with them more often via this thing called the internet.
“Anti-disco” sentiment was powerful enough to pack 50,000 people into Comiskey Park, to get them riled up enough to storm the field and start tearing it up, and to force police to be called and force the White Sox to forfeit the second game in their doubleheader. “Anti-disco” was a powerful enough force to make the White Sox think blowing up a box of disco records was a winning idea for a promotion in the first place, as much as they ended up regretting it.
How the hell did that happen? How on God’s green Earth could not liking a kind of music raise emotion to such a fever pitch? How could anyone think that their dislike of the Bee Gees made anything about Disco Demolition Night acceptable? Were people just that messed up in 1979?
Well, you might ask the same question about how YouTube videos criticizing sexist video games could be important enough to threaten a school shooting.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter has heard more than enough about the “#GamerGate phenomenon.” I know I have. I’m not rehashing the story here—there are better sources for that. I’ve said my piece about angry video game fans’ endless abuse of people in games journalism and the games industry elsewhere.
I’m just interested in how history repeats itself.
What exactly made so many people—let’s not be coy here, so many young white men—hate disco so much? An aversion to a steady dance backbeat? A dislike of orchestral instrumentation? What?
Did it really have nothing to do with the fact that disco was popularized as “black” music? (Rock music was originally “black” music too, of course, but in a post-Elvis era it sure didn’t look that way, Jimi Hendrix aside. And Hendrix was nine years dead in 1979.)
Did it have nothing to do with the embrace of disco by the gay community? Was it a coincidence that whenever anyone wanted to make disco artists the butt of a nasty joke their go-to example was The Village People and “YMCA”?
Did it have nothing to do with the fact that disco icons were frequently black women like Gloria Gaynor and Diana Ross, who sang anthems of empowerment like “I Will Survive” and “I’m Coming Out” and seemed like the polar opposite of the aggressively macho white frontmen rock fans idolized?
I’m not scared of desperately uncool cultural reactionaries like Jack Thompson or anti-witchcraft Harry Potter burners. I’m scared of the people who do hold cultural power, who have the loud voice, who are, in fact, the cool kids, but think they’re embattled underdogs. I’m scared of the people who think that because disco was “taking over music” they had the right to “fight back” bullying and attacking disco performers and fans.
I’m scared of people who look at someone like Zoe Quinn, an individual who makes free indie games, or Anita Sarkeesian, an individual who makes free YouTube videos, and honestly think that these women are a powerful “corrupt” force taking away the freedom of the vast mob of angry young male gamers and the billion-dollar industry that endlessly caters to them, and that working to shut them up and drive them out somehow constitutes justice. The dominant demographic voice in some given fandom or scene feeling attacked by an influx of new, different fans and rallying the troops against “oppression” in reaction is not at all unique. It happens everywhere, all the time.
But let’s be honest: It’s usually guys doing it. Our various “culture wars” tend to boil down to one specific culture war, the one about men wanting to feel like Real Men and lashing out at the women who won’t let them. Whenever men feel like masculinity is under attack, men get dangerous. Because that’s exactly what masculinity teaches you to do, what masculinity is about. Defending yourself with disproportionate force against any loss of power? That’s what masculinity is.
And the myriad permutations this takes when it percolates down to the level of pop culture are fascinating.