Culture, Society and Popular Music; Music and Moral Panic

This is the third installment of my Culture, Society and Music blog for my Music and Audio Production degree coursework. This week I will discuss music and moral panic- why is music so often attributed to the breakdown of society and include my own memories of moral panics associated with music when I was growing up. This blog also includes an accompanying playlist.

Mass media has always had a strong obsession with subcultures. Media has a history of reacting to the behavior of youth subcultures and discussing such behavioral activities as though they were part of greater society. The attention often gets overblown and this in turn leads to feeling of persecution and group solidarity.

Elvis Presley is famous for being the earliest of such moral panics in music. His rock and roll music was highly commercial but also extremely controversial and was quickly branded as damaging and dangerous to society. Devil Dancing and an association with black magic rituals which stemmed from African-American roots was seen as damaging the moral fabric of white US society. Any TV appearances of Elvis also showed his young, excited teenage fans and this led to an over emphasis of teenage involvement in deviant behaviour. Elvis was said to have aroused teenage girls in ways they shouldn’t be aroused with his “hyper-sexual” dancing of the time.

I do remember the moral panic surrounding the music of Marilyn Manson and the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The massacre led to debate over gun control laws, bullying, goth culture and video game culture. The shooters were initially branded as fans of heavy metal music such as Marilyn Manson, KMFDM and Rammstein but it was later revealed that there was no link. The music and imagery of Manson were said to be the sole motivation for the killings. The media pointed the finger at Manson and sensationalist headlines such as “Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson” and “Devil-Worshipping Maniac Told Kids To Kill” circulated in a massive media frenzy. In Michael Moore famous documentary Bowling for Columbine, Manson’s response when asked what would he say to the students of Columbine was “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did.” Marilyn Manson isn’t the only heavy metal artist who’s been associated with deviant behaviour.

My Chemical Romance and emo culture was branded as dangerous to society in 2008. Emo (emotional) was the new goth culture- guitar based music, dressing in black, emotional lyrics. The haircut was usually dyed black with a long fringe brushed to one side. It became associated with self-harm and suicide because teenagers were reported to be becoming obsessed with the music and lyrics of such bands who apparently glamorised death and misery. (the Black Parade was said to be a paradise were all emos go after death)

The latest moral panic in music surrounds Miley Cyrus. We all remember her MTV VMA performance with Robin Thicke and the social media outrage which immediately followed. It’s Miley’s childhood history as child superstar Hannah Montanna which upsets parents. Their children are fans of Miley’s pop career which has developed from the innocent Disney star to hyper-sexualised young woman. Parents don’t want their children exposed to Miley’s pop lifestyle of sex, drugs and racism.



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