Sunday, 25 November 2018

Five Finger Death Punch and the Machismo of Submission

For the past couple months I've been working on a follow-up to my album rankings of 2017 and one of the bands that is going to feature on that list is (spoiler alert) Five Finger Death Punch. I have really disliked Five Finger Death Punch since I first checked them out - they tend to have a few good songs per album but most of their music is utter trash. The main issue is their lyrics, which are usually toxically masculine, raging at the whole world, threatening to beat everyone up, swearing constantly, and which throw in casual misogyny and homophobia for good measure. For a band that is clearly aiming to be badass, their incessant whining makes them look like a bunch of children and this has turned me off of all but a handful of their songs.

For this year's album rankings though I decided to look into Five Finger Death Punch a little bit closer though to see if my impression of the band was accurate. For the most part, yes I was pretty spot on. Most distressingly, the band's nasty, misogynistic lyrics spill over into real life; lead singer Ivan Moody (seriously, that's his actual last name) has been in legal trouble on at least two occasions for assault against women, in part due to alcoholism which he has apparently been trying to get a handle on. One thing you kind of have to give the band some credit on though is their unequivocal support of the military and police. The level to which this support goes might be questionable, but the respect that they show to the actual individuals is admirable and has likely contributed to the growth in their popularity.


Most of the band doesn't seem to be openly political, with the major exception being guitarist Zoltan Bathory who has, err, opinions on Donald Trump, gun control and communism. He seems like a really odd character all on his own. In addition to Five Finger Death Punch, he claims to be a civilian combat instructor for the US military, although I feel like I need to add that I've seen comments from multiple soldiers while researching him who said that they had never heard of him and that they were skeptical of his claims. Considering that the article cited on his Wikipedia page which is meant to back up this claim also has Bathory claiming that the band has been shot at while performing for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait, I'm also somewhat skeptical (I certainly don't doubt that he's a skilled martial artist, but "one of the few civilians certified by the US Army as an L1 Modern Army Combatives Instructor – Close Quarter Combat"? Sorry Zoltan, I need a bit more proof than your word).

Zoltan also apparently writes for a magazine called Skillset. Skillset's website states quite boldly that it's all about "redefining the alpha lifestyle", with features that "[spotlight] men and women with undeniable talents and abilities. We are VETERAN OWNED AND OPERATED and changing the face of 'men's interest' magazines on newsstands." The magazine boasts that it does so through articles on "rock stars, athletes, car builders and gun culture" and is plastered with ridiculously over-the-top images of men pointing guns at the camera. Basically it's a douchey, redneck version of Playboy. Not all that surprising that a member of Five Finger Death Punch would be drawn to such a publication, although it sounds less like they're "redefining" the alpha lifestyle than they are simply reinforcing traditional American machismo, although perhaps with some consideration that women can be badass too.

Finding out that Zoltan writes for Skillset really helped to crystalize my disparate feelings about Five Finger Death Punch, because I feel like it really is a great, unintentional illustration of the band's philosophy. One could say that Skillset is all about people who are apparently better than the rest of us because they take control, the ways they present themselves, etc. Similarly, Five Finger Death Punch's music is all about aggressive posturing, the constant threats about kicking peoples' asses are meant to make them seem like badasses even though they end up making them seem like whiny, overcompensating pansies. This is just so obvious on songs like "Burn MF" where they unironically claim that the weight of the world is on their shoulders and then in the next verse rage that people fake that the world is on their shoulders. I'm not the only one who notices this either; in a review of their most recent album Michael Hann writes that Ivan Moody "reflects on his troubled past couple of years [...] with a level of self-pity that wouldn’t disgrace a child who’d been bought Pro Evo instead of Fifa for Christmas: 'Everybody seems like they’re waiting for me to die / Talk shit behind my back, can’t look me in the eye.' When, on 'It Doesn’t Matter', he hollers 'You’re so self-righteous, and you’re never going to change,' you want to inquire if Mr Pot and Mr Kettle have made each other’s acquaintance." It's like they see the world in a hierarchical way, where their troubles are more legitimate than those of the people beneath them, in a manner not dissimilar to incels with their self-perception of being "inferior" beta males who are literally unloveable and worthless.

Is anyone surprised that Five Finger Death Punch fans are this pleasant? (Source)

This hierarchy also ties into the band's support of the military and Zoltan's support of Donald Trump. The way Five Finger Death Punch sees the military is not dissimilar from the manner many American nationalist/patriots are raised to - men who are braver and better than the rest of society and deserving of unquestioning respect. You can see this idealization pretty clearly in some of their songs, such as "Death Before Dishonour", where they claim that everyone's living a fake life except for the soldiers who die with their dignity. There's a common trope amongst conservative types that soldiers are basically always right, from atheist professor variations, to God's Not Dead 2 making a point of having the evil atheists kick a marine off the jury, to the portrayals of soldiers as morally and intellectually infallible in American Sniper and (especially) 13 Hours.

Soldiers obviously do deserve respect - they are serving their people and are often away from their families as a result of that, not to mention the inherent risk involved in the job. However, the level of lionization is just plain ridiculous sometimes and they even get used as a symbolic cudgel to beat down any sort of opposition to nationalism. Considering that no one in Five Finger Death Punch has actually served in the military, it's a little bit odd that they fetishize them as much as they do. The band even goes so far as to collect dog tags from their fans to display behind them at concerts, almost as if they're trying to gain that legitimacy through association. When you consider that, for conservative types, "the military is romanticized and portrayed as an institution of national pride [which] focuses on the prestige associated with enlisting in the Marines and serving one’s country", it's really not that surprising that you can have a band that punches down in their music and submits to authority because they fall in line when someone more powerful than them comes along.

There's certainly nothing wrong with cultivating a military following with your music. Ivan Moody has a story he tells about a soldier who died in Iraq while listening to one of their songs, which is undeniably moving. Other bands, such as Disturbed, have written music with the expressed intent of encouraging the troops. I just find it really interesting that Five Finger Death Punch can rage uncontrolled at the whole world and posture like they're ultimate badasses, but then make so much of a show about being submissive to authority. It seems to run counter to their message until you understand their ethos a little better.

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