I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about this topic as it was sparked by Gene Simmons’ latest stunt to trademark the devil horn gesture, as I feel my response somehow dignifies his actions. At the same time I feel his actions, intentional or not, are something of a reflection of the current state of music. We saw this with the burning of millions of dollars worth of punk memorabilia with much of the same response from me. The publicity stunts provoke some thoughts as whether we’re placing our value in the right aspects of music.
While the case of the punk memorabilia was mostly about the commercialization of a counter culture that ironically stands against such ideas metal has veered more towards one of the other issues, namely with social stratification. Where in punk there’s need to be more punk than everyone else in metal there’s a need to be more metal than others. The ordinary metalhead manifests this with various elitism, but it ultimately boils down to being the first one to do it. Whether it’s the first to become a Children of Bodom fan or the first to hate Dragonforce being a “true” metalhead is about setting the trend or being part of the right trend. These comments aren’t new and can be found in any culture.
So what does this have to do with trademarking the devil horn gesture? One of the toughest things about art is making it relevant. When the art can’t be relevant I’ve noticed an artist will try to be relevant in other ways. The best ways to do this are through shock value or appealing to nostalgia. Gene Simmons is notorious for trying to be “the first” of things, and in this aspect tries to appeal to nostalgia. I suspect in this way he wants to ensure his music was / is relevant. Trying to trademark something closely tied to a community not only appeals to the shock value aspect but also to the sense of nostalgia by trying to cement his place in metal history.
While Gene Simmons did withdraw his trademark application (like we knew he would) the implications will live on. I’d say it has damaged his career, but this stunt will be forgotten until the next one occurs. The stunts will keep happening as long as the focus will be more on the image of music and less about creating music that meaningfully contributes. How to determine what is meaningful to a community, however, is another matter.