Race and Global Subcultures: Materiality, Style, and Metal Fans in Botswana

A Botswana metal fan performs (image Frank Marshall)

A Botswana metal fan performs (image Frank Marshall)

Some observers suggest that mass culture has homogenized once-clear lines of difference, with the marketplace reducing difference to a rich range of pre-manufactured “resistant” styles.  Yet South African photographer Frank Marshall’s work on metal subcultures in Botswana provides an exceptionally compelling statement on the aesthetics of race, empire, and mass culture.  Marshall’s images of African metal fans illuminate the question of precisely what constitutes difference in a 21st-century consumer culture:  a stock of universal commodities and popular symbols circulate through a global marketplace, somewhat counter-intuitively producing social formations like the utterly multicultural and international metal subculture that includes Botswana’s metal fans.

Sharing the universal subcultural greeting (image Frank Marshall)

Sharing the universal subcultural greeting (image Frank Marshall)

Metal is clearly a multicultural fandom, and in some ways it is much like many other seemingly isolated subcultural collectives that are now global social formations.  Metal fandom reaches into nearly every corner of the globe and is reflected in fan communities everywhere in the world (cf. Keith Kahn-Harris’ 2009 bibliography on metal scholarship).  Nevertheless, metal fandom is routinely stereotyped as the province of the likes of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, straight White men who are shallow, provincial, and perhaps xenophobic.  Consequently, Frank Marshall’s Botswana metal fans striking a Judas Priest pose deal our own xenophobia a blow.  We live in a historical moment in which subcultural distinction is often reduced to shows of style accessible to any shopper at the mall, and we accept that “identity” is an enormously fluid entity.  Yet the Botswana metal fans force us to examine how race persistently shapes our gaze along and across lines of difference.

The Botswana metal style embraces leather from head to toe (image Frank Marshall).

The Botswana metal style embraces leather from head to toe (image Frank Marshall).

In many ways the Marshall images reflect routine subcultural theatricality as the Botswana subjects perform metal materiality.  The Botswana metal fans strike a variety of strong poses while clad in especially intimidating garb:  black cowboy hats, a cascade of studded leather jeans and jackets, belts crafted from bullets, and a variety of chains, boots, and black band t-shirts adorn Marshall’s subjects.  Their reproduction of metal materiality rings familiar even as it is distinctive in stylistic features like the cowboy hats and bullet shell belts, and certainly a rigorous ethnography would unravel the social factors shaping such style.  Yet it may be that very theatrical appropriation of recognizable subcultural codes across the color line that seizes the gaze of many audiences.

A bullet shell belt adorns this metal fan (image Frank Marshall).

A bullet shell belt adorns this metal fan (image Frank Marshall).

The Botswana images may reflect what Dick Hebdige divined in 1970’s British youth cultures, which he argued were “the dialogue between black and white most subtly and comprehensively recorded, albeit it in code.”  Hebdige suggested that working-class British youth cultures (e.g., reggae) provide “a phantom history of race relations since the War,” tracing unacknowledged connections across lines of difference.  The embrace of Iron Maiden in Botswana invokes familiar subcultural sentiments—powerlessness, indignation, subversion—and compels us to examine the caricatures to which metal fans in our midst have been reduced.  Global fandoms and post-subcultures are complex social formations that do not fit facile definitions of a clearly defined social group antagonistic to an orthodox mainstream.  Instead, the Botswana metal fans are part of an increasingly diverse global mass culture.


Gerd Bayer (editor)

2009 Heavy Metal Music in Britain.  Ashgate Publishing Group, Abingdon, Oxon.

Rupa Huq

2006 Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth and Identity in a Postcolonial World.  Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon.

Keith Kahn-Harris

2006 Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge.  Berg, Oxford.

Jennifer Milioto Matsue

2009 Making Music in Japan’s Underground: The Tokyo Hardcore Scene.  Routledge, New York.

Natalie J. Purcell

2003 Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture.  McFarland and Company, Jefferson, North Carolina.

Marina Terkourafi (editor)

2010 The Languages of Global Hip Hop.  Continuum Books, New York.

Michael E. Urban with Andreĭ Evdokimov

2004 Russia Gets the Blues: Music, Culture, and Community in Unsettled Times.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

Jeremy Wallach, Harris M. Berger, and Paul D. Greene (editors)

2011 Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World.  Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.

Robert Walser

1993 Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music.  Middletown, Connecticut.

Deena Weinstein

2011 The Globalization of Metal.  In Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World, eds Jeremy Wallach, Harris M. Berger, and Paul D. Greene, pp.34-59  Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.


All images from Frank Marshall Renegades 

Posted on January 2, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this post! I’m currently preparing a presentation on Botswana’s metal scene for an upcoming conference, and the majority of material out there simply posts photos with very little commentary.

  1. Pingback: Metal in Botswana: Part Three – Other Issues, Recommendations, and Sources | billmcgrathmusic

  2. Pingback: Metal Fans in Botswana | Mortal Equality

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