Small business founded by well-meaning folk with a relatable desire to make some money? Or insipid, vacuous cynicism? It’s time we talked about the ‘Metealhead Box’ and what it means for culture. More specifically, the tiny pocket of Youtubers that make Unboxing Videos:
If you’re desperate enough to browse through some of these unboxing videos, you’ll see that it’s been going on a few years now. Some just open the box and describe the items they find in the box. The chap above explains that he somehow fucked this up on the first take, so the upload you just witnessed is a redo. He then goes on to call out some people have been annoyed at the box, apparently because it didn’t contain stuff they wanted. So he’s good enough to point out that if you want specific things, then take steps to acquire specific things. Setting aside these epoch defining leaps of logic however, let’s address this regrettable phenomena.
As a sentient biped, brief respites from the relentlessly futile scream that is existence are necessary. One way to silence the void is to order a box of mystery goodies online. It gets sent to you each month by companies like ‘Metalhead Box’. They try and cover a broad range of metal genres and different kinds of merchandise for the happy customer to spoon feed into their anus (allegedly).
Once the thrill is over, and you’ve played the albums, worn the shirts, sown on your patches, and stowed the signed postcard of *insert desperate has-been* in your hope chest besides the lock of Chuck Schuldiner’s hair, you can enjoy uploading your video of the unboxing onto Youtube. Watch as the comments float in, discuss the merits of branded water bottles and themed scented candles; the black chasm at life’s core is silenced for a fleeting moment. Perhaps the night will beckon the solace that only a restful sleep can provide.
I’ve been thinking for a while about these good natured shitmunchers. As they hold up another pin badge to the camera, I remain fixated on their cold, lifeless eyes, the sagging mouth explaining that they just received a pin badge, and that they will attach the pin badge to their jacket. I wonder if these faces that barely comprehend the reality that greets them every morning are a new lifeform, specially adapted to thrive in late-capitalism, or if they’re just my own reality reflected back at me in all its hollow glory.
No one needs another rant about how counter cultures are inevitably reabsorbed into the womb of consumerism; there’s nothing new to add there. Nor is it worth analysing metal’s particular susceptibility to this, given its pervasive magpie mentality of collecting merch, physical media, the symbology of the ages. Whether we’re noble curators of our own cultural heritage or well-meaning keepers of future landfill; history will condemn or condone us in good time.
Or is this about the much maligned ‘poser’. Like the hipster, we’ve all been called this word, and we’ve all called someone else this word. But ‘poser’ graduated from damning indictment to meme fodder long ago. Including this in the list of charges against the Metalhead Box seems a little limp. Kids on Youtube unpack box of merch, make offhand comments about the merch, merch then adorns kid’s room and clothing…what else is new? This shit goes on at any gig or festival in microcosm (the fact that these things no longer exist makes the Metalhead Box an even more important line of defence against the void in Rona times).
But that’s the real problem with the Metalhead Box…it’s so blatant. It strips the ritual of all fat. The hunt, the browsing, the bartering, the discussion, the alleyways and deadends we’re led down, and the eventual acquisition of treasure. All this forms an undeniably important thread in the tapestry of underground metal whether online or in the real world. The Metalhead Box, with surgical precision, slices away these happy tangents on our quest, and pumps a supply of merch directly into our veins. It even chucks in some things you don’t really want or would never have considered buying to simulate the joyfully brutal randomness of real life.
This is your culture. This is what you dedicated millions of words to, what you spent your free time doing, what you bled for, sweated for, cried for, this is your identity outside of whatever labour you’ve managed to monetise during the day. This is your culture, your history, your community, your reason for getting out of bed in the morning, duly processed and homogenised, packaged into a small cardboard box, neutered of all jeopardy, spontaneity, or thrill; order online to enjoy in the comfort of your living room.
It makes us wonder what existed before the box. Was it this all along? Every gig, every new album, every unwashed journey home from the festival, every beer shared and every local band formed, was it all just a little box filled with pin badges and novelty water bottles all along? Is there any difference between me and these ghostly faces on Youtube mindlessly pawing at these objects as they’re shoved through their front door, and the pondlife that watch their video documentation of the event?
This is of course hyperbole with a view to indulging my penchant for verbal masturbation. But there’s something to the idea that the Metalhead Box is symptomatic of a wider trend in underground cultures. Not a break with the past so much as a perversion of it. The non-musical aspects of subculture have their merits and flaws like anything. Community, shared experience, exchanges of ideas, like minded people congregating to nourish the soul and the intellect, and celebrate ambitious forms of art. Imagery and symbology have a key role to play in this. The fact that this so readily translates into vapid consumerism is nothing new. What is new is the nakedness of these displays. Whether temporary aberration or troubling sign of the times, the instant gratification of online shopping, and the transitory attitude to the artform this encourages are being embraced ever more readily by unwitting shitmunchers with disposable income.