The Effects of Heavy Metal
Man's tragic destiny [is that] he must desperately justify himself as an object of primary value in the universe; he must stand out, be a hero, make the biggest possible contribution to world life, show that he counts. . . . The crisis of modern society is precisely that the youth no longer feel heroic in the plan for action that their culture has set up.
-- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.
-- William Congreve, The Mourning Bride ( 1697)
One of the reasons heavy metal music has received so much public attention and debate over the past decade is that some critics hear in it not just obnoxious music but an incitement to antisocial behavior. It is not difficult to find such incitements in the lyrics, as we saw in Chapter 3. Violence, defying authority, breaking the norms and rules of society -- these are common themes in heavy metal songs, and it could be argued (as the critics do) that these themes promote behavior that is disruptive to the rest of society, behavior such as violence toward self and others, sexual promiscuity, drug use and drunkenness, and the destruction of property. Even if the songs do not specifically advocate these types of behavior, they could be said to promote them because they advocate, on a more general level, an alienated individualism that rejects any restraints on behavior.
People who suspect the songs of being guilty in this respect naturally scrutinize metalheads for evidence that their suspicions are valid. The media aid them in this process by helpfully pointing out when someone under investigation for a sensational crime is also a fan of heavy metal music. In 1991, for example, a New Hampshire schoolteacher was convicted of persuading her high school student lover to murder her husband. It was noted numerous times that she was a big fan of heavy metal, and she had once been a disc jockey on a radio station where she called herself "The Maiden of Metal." The musical preferences of the actual murderer went unmentioned.