Music’s Impact on Violence
On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 of their peers, a teacher, and themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In Springfield, Oregon, Kip Kinkel murdered his parents and two students. In Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Andrew Wurst killed a teacher at an eighth-grade dance. Also in Pearl, Mississippi, Luke Woodham, murdered his parents and a classmate (Jipping 1). What do all of these events have in common? The facts of these and other instances of youth violence parallel the music these boys consumed. Colorado Governor Bill Owens, warned the nation in a radio address shortly after these events stating that, “there is a virus loose within our culture (Jipping 1).” Some popular music is part of this cultural virus that can help lead some young people to violence. In order to prevent these violent outbreaks, the music industry should be regulated more for its content releases to the public and parents should also have more control over what there children are exposed to in the music industry.
Music is indeed an important aspect on many teenagers’ everyday interactions. In a recent report titled “Media Use in America” its findings show that, “American teenagers listen to an estimated 10,500 hours of rock music between the 7th and 12th grades alone – just 500 hours less than they spend in school over
twelve years (8).” This means that on average, American youth listen to music and watch music videos four to five hours a day, which is more time than they spend with their friends outside of school or spend watching regular television shows. Also, a survey given to three college students showed that two out of three students listened to music one to two hours a day, while the other student listened over four hours a day (survey). “Music matters to adolescents, and they cannot be understood without a serious consideration of how it fits into their lives,” says Professor Peter Christenson of Lewis & Clark College (Christen and Roberts, 1).
With music being a major portion of teenagers’ lives, does music influence teens to act in sex, drugs, and violence? Music can alter and intensify teenagers’ moods, furnish much of their slang, and dominate the setting of their social gatherings. Music styles define the crowds and cliques they run in. Teenagers use music most to control their mood and enhance emotional states (Christen and Roberts, 1). “Music can make a good mood better and allow us to escape or work through a bad one,” Christenson states (1, 2). It can also be used to enhance bad moods, which has led some to believe music lyrics about suicide and violence against women have occasionally led troubled youth to commit suicide or violent crimes. “In one study, a heavy metal devotee reported that he loved the music because it put him in a good mood by which he meant a mood conducive to smashing mailboxes with bricks. Another said hard core metal put him in the mood to go beat the crap out of someone (Christen and Roberts, 1).”
In a recent survey conducted on three college students, students were asked to comment on what types of music they thought lead to violent actions and are influential in violence. One student responded, “Blues may make a person feel more depressed and sad. Rap and Heavy Metal may motivate a person to be violent.” Another student claimed that music could influence some teens to “beating people up, harming the police, getting with girls, and using guns.” All three students agreed that music can affect the listener’s feelings, emotions, and thoughts that can often lead to certain motives such as violence (survey).
The music industry is allowing the production of these violence promoting recordings to continue with such artist as shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, rapper Eminem, and the band Rage Against the Machine to name a few. Recently, “Media Use in America” reported that only 10 of the top 40 popular CDs on sale were free of profanity, or lyrics dealing with drugs, violence and sex (8). Two out of three college students said that they had heard violent terms three to four times in the music they listened to the day of the survey (survey).
Another important influence in the music industry is the rise of popular networks such as Music Television (MTV), Black Entertainment Television (BET), and Video Hits-1 (VH-1). With 70% of American households receiving cable television, most teenagers have access to MTV and VH-1 and watch an average of a half hour to two hours of music videos daily. Content analyses indicate that up to 75% of concept music videos (those involving a theme instead of a concert
performance) contain sexually suggestive material. More than half contain violence, which often includes acts committed against women (Academy of Pediatrics 3-4). Also, in another study, violent videos showed a mean of six acts of violence per 2-3 minute segment; with a total of 462 shootings, stabbings, punchings, and kickings in the 76 videos (Cromie 2). With statistics showing high numbers of violence in music videos, it’s no to no surprise to see youth influenced by their favorite music artist to commit crimes.
Society is asking, how it can help prevent teenagers from listening to music that promotes violence? A majority of the college students surveyed agreed that in order to prevent teens from listening to music which promotes violence, parents should monitor what their children listen to (survey). Another survey conducted by the Recording Industry Association of America found that many parents do not know what the lyrics are in the popular music their children listen to (“Media Use in America” 8). Parents should become more informed and concerned on what their children are hearing in their music. Broadcasters and the music industry should also do their part by using self-restraint in decisions regarding what is produced, marketed, and broadcasted. Performers also have important parts in the problem by serving as positive role models for children and teenagers.
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle told us, “Music has the power to form character (Christen and Roberts 6).” Today, society is feeling the effects of music’s impact on violence. It is up to the suppliers of this problem to stop promoting it,
focus on the well-being of society, and less on wealth. It is also up to the parents to control what their children put into their minds and filter what they are exposed to in their music. Without substantial changes in the music industry, society will continue to face the “virus” within its culture, which influences teenagers to commit violent acts.
Christenson, Peter G. and Roberts, Donald F. “It’s Not Only Rock and Roll:
Popular Music in the Lives of Adolescents.” 15 Oct. 1997. Online posting. 19 Oct. 2001 .
University Gazette 9 Apr. 1998. 21 Oct. 2001 .
“Impact of Music Lyrics and Music Videos on Children and Youth.” American Academy of Pediatrics Dec. 1996. 28 Oct. 2001
“Media Use in America.” 15 Mar. 2000. Online posting. 28 Oct. 2001 .