Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Heavy Metal in Baghdad is a documentary following a metal band named Acrassicauda, composed solely of young Iraqi men. In the film, these young men attempt to play gigs despite the invasion by US troops and the sectarian violence that has become such a typical part of what Americans imagine when they think of Iraq. As the occupation of the country becomes too intense, the band defects to nearby Syria. Although they were originally profiled in an article for Vice magazine and have become well-known outside of Iraq as the only Iraqi metal band, they struggle in the film not only to be a coherent band but to find work and support themselves and their families. The film leaves them in Syria, impoverished.
You can't help but feel sorry for these young men. They yearn for freedom to do something as simple as grow out their hair (which is illegal in Iraq) so that they can headbang. Watching them attempt the same kind of hair moves that have so long been a staple of the likes of Headbang's Ball to the point where it's mocked in America makes you consider how something as basic as the hair you have and what you choose to do with it is not necessarily a part of other people's freedom.
The film is an example of how American pop culture integrates itself into surprising places. No one here in America would associate metal music with Iraq, and yet there are obviously fans. The film makes the argument that one of America's best exports is its pop culture. One of the first things that anti-American states do is outlaw American television shows, movies and music, because those governments understand how seductive our culture is. On some level, it has become our best ambassador, since it manages to capture the imaginations of so many and show them that America, despite being imperfect, still strives to be the land of the free. Through metal music, these young men not only have a way to express themselves, but have bought into aspects of American culture.
MTV has created a great film for starting a discussion on the effects of the US's occupation of Iraq. You could easily see this film used in a high school class as a way to get students interested in the issues and to relate to other young people. Iraq is the fastest growing refugee crisis, which often isn't discussed in the American media, and this film gives a human face to a small group of Iraqi refugees.
If you've seen the film and you're wondering, the band members have since made it to America.

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