Are we treating violent music with equal contempt?

I love writing for my blog; being able to critically analyse societal issues and share my analysis with wide audiences has been liberating. As I sat down to research my next article ‘Fair expectations’, which will look at the differences in the acceptance of actions of black folk, compared to white peers, I came across an article looking at racism in Heavy Metal music and it got me thinking. Why do we not hear and see as much condemnation of Heavy Metal music as we do for Gangsta Rap?

A report into heavy metal music, argued that the genre more than any other, “has a reputation for the effect it has on its listeners’ behaviours and mental health”. Studies have suggested a link between listening to heavy metal and increased suicide risk and desensitisation to violence. A report by the American Medical Association concluded that music has more of an influence on teens that television. The same report states that “those involved in the rock culture were more likely to be low achievers, involved in drugs, sexually active, and involved in satanic activities.”

Which such a damning reputation, why is the genre still glamourised? I recently watched a report on BBC breakfast celebrating and promoting a young 10 year old boy who created a magazine called ‘pint-sized punk’. During the news VT, young Arlo, an avid fan of punk music can be seen ferociously head banging in a live music venue (full of much older fans) and the report featured an excerpt from band the Idles smashing crockery – and all before 9.00am. I found the whole thing disconcerting.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that we would not have seen a report of a young black boy promoting rap music, whilst showing a rap group smashing things up!

Let’s be honest – there are clear and compelling similarities between punk and heavy metal music. Both genres are reactive in the way that they grew out of a rebellion against music in the 1960s that had become part of the establishment. In addition to extraordinary violence and sexism, the music contains equally offensive racism, blasphemy, and bigotry. But there have been clear efforts to detach the genre away from some of these negative connections.

Australia’s Macquarie University conducted a study in 2019 and found that death metal music, a more extreme version of metal music, sparked joy and not violence which appears to be widely accepted and cited since it release. For me, I must admit, I’m dubious about this conclusion. Are we willing to extend these findings to other violent genres of music?

So let’s touch on Gangsta rap. Since its emergence in the 1980’s, the sub-genre of rap has been recurrently accused of promoting disorderly conduct and broad criminality, especially assault, homicide, and drug dealing, as well as misogyny, promiscuity, and materialism. Protectors of the sub-genre would argue that critics have failed to acknowledge its role in the providing an outlet for the oppressed to share the realities of their existence. In LA, its place of birth, minority groups were experiencing a surge in destructive issues – the recession and deindustrialisation (which led to mass job losses), hundreds of rival gangs springing up as a result, the crack-cocaine epidemic and the increasingly brutal police force.

NWA pioneered Gansta rap and their debut album in 1988 ‘Straight outta Compton’ painted the worldview view of the inner-city youth. Although the music was clearly controversial and contained explicit violence and promoted their anti-establishment position, this was most certainly not the first of its kind. However Straight Outta Compton was one of the first albums made to adhere to the new Parental Advisory label scheme.

So back to my original question: Why do we not hear and see as much condemnation of Heavy Metal music as we do for Gangsta Rap? Both contain explicit violence, are anti-establishment and can negatively influence the next generation of youth. Before we accept the narratives provided to us by mainstream media, we must take the time to think about the information we receive before forming lasting opinions. My position is both genres must be treated in the same vain in order to set clear societal boundaries. There should be one rule for all which clearly currently isn’t the case.

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