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Deena Weinstein argues that heavy metal has outlasted many other rock genres largely due to the emergence of an intense, exclusionary, strongly masculine subculture. While the metal fanbase is largely young, white, male and blue-collar, the group is "tolerant of those outside its core demographic base who follow its codes of dress, appearance and behaviour". Identification with the subculture is strengthened not only by the shared experience of concert-going and shared elements of fashion, but also by contributing to metal magazines and, more recently, websites.

The metal scene has been characterised as a "subculture of alienation", with its own code of authenticity. The code puts several demands on performers such as they must appear both completely devoted to their music and loyal to the subculture that supports it, they must appear uninterested in mainstream appeal and radio hits, and they must never "sell-out". For the fans themselves, the code promotes "opposition to established authority, and separateness from the rest of society". Musician and film maker Rob Zombie observes "most of the kids who come to my shows seem like really imaginative kids with a lot of creative energy they don't know what to do with" and that metal is "outsider music for outsiders. Nobody wants to be the weird kid, you just somehow end up being the weird kid. It's kind of like that, but with metal you have all the weird kids in one place". Scholars of metal have noted the tendency of fans to classify and reject some performers (and some other fans) as posers "who pretended to be part of the subculture, but who were deemed to lack authenticity and sincerity".