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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Can Music Kill?

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

Richard Kuntz is dead. The 15-year-old shot himself last December, but in testimony before a Senate subcommittee last week, his father said that rock music killed him. And the old debate continues.

Can music kill? Can it foster violence? Is it a cause or merely a mirror of an ever more angry, self-destructive, alienated society? And should the United States Senate take any steps to limit even the most disgusting, perverted rock groups out there today?

These are large questions indeed. We've faced them before; the details just get more extreme and disturbing.

Richard Kuntz was listening to a band called Marilyn Manson when he shot himself nearly a year ago. He had just finished an English paper on the shock rockers and was listening to a song about suicide on Manson's "Antichrist Superstar" album.

For you folks too high on the food chain to know who Marilyn Manson is, it is the name of the lead singer in a disgusting rock group of the same name.

Former music critic Brian Warner says he took "Marilyn" from Marilyn Monroe and "Manson" from Charlie Manson. Other band members have also adopted names from the sex/violence/media field. They market T-shirts which read "American by birth, anti-christ by choice." Live performances feature Manson tearing up Bibles, wiping his behind with an American flag, and other antics which can't even be hinted at in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that both Jim Morrison and his sheep would blush. Get the picture?

Last Thursday, Kuntz's father testified before a Senate committee studying music violence, where he said that Marilyn Manson "glorifies inhumanity, promotes suicide, and contradicts all values." He's correct. He also said that his son "was a good boy". The music wasn't symptomatic of other problems.I would say the music caused him to kill himself." This is somewhat more arguable.

The hearings also featured spokesmen for the music industry, who said that adults have ALWAYS been shocked at rock and roll and compared the outrage directed at Manson with that aimed at Elvis Presley in the 1950's, which is kind of like comparing a nuclear bomb with a firecracker. They also said that artists sometimes sing about "a difficult message" and express "pain or anger in a way that is valuable and adds to our nation's cultural diversity of talent." (Pardon me while I throw up).

A medical expert testified that teens today listen to music for up to 40 hours a week, and Kansas Republican Sam Brownback said that there has been a marked increase in songs that glorify violence, murder, mayhem, and the abuse of women. The Senate panel expressed concern about the "culture of violence that desensitizes young people."

And therein lies the problem. It's not so much THIS song or THAT song, THIS scumbag group or THAT gangsta-rapper. It's the whole level of violence and nihilism that seems to saturate much of music today.

Most of the students I've talked to reject Marilyn Manson as a clown, as a stupid and generally talent-less satanic parody. However, most of those same kids admit that they've purchased CD's with "parental advisory warnings" on them.

On the one hand, I'm a believer in artistic freedom and the First Amendment.

I used to like some music that was considered "offensive" 25 years ago.

On the other hand, I find Marilyn Manson and those like him shameless opportunists, vile and without any artistic merit. I keep hoping that a wave of good taste or decency or even musical artistry will wash them away like so much sewerage.

And while I'm unwilling to trade free speech and personal choice for a sense of public morality, I'm also unable to concede that the loss of 15-year-old Richard Kuntz is merely "a price we have to pay" to let the Marilyn Manson types get rich from cashing in on teenage rebellion, depression and angst.

I do know that anyone who takes seriously ANYTHING Marilyn Manson has to say ought to be kept far, far away from firearms, sharp objects, and electricity.

And - barring Senate action or more self-serving, ridiculous statements from record companies - I keep hoping for that wave of good taste or decency.

Yeah. I know.

But I can at least HOPE for it, can't I?

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.