Are White Men Suffering From A Lack Of Fred Durst?

Are White Men Suffering From A Lack Of Fred Durst?
File:13-06-07 RaR LB Fred Durst 09.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Back in September, Jeremy Boreing, an aptly named Daily Wire Backstage host, had a big sad about how there was no rock and roll anymore because of how Barack Obama came on the scene and announced that white male angst was banned forever. This came as a surprise to those of us who lived through the Trump era, as well as to those of us aware that rock and roll was invented by a black woman, or who are capable of Googling. He felt pretty importantly about it. Still, not the kind of thing you'd expect anyone to take seriously.

And yet.

This weekend, Politico ran a think piece suggesting that perhaps the rise of "softboy" pop stars like Harry Styles, who wear more androgynous or traditionally feminine clothing and are not stereotypically macho, has somehow "fueled the culture wars," leaving angry white heterosexual men without a pop culture home and therefore ... extra angry and more prone to Trumpiness?

Via Politico:

Case in point: in 2019, researchers from Florida State University combined elections data with information on concert ticket sales from VividSeats. Some of their findings were unsurprising, like country dominating the South, or Latin music reigning supreme in the southwest and Florida. But some were more revealing. The researchers discovered that Obama-to-Trump swing voters — the former President Trump's "forgotten men" (and yes, mostly men) who remade the electoral landscape — were not exactly shelling out for premium seats to see BTS or Drake. They overwhelmingly preferred the kind of rock and alternative music that went out of fashion in mainstream culture around the time George W. Bush began his second term.

That is not surprising. Heterosexual men were not lining up in droves to see the Backstreet Boys either. I also cannot say that I have ever heard a BTS song, on account of how I am not a teenager.

Which makes that mainstream, dominated as it is by the Styles-ian pushing of gender boundaries, more overtly progressive-coded almost by default. While Styles and his fellow softboys earn the magazine covers and sponsorship deals, the space for traditional masculinity in mainstream culture narrows. Music's post-grunge holdovers and metal acts still do a brisk business—but it's mostly adjacent the limelight, at the exurban, FM-sponsored parking-lot SummerFests of the world.

Oh yeah, because grunge was so very committed to stereotypical masculinity.

Whose job is it to create a space for traditional masculinity? Really. Why is this not a them problem? Music, art in general, is one of the most small "d" democratic things on earth, more now than ever before. We have free access to practically any song we'd ever want to listen to. Anyone can create, and especially now, people can put what they create out to the masses and see if it takes. There are opportunities that never existed before and people who are quite literally famous for casually lip synching to other people's songs on TikTok and Instagram.

The bar is even lower for MAGA types, as today's Trump Republicans will pretty much put anyone on their main stages at their conferences, as long as they can play a song about how much they love Trump and also the flag.

But apparently it's not enough unless they're also on "TRL"?

The rise of the softboy might have been easier for some American men to digest if it were contained to one corner of pop culture, but they've mounted a stunningly complete takeover. Two decades ago, Styles' boy-band predecessors sat comfortably, if not somewhat jarringly, on the Billboard Hot 100 next to testosterone-fueled, post-grunge superstars like Puddle of Mudd or Staind. Sometimes that led to surreal collisions, like the feud between California nu-metalers Korn and MTV's "Total Request Live," or the tawdry gossip-bait of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst's alleged tryst with Britney Spears. But mostly, pop culture just sort of embraced them all as icons: At the end of the day Durst and the Backstreet Boys were both on the cover of RollingStone; now, the former part of that equation has largely disappeared.

Ah yes, those heady, wonderful days when literally all of of the popular music was a nightmare and shants were an acceptable thing for men to leave the house wearing. For what it is worth, I do not recall voting for fascism because Carson Daly never gave props to Neutral Milk Hotel. Or maybe he did, I don't know, because I didn't even watch that show.

That more aggressive side of pop culture has always been an outlet for a certain kind of male disaffection, and its icons at the turn of the millennium offered a way to channel it into nonpolitical catharsis, available for just $19.99 in the music aisle at your local Borders. When you could vent your pent-up frustrations about your relationships, your job, your general lot in life, by banging your head — and, crucially, by seeing those frustrations validated in mass culture — it might not seem so urgent to do it at the ballot box.

This would be a great point if we were not, you know, talking about the Bush years. Those were some pretty bad years, and it doesn't seem as though music soothed the savage Republican. In fact, they went off the deep end, started a war, sent all their daughters to purity balls, loaded up on DVDs of "Girls Gone Wild," and then relitigated the Scopes Monkey Trial in schools across America. Also, again, all that music was terrible.

Finally, I would like to point something out: Literally no one is preventing anyone from playing or listening to "rock and roll." Despite what Daily Wire guy claims, Barack Obama did not in fact ban that or white male angst. As much as people like to complain about cancel culture, no one has banned anything, people are still free to make or do whatever they want, and they are free to like whatever they want. They just don't have the right to expect everyone else to go along with them in thinking it's good. Frankly, that is a weird thing to want to begin with. It's babyish.

The right's issue isn't "not having an outlet," and it's not even "Oh no, the people making music are not macho enough" — which, let's just be clear, people have been whining about for a long time. It's that they are not being centered in the culture in the way they would like to be, without having to actually produce any culture themselves. That's a level of fragility I cannot even begin to comprehend.

Well, boo-hoo. Maybe they should go write an angsty song about it.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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