The Politics of the Mosh Pit, and Other News


On the Shelf

The mosh pit at Endfest, in Washington, D.C., 1991.


  • The mosh pit is a great place to reach a state of pure being. It’s also a great place to break your glasses, your jaw, or your spirit. The pit has been construed alternately as a punk utopia and a Hobbesian state of nature. As the nation immerses itself in a debate about what constitutes a safe space, the politics of moshing—with its questions about who gets to have fun, and at whose expense—make it an ideal bellwether. As Hannah Ewens writes, newer punk bands tend to see the pit as an oppression: “In hardcore and metal scenes, a lively mosh pit is still the real indicator of a successful show. But rock has been changing over the past couple of years—notably by listening to women within its factions. Punk has long claimed to be about community while, at the same time, managing to marginalize minorities. Yet the scene does now seem to be actually changing. DIY punk groups such as PWR BTTM, Diet Cig, and Adult Mom have introduced safe spaces at their shows—and mosh pits have often been the first casualties … The bands bringing in these changes most enthusiastically tend to be those with female and LGBT members. The biggest defenders of mosh pits are usually straight men. Most women I know who go to shows are either agnostic or hate them. Yet, the majority of rock bands want mosh pits to stay … Emotional responses are demonized and feared in modern culture. To the outside world, a mosh pit looks like the nonsensical activity of a Neanderthal—which it is. It appeals to base instincts; a positive thing, surely, in a modern culture where gigs are Snapchatted and documented, and wrapped in self-awareness that takes audiences away from experiences.”
  • Good news for people who love tall red boots: they’re about to be everywhere. If the latest runway shows are accurate, no fewer than four dozen fashion labels will include red boots—I mean red red, fire-engine red, Crimson Tide red, Communist red—among their Fall 2017 offerings. Their sudden ubiquity suggests a nostalgia for post–Cold War style, in which, as Natasha Stagg writes, clothing reflected an uneasy symbiosis between capitalism and communism: “The Russians who embraced Capitalist ideals in the nineties—if they could afford to—faced antagonistic audiences. New iterations of the specific style that emerged from this time period reference a disparity between ideal and real: Ideally, American styles were carefree, but in Russia, they were associated with pornography and prostitution. A tight, red, thigh-high stiletto boot worn under a one-size-fits-all dress easily captures this contradiction of American culture feeling dangerously ostentatious in the context of 1991 Russia … It works in the nineties fascination with the ugly and the beautiful, or the Baba Yaga and the sexy spy Natasha. A sort of undercutting of frumpiness and androgynous Party dressing, this is a styling choice more than it is a direction for the clothing … The choice is especially provocative at a time when Russia is constantly on the front page of the Washington Post. The boots are as smooth and tall as the Red Army’s, and as strangely sexy as jeans were when they were first worn by women.”

  • Rafe Bartholomew’s father worked slinging beers at McSorley’s, New York’s oldest bar—he always wanted to get out of the job and become a writer, but he could never quite turn his back on the place. Instead, his bartending came to inspire his poetry: “After he decided to junk the plot to become an English teacher, my father began work on The McSorley Poems. During my last few years of high school, he was nocturnal. On Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights, he’d arrive home from McSorley’s around two A.M., take a shower, and then park in front of our family’s massive desktop computer. His workstation was set up in a corner across from my bedroom, and I got used to waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the glow from his monitor creeping toward me through the crack at the bottom of my door. He put the finishing touches on the manuscript in 2000, my senior year of high school, and gave the book a title: The McSorley Poems: Voices from New York City’s Oldest Pub. Twenty-five years after he’d earned his master’s in creative writing, my father found his voice, and it happened to be in the bar where he drank on his first night in Manhattan, back in 1967.”
  • Ryan Ruby tells the story of Raymond Roussel, a forerunner of French experimental literature who remains neglected in literary history even as the writers he inspired have been vaunted to the forefront of the canon: “He remains known not just as a writer’s writer but as an experimental writer’s experimental writer—or, in the words of one American publisher, a ‘cult author extraordinaire.’ He is still regarded by the French literary establishment as something of a curiosity … What probably sunk Roussel’s career was that neither he nor his work fit naturally into the market for commercial art or into the putatively autonomous market of avant-garde art. The paradox of Roussel’s career is that, after a series of early failures, he did not retreat from the field, reconvert his creative project to make common cause with the avant-garde, or embrace the conventions of the popular fiction he himself enjoyed. He aimed highly unconventional writing at a bourgeois public with the expectation that it would sell and was baffled when it didn’t. His writing anticipated the imagery of surrealism; the affectless descriptions of the nouveau roman; and, through the procédé, Oulipian constraints—but he wanted the audience of Victor Hugo or Jules Verne or at least that of his friend Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac. Roussel could have attempted to go the way of a popular writer like Rostand or of an avant-garde writer like Breton, but, both admirably and foolishly, he remained Roussel to the end.”