A Comparison of Emotive Hardcore and the 19th Century Romantic Movement


Driving aimlessly, songs often illicit images in my mind as it and my car wander. Most recently I was struck by a song by Silverstein conjuring the image of one of my favorite oil paintings of the Romantic era, ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ by Goya. Not sure why ‘Bleed No More’ reminded me of that stark bit of canvas, and, turning a corner into a busy intersection of traffic, I most nearly forgot.

It was drawn to my attention again as I perused a forum dedicated to a group of young ‘cutters’ and their quest to end an addiction to the strange coping mechanism that this morbid 21st century bloodletting has become.

One young girl described looking over her scars and how even recalling what had moved her to begin the mutilation seemed to trigger another outbreak with the straight razor. Interestingly, she turned to no one who could actually help her in her real-life, but the internet (as an astounding number of cutters do) in turn intensifying the fact that she had faced the onset and recovery process of her addiction alone.

Spending time in front of the mirror, she described the look in her own eyes as she realized she alone had trapped her in this vicious circle of self loathing. The look in her own eyes made all of the difference. For the first time she could admit she was frightened, simply frightened, as that was the best way to label the look in her own eyes. Finally, after no person, bottle, blade, or blood spatter could frighten her… all it took was a look into her own eyes.

Again, a painting from the romantic era came to mind, one I have long forgotten the artist or title of. Years ago, as the Art instructor led us through the fall of the Renaissance and into the budding of the Romantic Era, the painting he put on the overhead was of a young man.

Pre Monet, Manet and Renoir… the passive solitude of Degas… art had been volatile. Post Rembrandt and Donatello, art became emotive. Landscapes were once again ‘allowed’ and those chosen displayed a reflective attitude. Man was portrayed contemplating the landscape, as opposed to simply existing within it.

The slide was of a man. Unkempt hair, wild in the biting wind sweeping up from the rocky ocean shore. All ice cold blue, black and grey, the only striking bit of the whole piece was the look in the subjects eyes. He seemed to be looking back at the viewer with an utter glaze of fear. A fear caught in the eye of the subject that had that air of a subconscious statement. ‘It is I that I fear” he seemed to be saying, “Not the ocean, not you, not the sharp rocks… it is I that I run away from now, I that I fear most” The look in his eyes was what I imagine this razor-wielding emo chick caught in her own reflection. Certainly effective, thought I. Scary as Hell, really.

Days passed and I found a few other parallels in the Romantic movement of 1825 to 1900.

The fall of the Renaissance philosophy, the looming of the British and American Industrial Revolution… this left a similar hole in the heart of the common man, such as the fall of Silicone Valley has left in the heart of modern common man. Artwork and suicidal tendencies aside, the music has very similar trends as well.

Memorable composers of the Romantic period are Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Chopin, Verdi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky… all highly recognizable whether you know their names or not. Some of the greatest program music ever composed. Used extensively in Music History, commercial advertising, background score… we have all heard it. All very highly emotive, as was Program music in the Romantic era, a move away from the dreary and uninformative minuet. It was a move away from the norm and deeper into the true natures of man and his emotions. The point, as in the visual art of the time was to capture the reactions, moods and melancholies of man, as opposed to the mere re-creating of the physical world.

Think of the hell Beethoven put Solieri Through. He only lied, cheated and stole his way through his career… Beethoven, the original punk rocker, wrote emo-core, went deaf, turned totally emo. Honestly.

“Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures; an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.”

– from ibiblio.org/wm/paint/glo/romanticism/

Music stopped attempting to re-create, for example, the sound of the babbling brook. Instead music moved to re-create the sound (if there was one) of the emotions and mood instilled by one who hears the babbling of a brook.

How emo? Very emo. The original emo.

“… the Romantics turned to the emotional directness of personal experience and to the boundlessness of individual imagination and aspiration. Increasingly independent of the declining system of aristocratic patronage, they saw themselves as free spirits expressing their own imaginative truths; several found admirers ready to hero-worship the artist as a genius or prophet.”

And further,

“… often taken to extremes of raptures, nostalgia (for childhood or the past), horror, melancholy, or sentimentality. … almost all showed a new interest in the irrational realms of dream and delirium or of folk superstition and legend.”

(Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).

Ideals reminding me consistently of the Emotive Hardcore movement today. Shelly, one of the more prominent writers of the Romantic movement writes what is parallel to, say, Atreyu lyrics today. Certainly ’emo kids’ would agree there is a large amount of worship attached to the style of artists of today as well as the lyrics. This is our 1888 oil painting come-to-life, the words of Byron and Shelly as shouted from rooftops. This is our shoving away of Blue Shirt Thursdays and not so glamorous coke infected and Bay Street fueled goals of two decades ago.

A mirror of how the romantic movement shoved away the pomp of micro managed government, powdered wigs and a near denial of mans very emotion. The ‘Roboticism’ that the looming Industrial Revolution suggested led man to a nearly destructive emotional upheaval. We had become nearly robotic in thinking, poetry art and music, and the machines and 40 hour work week soon threatened all that was human.

We seem to be buckling under that threat once again, embracing all that we can that is human in our tears, blood, joy, fear. Our screamo and emo is the obvious reaction to the cubicle and overbearing governmental institutions. This has happened once before, and sure the bulk of the population scoffed and wondered just what these romantic fools were doing. Wrapped up in reactions, moods, love, hate… the First Romantics cared little of the direction of the movement and less of the robotic reactions of society. The Western Romantic Era lasted 75 years and crested into the Depression then Common-sense-Better Homes and Gardens attitude of the 50’s… and on…

Surely this Emotive Hardcore movement has been with us since the middle of the Post-Punk scene of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The first mentions of the term stem from band interviews since 1985. The hair, speech, clothing and (lol) dance styles have been evolving since then as well, but only hardly changing… mainly growing in acceptance. This puts us nearly a third of the way through the current era, when compared to the Romantic movement of over 100 years ago.

The future for 1900’s romantic grew darker still in reality with the loss of certainty brought about by drought, war, disease and even the worst crash of the Stock Market. Music fueled by the great composers grew far more emotive in arrangement a la Pink Floyd, Phillip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma. Romantic Poets paved the way for the writing of Poe, Lovecraft and even to today with our modern Koja and Gibson. It is true that a darker element has entered our advertising and entertainment, and it will surely darken further decade by decade.

Simply put, we have been here before. Bad hair and great music. It will pass from Enlightenment to Revolution. This could be the shaky middle ground, yet it has only just begun.

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write by Godfrey