Metal illness?

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According to University of Melbourne researcher Dr Katrina McFerran, young people who gravitate toward heavy metal music repetitively are more likely to end up depressed.

The powers that be have long had a prurient interest in music favoured by the young: especially heavy rock, rap and (during the late ’80s and early ’90s when raves did much to rekindle the rebellious flames of the early rock’n’roll days) dance. It’s frequently considerd to be a ‘bad influence’ in a nebulous way that studies of this kind do precious little to elucidate, once you get behind the headlines.

I don’t blame researchers per-se, though I’velong suspected that studies that rely on the experiences of such a small sample (50 in this case) to extrapolate general patterns of behaviour are flawed from the off. Large scale, anonymous, open-ended questionnaire-based surveys preferred by sociologist Shere Hite for her famed series of Hite Reports provide a more nuanced response. Having not read the original report I’m prepared to hold fire on the good doctor, but the way the study has been reported in the press is perfectly reprehensible: ‘Heavy Metal has negative impacts on youth’; ‘Heavy Metal fans more exposed to mental illness’ and variations thereof proliferate.

Psychcentral was closer to the mark with its headline:

Depressed Teens Listen to Heavy Metal Music in Unhealthy Way

This turns most of the headlines on their head, more truthfully stating that many already depressed (or at least unhappy) younger listeners are choosing to use music to ‘escape from reality’ as McFerran puts it. Well hasn’t that always been a part of the allure of rock’n’roll? Teenage years are a tumultuous time: exam stress; school bullying; navigating the minefield of emerging sexuality and relationships, starting employment (or not) are all issues that kids may well feel a need to escape from and music is only one means of doing so. The use and abuse of drugs – alcohol and ‘skunk’ weed particularly – ‘reality’ TV, easily-accessible, immersive, violent online gaming and pornography ought also to be considered.

To attempt to distil the souce of behavioural and psychological problems down to one’s choice of music is barely credible. The study is doubtless more nuanced than headlines suggest but today’s consumer of knowledge and advice has little time for the finer points: it’s all about the headlines. This kind of simplistic thinking has reared its ugly head before: remember the implication of Child’s Play 3 around the James Bulger killing? All the above and other environmental factors bear consideration and not in isolation but as part of a complex, interconnected system. Doctors today can on occasion be overbearing; too quick to apply a medical diagnosis and provide concomitant treatment. Sometimes it just is ‘a phase they’re going thru’.

And music can play a positive role in this too. Intelligent rock and pop music can provide a source of inspiration and a sense of belonging to kids fumbling their way thru their formative years.

Porcupine Tree – ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’

Doves – ‘Black And White Town’

Sure, we should be caring what our kids are feeling (though any half-way responsible parent will be doing so anyway) but knee-jerk reactions to what is most of the time nothing but a harmless diversion really aren’t the way to go. They’re certainly not good science.

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One response »

  1. Each time a study like this one comes out it always annoys me. I’ve been a big metal fan since before my teens, and like just about every single teenager I’ve had my extreme up and extreme downs. If listening to metal contributed to anything to my teenage life it was in a positive sense. Yes, it was an outlet, and any kind of outlet is a hell of a lot better than holding whatever negativity you have in. And young metal heads being anti social I think not, me and lots of metal fans at that age went out and did lots of things, we went to local concerts, learned instruments, hung out, went out and did things with friends, pretty much anything normal kids do. And if one of our “metal” buddies were feeling down, we always did what we could to pick him up.
    And if a kid(or adult) is depressed, there are far more other serious factors than just metal. If anything I believe getting into metal(and other forms of expressive music and art) will help someone get out of depression.
    Good read dude!!!

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