Blaming the Shock Rockers

Now that Frank Zappa’s dead, who will stick up for Marilyn Manson?

Feeling morally compelled to act, even if it meant diverting the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia from the people’s business and ignoring its own charter, Sens. Samuel Brownback (R-Kan.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) held hearings last Thursday to condemn shock-rockers like the band Marilyn Manson.

The hearing’s star witness, Raymond Kuntz of Burlington, North Dakota, wept while describing how his 15-year-old son shot himself last December, allegedly after listening to a Marilyn Manson album. Kuntz blamed the group for the suicide, saying, “I would say the music caused him to kill himself.”

Sen. Lieberman, a longtime advocate of parental responsibility, appeared to agree that Marilyn Manson–and by extension an amoral “electronic media-cultural complex” including Dennis Rodman, Tupac Shakur, and the band Cannibal Corpse–was responsible for the death. He took the liberty of identifying the offending lyrics: “You can kill yourself now because you’re dead in my mind” (Audio clip).

Lieberman did not, however, note that Kuntz may have fallen behind in his parenting. No one questioned how Richard Kuntz gained access to the firearm and ammunition, or how he got ahold of the record to begin with. The Manson album, Antichrist Superstar is clearly labeled “Parental Advisory/Explicit Content,” with a zombie-like figure on its cover and complete lyrics to songs like “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.”

Beyond its high-shock-value name, Marilyn Manson plays a substandard blend of heavy metal and mysticism, relying on hokey photography, hot-button words, and “satanic” symbols for its image. The band’s lyrics are violent and nihilistic, but are so muddled they’re sometimes inscrutable. An example: “There’s an apple in the pussy mouth/Now I am the dinner whore” opens the song “Little Horn” (Audio clip).

Recording Industry Association of America president Hilary Rosen noted dryly that listening to rock music is not among the 14 warning signs that pediatricians look for in a child who is contemplating suicide. Rosen said that discussions of potentially offensive issues are everywhere, adding that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet also deals with suicide.

Why have the hearings? Senators Lieberman and Brownback both admitted that the grandstanding was unrelated to any planned legislation or censorship proposal, and (surprise) didn’t result in any smoking gun linking rock music and violence. The hearings, the senators said, were simply to get parents and music executives to examine what young people were listening to.

Asked why subcommittee time was devoted to the hearings, a senatorial aide replied that the morality of rock music was a long-time concern of both Brownback and Lieberman, and that senators may speak on any subject at any time, in any format.