Metal Heads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation

By Jeffrey Jensen Arnett | Go to book overview

2
Heavy Metal Music and the Socialization of Adolescents

It is individualism, and not equality, that has marched inexorably through our history. . . . [In the present] this individualism may have grown cancerous.

-- Robert Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart

This is a book about adolescence in contemporary America, using heavy metal music and its appeal for many adolescents as a framework for discussion. I am not suggesting that all adolescents like heavy metal music, and I do not contend that all metalheads are alike. However, I do contend that certain characteristics that are common among the metalheads are true of enough American adolescents to merit the attention and concern of the rest of us. Principal among these characteristics are alienation, cynicism, and a radical individualism that leaves adolescents with only the scarcest of ties to family, community, and the larger society.

These characteristics are more likely to be true of metalheads than of other adolescents, and we should be wary of generalizing too readily from metalheads to all adolescents. However, it could be argued that the metalheads display, in bold relief, characteristics that are true to some extent for many if not most American adolescents. It should also be recognized that the following for heavy metal music consists not merely of a few thousand aberrant adolescents but many millions of American adolescents in every city and town of this country (as well as adolescents in other countries around the world). The top heavy metal bands routinely sell millions of copies of every album they release and play on concert tours to packed arenas all over the United States. The popularity of heavy metal has grown, too, in the past decade. When MTV began in 1981, it avoided or ignored heavy metal bands. Now heavy metal videos appear routinely on the music video channel, and the regular segments devoted entirely to heavy metal videos are among the most popular programs on the channel. "Beavis and Butthead," a cartoon program on MTV depicting the adventures of two metalheads, has become immensely popular and is shown daily on the network. If popular culture reflects society, does all this mean that the alienation and cynicism expressed in heavy metal songs is growing among American adolescents?

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