Introduction to Heavy Metal Music and Moral Panic

Claire Shepherd
Claire Shepherd

Today’s young people are surrounded by music, rock music. It is so pervasive that we almost forget it is even there. However, make no mistake; it is there, too much of it drumming more and more destructive messages into the minds of our children.

The average teenager listens to rock music four to six hours daily! That is more hours of rock music than hours of classroom instruction. Unfortunately, in much of that music the message is negative, even harmful (Parents Music Resource Centre fundraising letter cited in Christe 2004: 119).

The music genre of heavy metal has, since the late 1970s, faced a multitude of negative media coverage, and has been the subject of a number of moral panics.

Concern about the genre reached a pinnacle point when the religious right and concerned parents groups, like the Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC), began to express their concern about the potentially dangerous effects that heavy metal music could have on young people.

The rise of interest and pressure groups meant that heavy metal music was attacked from all perceivable angles for its apparent promotion and inspiration of anti-social behaviours amongst young people.

But behind all the negative media coverage and all the lawsuits (most famously, the 1988 court case involving Ozzy Osbourne and his song ‘Suicide Solution’), heavy metal music has yet to be proven to cause anti-social behaviour, leading a number of academics and heavy metal artists to believe that heavy metal is instead used within the news media as a scapegoat for explaining anti-social behaviours (Walser 1993; Weinstein 1991; Christe 2004; Safe 2000; Koha & Hellard 2007; Shedden 2006; Monk 1999; Stewart 1999; Heywood 1999; Herald Sun 1999).

Scapegoating has, in some countries, led to heavy metal music being censored or banned. This has often been presented as a way of protecting young people from the dangers that heavy metal music was supposed to present. But has this kind of scapegoating also occurred here in Australia?

Concern has been raised as to whether certain artists should be allowed to perform in Australia, but has there been enough negative media coverage to see a heavy metal artist or band being banned from performing in Australia as a way of protecting young Australians?

This research aims to discover whether negative media coverage is Australia has led to heavy metal artists Slipknot and Marilyn Manson being banned from performing in the country as a way of protecting Australia’s young people.

Heavy metal artists and fans have often been described as evil people, who use heavy metal music to worship the devil. Negative media coverage of the genre and its fans is not uncommon within the news media. Negative reporting is caricatured by Safe: “They’re painted as drooling Satanists, purveyors of perversion, destroyers of eardrums — but Australia’s metalheads couldn’t careless. They’re proudly parochial and like their music loud. Of course, know-best grown-ups can’t help but tut-tut, as National Party MP Peter Lindsay did recently. He suggested holding metal bands liable for crimes committed while under their influence. How exactly you can prove this link is another matter. Oh the horror of it. All these young, impressionable minds… being corrupted by this depravity (Safe 2000).”

For some parents, hearing the names Slipknot or Marilyn Manson may invoke shudders and cringes as they imagine the kinds of negative messages and anti-social behaviours that their children are exposed to when they listen to these artists.

Mostly, these shudders of concern and fear have come about because of a multitude of negative media coverage that has surrounded artists such as these since the late 1970s, when heavy metal was first blamed (or used as a scapegoat) for inciting anti-social behaviours in society.

Deena Weinstein says that: “Many people hold that heavy metal music, along with drugs and promiscuous sex, proves that some parts of youth culture have gone beyond acceptable limits. To many of its detractors heavy metal embodies a shameless attack on the central values of Western civilisation. But to its fans it is the greatest music ever made (Weinstein 2000: 3).”

Weinstein poses an important question, one that also forms part of this research: “Can a form of music that has attracted millions of fans for more than twenty years be all that dangerous?” (2000: 3).

While heightened concern surrounding these artists has been observed overseas, the aim of this research project is to determine whether a level of concern similar to this has occurred in Australia to date. To do so, articles from different Australian newspapers were analysed, using a discourse analysis approach, to determine the ways in which Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, and the fans of these artists have been represented in news discourse.

By doing so, it was expected that a negative trend in reporting would be observed, showing that heavy metal music has been a source of controversy, and that banning artists like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson would be presented as a way of protecting young people from the supposed dangers that the music presented.

As a result, a review of moral panic literature and heavy metal literature was also undertaken in this research. A project such as this is useful for understanding of media reporting trends: that is to say, whether particular groups or people in society can have their image and credibility tainted because of negative media coverage that may present them as being dangerous or damaging to a society.

Concern surrounding heavy metal artists Slipknot and Marilyn Manson has been abundant overseas. Since the early 1990s, Marilyn Manson has shocked the world with his onstage persona and music. Manson, who’s real name is Brian Warner, named himself after Marilyn Monroe and serial killer Charles Manson.

In the past, rumours surrounding Manson have been rife with controversy, including rumours that he gives away free puppies at his concerts so that fans can kill them during the concert, and that he had a rib surgically removed so he could perform oral sex on himself (Shedden 1999).

With rumours such as these, it comes as no surprise to learn that wherever Manson has gone, controversy soon follows. Manson has been a common feature in American news media for his controversial onstage performances and song lyrics.

In April 1999, following the Columbine High School massacre, Manson was blamed for inspiring the massacre after it was rumoured that the student killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, has been fans of Manson’s music (Anton 1999).

Slipknot has also come under harsh criticism for the member’s appearance and the group’s music. Appearing in the heavy metal scene in the late 1990s, Slipknot has caused outrage amongst a number of protest groups for the member’s appearance on stage (Stewart 1999).

The nine members of the band (who refer to themselves onstage by numbers 0-8) wear bizarre and sometimes monstrous masks to hide their true identities.

Onstage, they perform a number of acts that many parents would cringe at, including having a severed pig’s head next to their percussionist (who ironically enough, wears a pig mask).

They too have also come under fire for their lyrical content with songs including ‘Sic’, ‘People=Shit’, and ‘Pulse of the Maggots’ (“Maggots” are what Slipknot have affectionately named fans) (Uebergang 2007b).

In 2002, the band was blamed for inspiring a high school massacre in Germany after it was discovered that the student killer, Robert Steinhaeuser, had Slipknot music amongst his collection.

The band were said to have inspired the massacre with their song School Wars, which supposedly included the lyrics “shoot your naughty teachers with a pump gun” (Mohan 2002). However, no such song has ever been written or recorded by Slipknot.

With controversy such as this happening overseas, it is anticipated that similar concern and controversy has occurred here in Australia.

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