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Satan's Scapegoat: The Daily Mail & Blaming Metal For Murder
Joel McIver , May 1st, 2014 06:44

The Daily Mail has once more blamed listening to heavy metal as in some way contributory to the tragic murder of Ann Maguire, and a recent teenage suicide. Joel McIver explains why this argument needs to be challenged

This article should never have been written. It didn't need to be commissioned, planned and tapped out over a coffee. It's about a stupid, unnecessary attitude that has no reason to exist in 2014 because it was obsolete in 1980. As a society, we should have grown past all this nonsense years – decades – ago.

I've been asked by the folks at The Quietus to ponder the eternal mystery of why heavy metal is so often cited as the reason for destructive behaviour, primarily among young people. The reason why they've asked me to write this, rather than any of several other learned metal experts, is because of two concurrent news stories that are doing the rounds, to one of which I responded and had a letter printed yesterday (30 April) in our old friend The Daily Mail.

The first is this one, the sad story of 16-year-old Oliver King, printed in the Mail on 25 April. King, a teenager plagued by depression caused by a failed relationship and pressure at school among other problems, is said to have taken his own life after watching some YouTube videos, one of which was a song called 'The Body Of Death Of The Man With The Body Of Death' by Pinkly Smooth, a short-lived side project featuring members of Avenged Sevenfold, a Californian metal band popular among teens. Back in 2008, the newspaper did the same over a murder committed in South Africa by a teenage fan of Slipknot.

If you're an average Mail reader, which is to say middle-aged and conservative with a small 'c', that song title might scare or irritate you. I've just watched it, and it's a lightweight, ska-punkish tune with a few riffs thrown in. It is in no way upsetting or threatening, unless you happen to be in the small minority of people who are suffering from very poor mental health, which would appear to have been one of Oliver King's problems.

My response to the Mail's report was this letter, which they edited down and published as follows:

I don't think I wrote anything particularly challenging in my letter. It basically said: 1) Don't blame heavy metal for anyone's suicide, 2) That attitude is ancient and wrong anyway, 3) Metal is fun. Even if you think heavy metal is stupid, sexist, macho, posturing idiocy for inadequate males (the prevailing way of thinking among most non-headbangers until around 1990), you'll still agree, I hope, that there's no harm in listening to the stuff. It's fantasy-based escapist entertainment which makes its fans smile, unless – and I'll say this again – you happen to be among the small number of people whose mental health is fragile. You could say the same about horror movies, although in fact that exact statement has been made so many times before now that I literally can't face reading it, let alone writing it, one more time.

The second story, concerning the murder of teacher Ann Maguire at a school in West Yorkshire by a 15-year-old male student, also mentions the fact that the killer enjoyed heavy metal. It'll be at least a few days, if ever, before we find out any details of his identity, but various news sources have noted the metal detail because, with soul-destroying predictability, that is somehow thought to be relevant to the case.

Let's be professional and look at the other side of the argument. I note with interest that two studies in California and Australia have concluded in recent years that teenagers are at a greater risk of depression if they listen to a lot of metal. I have no way of assessing the efficacy of the studies, or the agendas of those who executed them, but let's say for the sake of argument that they are legitimate. What these results suggest to me is that cause and effect have been confused here: kids who are already depressed or depression-prone will choose metal to listen to as an escape or healing mechanism, rather than the music being the initial cause of their depression. Unless, and I'll say it a third time, you're referring to the smaller number of individuals who suffer from a genuine chemical disorder. Your average teenager with average mental health will not suddenly develop depression from listening to too much (is there even such a thing as too much?) heavy metal.

As I said before, I can't quite believe that we're still having this conversation. I won't go through the entire history of music censorship, or indeed the relevant part relating to metal (see here for that) because this debate is just so old. It's 30 years since the 'Satanic panic' of the 80s, when Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and the rest of them were earnestly told off for using naughty words in their songs. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now. It is literally only bastions of foolishness like The Daily Mail who attempt to rehash the same old arguments, time after time.

Life isn't all about what the naked eye can see, of course. A lot of people think that we're all the unwitting slaves of a shadowy, unelected elite, and I'm sure that's true to an extent. But when it comes to the influence of heavy metal, it's simple: it is there to make you feel good. In this case at least, life is really not one giant conspiracy, although now I've written that I'm reminded of this great song by Lard, which should be played throughout the Mail's editorial offices every day at 9am sharp.

What a strange species we are. We fetishise each other's failings, we gloat as we fall, we instinctively seek out the worst explanation for each other's behaviour. We hate things we don't understand and we actively create a culture of misery and repression. But those behaviour patterns can change, and indeed they must change, or we'll never evolve into a mature society.

Now go and listen to this extremely fast, violent song. I guarantee you'll feel happier and more energised afterwards than you were before. That is what heavy metal does, and no more.

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