The prevailing opinion in the media is that listening to violent lyrics tends to lead to violence. This idea permeates nearly all media, news and entertainment. According to the conservative organization Empower America, the issue at heart is such music leading us on a “slide toward decivilization” (Bennet and Tucker, 1995). The idea being that by glorifying subjects like rape, murder, suicide and homophobia [the fear of homosexuals and their lifestyle], these lyrics erode the judgement and thought capabilities of adolescents.
In recent history, the popular solution to the problems of our society has been censorship [the mandated editing or suppression of the music thought to be at fault]. The Parents Music Resource Center [PMRC], headed by Pamela Howar and including such big Washington names as Tipper Gore [wife of Democratic Presidential Nominee Al Gore] pushed for Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA] style ratings of music (Deflem, 1993). The PMRC’s efforts resulted in the widely noticed “Parental Advisory” warnings.
While the adults seem to agree, the youth, adolescents and artists alike, seem to take a different direction. The dominant point of view among younger audiences is that no one is responsible for teen violence but those who act out. But there is a second view. We are all equally guilty for the violent acts of youths (Manson, 1999).
Such violent acts, while increasingly spoken about by news and entertainment media, the Centers for Disease Control report that violence in adolescents is down (Youth 2000).
Given the perceived impact of violent lyrics, and the immense popularity and friction of this issue, it is surprising that little or no actual study has been done to back up any of these claims (Hogan et al, 1996).
The ultimate goal of my research is to determine whether there is a real, causal connection between violent lyrical content in music and violent feelings in teens. However, given the monetary and temporal constraints, this ultimate goal will be broken into several steps. The first step, which is relevant to this class, will ask, “Do teenagers habits affect their belief on this subject?” The second will ask “Do teenagers feel that lyrically violent music causes societal violence?”
This topic deals with two central things: Real world violence, and violence in music lyrics.
Music lyrics, as a part of the vast media, are beholden to many of the same situations. However, if research on media violence [such as violent video games, movies, and music lyrics] is to be held credible, it must be done properly. There is, however some question as to whether the research is being done in a scientifically correct manner. David Gauntlett says that the “effects model” does research the wrong way round. “Media effects research has quite consistently taken the wrong approach to the mass media, its audiences, and society in general” (Gauntlett 1999).
“Video games players, for example, are often discussed as undiscriminating, brainless suckers by people who do not seem to have attempted to understand the meanings and the appeal of these games, and whose views are supported (if at all) by inadequate, contrived and predetermined research. Like the critics of TV and movie violence, they are guilty of looking at this perceived ‘problem’ backwards — by starting with the games and then trying to make links to actual crimes, rather than by starting with real criminals and seeing if they seem to have been centrally motivated or affected by video games” (Gauntlett 1999).
“The ‘backwards’ approach involves the mistake of looking at individuals, rather than society, in relation to the mass media. The narrowly individualistic approach of some psychologists leads them to argue that, because of their belief that particular individuals at certain times in specific circumstances may be negatively affected by one bit of media, the removal of such media from society would be a positive step. This approach is rather like arguing that the solution to the number of road traffic accidents in Britain would be to lock away one famously poor driver from Cornwall; that is, a blinkered approach which tackles a real problem from the wrong end, involves cosmetic rather than relevant changes, and fails to look in any way at the ‘bigger picture’” (Gauntlett) 1999). So, Gauntlett says, media research is overly biased toward finding a link between violence on screen and on the street, and the solutions offered by such research are overly simplistic, also focused on small changes in the media. Media effects research tends to be fueled by thinly veiled conservatism.
In the United States, it is accepted that while popular music has become more sexually lurid as well as more lyrically violent, it is still very important to adolescents, due to their image and emotional needs (North, et al, 2000).
Given the noise in news media about youth violence, a common conclusion is that youth violence is getting worse. However, the statistics published by the Center for Disease Control [CDC] show that while homicide is still the #2 cause of death among teens, they have come down in the second half of the 1990s. For instance, murders committed by young males reduced by 34% between 1993 and 1997 (Youth, 2000).
So there are four conclusions to be made. First that music is important to adolescents. Second that music has become more violent in the last five years. Third that teen violence has gone down in the last five years. And finally, because of the conflict between the second and third, that adolescents are thoughtful and intelligent consumers of music.
Bennet, W. and Tucker, D. (1995). Lyrics from the gutter. Empower America. [On-line] Web site address: http://www.empower.org/html/policy/culture/music/lyrics.htm
Deflem, M. (1997) Rap, rock and censorship: Popular culture and the technologies of justice. University of Purdue. [On-line] Web site address: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/zzcens97.htm
Gauntlett, D. (1999). The ten things wrong with the effects model. News Media Studies. [On-line] Web site address: http://www.newmediastudies.com/effects1.htm
Hogan, M. (1996) Impact of music lyrics and music videos on children and youth. American Academy of Pediatrics. [On-line] Web site address: http://www.aap.org/policy/01219.html
Manson, M. (1999) Columbine: Whose fault is it? Rolling Stone. [Online] Web site address: http://www.rollingstone.com/sections/news/text/ newsarticle.asp?afl=&NewsID=8050&LookUpString=54
North, A.C. Hargreaves, D.J. O’Neill, S.A. (2000). The importance of music to adolescents. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 255-272
Youth. (2000). Youth violence in the United States. [On-line] Web site address: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/yvfacts.htm