cw: gun violence

(I’m not really sure where this post is going, but I think I need to write it for my own processing. This is not a finished set of thoughts, but as it may never be, here it is as it has first come out. I don’t know. The news has been hard for me lately, I feel strangely very young and very old all at once.)

A fact perhaps few people know about me is that, on average, I listen to at least one song a day by Marilyn Manson. It’s not any one song in particular, although I do have my favorites, but his catalog of music is one I have found myself turning to frequently for years. He’s one of the few artists I consistently feel the desire to listen to, even through the circus music phases, the bubblegum pop phases, the almost-exclusively Kanye phases. There’s a little fangirl part of me that secretly hopes that, while I’m in Los Angeles for the winter, I’ll run into him at some late-night bar, and we can talk for a long time about our shared love of Macbeth. 

In 1999, I certainly knew who Marilyn Manson was–I watched a lot of MTV back then–but I still mostly listened to this one Tom Petty record I had swiped from my mom, or tried to learn all the words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. When the Columbine shooting happened, I was eleven and a half years old. But even then, when the rhetoric turned to blaming Marilyn Manson, or Rammstein, or violent video games, it didn’t quite make sense to me. I liked horror movies, I watched a lot of them as child, in which people would do horrible, violent things, and I didn’t want to harm anyone. Did that mean there was something wrong with me? Did people think I wanted to harm them? 

A few years later, as an angsty high school goth, my friends and I were made fun of for having “school shooter” aesthetics. As if wearing a lot of black were how you could tell someone wanted to do harm. As if by analyzing what someone liked, you could find the reassurance of patterns in what feels like utter chaos in the face of violence. 

Now, it seems, instead of laying the blame at the feet of Marilyn Manson, we lay it before mental illness, or religious or political extremism. 

I’m not a particularly religious person–if pressed, I might identify as an atheist, or a witch, depending on the day–but as a person who has been living with mental illness since a young age, there’s that feeling again. I have a mental illness, and I don’t want to harm anyone. Do people think I want to harm them? 

When people are afraid of you, when you share the signifiers of something they think is a threat to them, sometimes they feel like can enact violence upon you with impunity, even with righteousness. You see this, sure, in kids hassling each other for fashion choices, but you also see this in hate crimes, in the treatment of refugees, in the passing of oppressive legislation. This, itself, scares the hell out of me. 

If you search the term “toxic masculinity”, many of the articles that come up are about mass shootings. One of its features is, as phrased here, “the denial of men’s emotional pain.”

Some of that pain is, I think, fear that gets tamped down and tamped down, until it compresses into violence. Sometimes it’s loneliness, or sexual desires, so twisted by our social training that they become entitlement, repression, rage. When we grow up in a misogynist world, we are taught to hate and fear the things within ourselves that we think of as feminine. 

When I think about this, it makes perfect sense to me that, all that time ago, a whole sixteen years past, a collective finger was pointed at Marilyn Manson. Not because the Columbine shooters were fans–they weren’t–but because Marilyn Manson performs a full horrorshow of masculinity. His femininity, the makeup, the glitter, the infamous prosthetics of the Mechanical Animals cover, all trigger fears of androgyny, of the feminine oozing its way out of the male form, of an acknowledgement that gender is a goddamn lie, or a game, or a weapon, or a garment to be put on and discarded. His songs tell us stories of homes disintegrating under the pressure of mediocre conformity, of the toxic worship of celebrities, gods, or guns, of children beating each other with metal lunch boxes on the playground. The romantic relationships of Manson’s songs are frequently a slurry of drug-addled or emotionless sex, self-abasement, misogyny, reckless BDSM, a sense of fated disaster.

There’s a lyric from “They Said Hell’s Not Hot” that I may have been mishearing for years, because the internet swears it’s “hurt” and my copy of the CD booklet has been lost in some move or another, but it always struck me as an encapsulation of this feeling I sometimes get listening to his music. A certain kind of isolation, a sense of what it might be like to be a man too locked up inside himself to actually process and communicate his fears and desires to another person, or to look at a woman and see her for whomever she really is, rather than whatever symbol she’s been built up to represent.

It was never about her, it was about the hearse.