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Kurt Wilson / The New York Times

October 7, 2016

PEGAN | Views From the Mosh Pit Two: The Dabbler

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In her Sept. 14 piece “Views from The Edge of the Mosh Pit: Making Peace with Periphery,” Sun columnist Jael Goldfine ’17 approached the topic of moshing from the perspective of an observer, and ended up tackling a more general subject: what it’s like to be at a punk or hardcore show, and how the experience is different for everyone.  “I’ll leave the space of a column about moshing,” wrote Goldfine, “to someone/anyone who a.) semi-regularly inhabits mosh pits and b.) engages a perspective somewhere in the vast space between the belief that moshing is the salvation from the crippling boredom of the postmodern condition…and [the belief] that it’s a feminist nightmare …” I match these two criteria, and like Goldfine, believe moshing to be a subject fraught with multiple levels of socio-politics, and well worth writing a column about.

To call myself even a “semi-regular” inhabitant of mosh pits would perhaps be a stretch, but I’ve moshed a handful of times in my life, and as recently as last month at the Pig Destroyer concert at The Haunt. Of all of my moshing experience, however, the only one that was truly significant was my first at the age of 14: an all-day, body-ravaging bender at, of all things, a Christian music festival in New Jersey. This might sound ironic, but as some will remember, Christian Metalcore and Post-hardcore were having a heyday during this period (the turn of the decade).

The most vivid feeling I can recall from that first experience (offsetting the pain of an elbowed lip, and the full-body ache I woke up to the next morning) was an ecstatic sense of belonging, or more specifically, given the level of angst and isolation I was carrying around at the time, of finally belonging. This had partially to do with the music, and the people I went to the show with; but I knew then, and know now, that my sense of break-through had primarily to do with the moshing itself. In other words, I overcame the alienation I’d been carrying around for months that day, not by sharing the experience of the festival with my friends, but by jumping around in a circle packed with strangers.

This anecdote might call into question whether my view on moshing does not in fact align with what Goldfine describes as one the of the contemptible extremes, a view which, as she says, boils down to something like, “depressed kids don’t need Prozac, just a good, healthy mosh.” I assure you, however, that this is not the case. The break in my angst provided by my first moshing experience was transient. It only took me a few weeks to realize I wasn’t really a Christcore rocker, and it would take another few years, and movement through the peripheries of several other subcultures before I truly moved past my identity crisis. I don’t believe the social value of moshing transcends that of the subcultures with which it is associated, but I do believe it encapsulates it on a microsomal level.

Subcultures and mosh pits alike are not the solutions to the social angst out of which they arise, but they certainly provide a palliative relief and build a sense of community. Just as subcultures form when a certain number of people recognize a mutual interest or desire that clashes, in some way, with the sensibilities of mainstream culture, mosh pits form when a certain number of people recognize a mutual desire to defy notions of personal space and order that are at the heart of our very concept of society.

The value of subcultures and mosh pits both then, is their ability to provide a well-regulated, communal outlet for this sublimation. Anyone who has ever been in a mosh pit or at its edge has noticed how self-regulating they are. If someone falls down someone else helps them up, if someone finds a shoe or another lost item they hold it up for its owner to snatch, and if any moshers begin to encroach on the peripheries, they are forcefully pushed back into the pit. Subcultures too are a sort of socially acceptable way to explore what is socially unacceptable, or at least socially-weird. Certainly this held true for the subcultures I floated through as a teenager (mostly variations on Emo and Goth).

My ability to identify with various subcultures was critical to my development, but in the end it wasn’t the subcultures that allowed me to overcome my teenage alienation. This ultimately had more to do with facing tough realities and making tough decisions. In other words, it had to do with growing up. On one level, I even think that my subculture involvement was a way of pushing back maturation, but ultimately, I accept that it was the way I best knew how to deal with the needs I felt at the time.

I regard moshing in a similar way. Nowadays it’s something I feel comfortably occasionally partaking in, like someone who’s otherwise straight-edge accepting a hit off of a joint. I wouldn’t want to be one of the 30-plus year olds one occasionally sees in the pit, but I look back fondly on moshing at 14. Moshing feels like an escape, and sometimes, in life and at shows, the feeling is the only thing we’re looking for.

Matt Pegan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mpegan@cornellsun.com. In Love With the Modern World appears alternate Mondays this semester. 

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