Heavy Metal Music, Individualism, and Adolescent Alienation
This book has focused on the lives of American adolescent boys, and the portrait of adolescent life presented in the previous chapters is likely to disturb anyone who cares deeply about adolescents, indeed anyone who cares deeply about the current and future state of American society. There are millions of adolescent heavy metal fans in the United States, and there may be millions of other adolescents who do not care for the music but who sympathize with the ideology of alienation. Heavy metal fans (such as the adolescents described in the previous chapters) are an extreme group, but they provide stark and startling examples of sentiments shared, to some degree, by many American adolescents. As we have seen, many of them are profoundly alienated from the institutions that have formed the bedrock of American society for over 200 years: from their families, from their schools, from their communities, and from political and religious institutions. Perhaps their one salient connection to their culture is that they share the cultural belief system of individualism -- but they take it to such an extreme that it becomes hyperindividualism1 and another facet of their alienation.
Such profound and pervasive alienation among many American adolescents suggests that the process of socializing them into their culture has failed in serious ways. When socialization works, it leads children to embrace the ways of their culture so that, by the end of adolescence, they consider the ways of their culture to be their own ways.2 When it works their culture becomes the prism though which experience enters their hearts and minds; it helps them organize their experience and give it coherence and meaning. Alienation is a sign that it has not worked, that they consider the ways of their culture to be alien to their personal identities, that they have rejected the prism for understanding life that their culture has held out to them.
This is a precarious state for adolescents to be in as they stand at the threshold of adulthood, preparing to enter an adult society they do not respect and do not really consider to be their own. In this chapter we exam