Tales from the Jugular

Heavy Metal As Scapegoat

By: Greg Watson
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

"I can say for myself that I struggle with negative feelings throughout different times of my life and the music that I listen to is a way to channel those feelings and emotions out of my body so I don't act on them"

For as long as music and heinous acts of humanity have been around, the two have seemingly been entwined in a bitter union of blame. Musicians have been implicated for years in deaths, murders, suicides and ritual killings. What I would like to do is look at this phenomenon and some of the reasons why the blame falls on music, metal in particular, and the way people attack the music for its lyrical content and subject matter. I will try my best to limit the opinions to a minimum but inevitably some will creep into the piece so please understand that I am not saying that this is the final word, just how I feel. That being said, let us take a look at this interesting phenomenon. I want to say as well that no disrespect is intended towards the victims of murders, suicides and other heinous acts where people felt that music was to blame. Any acts of senseless violence are unnecessary and those people who perpetrate these acts deserve the punishment that is handed down to them through the institution of our judicial system. I found a few cases that showcased the feelings that heavy metal music and the artists who create it are in the sights of the victims families' anger and societies' confusion. I will break down these cases based on research that I have done and then make simple observations on them. So clear your mind, attempt to be open when reading this and see if by the end you have learned something that will help you view instances like this with a different thought process or opinion than you would have previously done.

The first case I stumbled across is an old one that is familiar to the metal world and was one of the first well documented cases where a band came under fire for their lyrical themes. In 1985, two fans of Judas Priest committed suicide after spending a vast portion of the day having a Judas Priest music catalog marathon while drinking and smoking marijuana. One of the fans died while carrying out his suicide attempt while the other fan did not die from injuries incurred during his attempt. The parents of the victims and the surviving fan blamed Judas Priest for the reason the boys carried out this plan. The attorneys for the victims claimed that the band had subliminal messages in their recordings that drove the teens to attempt suicide. The band's attorney argued that if the band did use subliminal messaging, wouldn't it be more likely that the messages would be urging people to buy the album rather than attempt to end their lives? In the trial, it came out that both fans lived in homes where domestic violence and problems with alcohol and narcotics were present, but the parents of the surviving victim felt that the music is what drove him to attempt suicide. After one month of deliberation on both sides, without the presence of a jury, the case came to an end. The judge said that while the subliminal messages were present, that no substantial evidence was presented to suggest that these messages were the catalyst for the boys' suicide attempts.

The first time I read this article, I just shook my head with great sadness. Sadness for the fact that a band was being blamed for two fans killing themselves simply because they were listening to the music and sadness in the fact that one fan lost his life and the other was horribly disfigured. The more I did research for this article I found that both fans' personal lives and habits were brought in to play in an attempt to show the problems that already existed within each fan. In the end, there was not enough evidence presented to cast blame on the band. Ultimately, the band was blamed for something that was not in their control.

The next case I want to look at is a case from 1995 where a girl was murdered and had horrible acts committed upon her deceased body by three teenagers. The details of this case are incredibly graphic and some of the acts are quite depraved. The band Slayer was implicated in the boys motive for committing the acts and a lawsuit was filed against the band for marketing violent music to the public. The victim's parents and attorneys felt that the music gave the killers detailed instructions on how to kill the victim. The band's songs "Dead Skin Mask" and "PostMortem" were mentioned as being grossly obscene and containing ways to stalk, rape and murder someone. The victim was strangled, raped and had acts of necrophilia committed against her. The case came on the heels of crackdowns on violence in videogames, movies, music and other forms of entertainment available to the masses. The case was in court in various forms and phases for years before a judge ruled in 2001 that Slayer's music was not marketed illegally to underage kids due to lyrical content and artwork. The victims’ parents still feel that this type of music can perpetrate such acts and feel that it should be harder for children to get their hands on. The killers confessed to the murders and stated that they committed the murder as a type of ritual sacrifice in an attempt to get their fledgling band the power it needed to go big.

In more recent years Marilyn Manson and his music was accused as being catalysts in the horrible tragedy that took place at Columbine and the band Slipknot was implicated in a brutal double murder of a child's grandparents. Both artists were found to not have played a vital role in the motives or carrying out of these acts by the time the cases ended. But cases like these tend to make people very cautious about heavy metal music and its fans.

The bottom line to me is that I feel that people have these instincts, feelings, urges or whatever word you chose to describe them, inside already. Maybe the music triggers those feelings to come out; maybe it doesn't. There is no real way to state emphatically one way or another that the music was directly responsible or not. The choice to carry out those actions rests solely on the perpetrators of those acts and was a conscious decision made by said person. Blaming music is a way to avoid accepting the fact that people are naturally inclined to have those sort of feelings and then have the mindset to carry those feelings into deeds and actions.

I can't and won't speak for everyone, but I can say for myself that I struggle with negative feelings throughout different times of my life and the music that I listen to is a way to channel those feelings and emotions out of my body so I don't act on them. It takes a particular type of person to decide to murder or rape or maim someone with malicious and/or fatal intent and that is what makes us human. The ability to know right from wrong and good from evil is an inherent struggle inside every one of us. Music is just an expression of someone's thoughts, life experiences, daydreams and fantasies. To put the blame squarely on a musician’s shoulder, a film maker’s shoulder, a game developer, etc. seems downright ludicrous.

Everyone has their own opinions on the subject and thankfully we have a judicial system to deal with these issues as they occur. Hopefully, as time progresses, music will be appreciated for its art and not looked to or blamed for something that evolved out of human nature.

--Greg Watson

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