Tag Archives: catharsis

The bright side of choosing dark music

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Metal’s misunderstood haven: the mosh pit. Photo by Flickr user Metal Chris.

Heavy metal isn’t blamed for so many things anymore — not like violent video games. But even 30 years after the PMRC attempted to paint loud, aggressive music as a one-way ticket to juvenile delinquency, metal still has reputation issues. People who listen to metal regularly (or dare go to shows) are seen, as Atlantic writer Leah Sottile puts it, “like I’m a ticking time bomb that could go off anywhere between the water cooler and the break room.”

But the paradox, as she points out, is that many people who listen to metal say the music calms them down. This is something Jeffrey Jensen Arnett confirmed at length in his book Metalheads, and that many other fans have said over the years. Sottile has her own theories for why this is, which she feels are backed by a recent small study out of the The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The study found that people who chose music that suited their mood, whether they were happy or angry, experienced better well-being overall.

Sottile says:

It’s no novel idea that someone might choose to rev themselves up with aggressive music before a engaging in a tough task: A fourth quarter tie-breaker, a tense salary negotiation. And no surprise, the folks who chose angry music had no problem completing their tasks.

But [the study] also found that the people who chose to be pissed off actually showed a greater sense of well-being overall than the people who avoided feelings of unpleasantness.

She also talks about the concept of constructive anger: “if you listen to Judas Priest’s ‘Hell Patrol’ in your cubicle and then finally ask your boss for a raise, that’s a form of constructive anger. You’re getting mad, and it gives you the courage to solve an issue.” No wonder such people feel better about themselves.

What do you think? Do you listen to metal? How has it helped you deal with your emotions in a constructive way? Do you feel like you’re more content than the average person?

What’s behind our “teen witch” obsession?


Why do we fear the occult — and the teenage girls who dabble in it? Sady Doyle has some clues. Photo by Flickr user alicetiara.

In my research for Backward Messages, I came across more than one story about groups of teen girls who became temporarily obsessed with the film The Craft. This was before Harry Potter. Indeed, it was before Charmed, the show which brought young, attractive, savvy witches to television screens everywhere. Having a teenager suddenly enthralled by witches definitely worried some parents — but most admitted it was a phase, and it passed.

Still, truths are hidden in our scary movies (even if The Craft doesn’t really fall into that category). Sady Doyle, who writes at the blog Rookie, tackles this topic personally and gracefully in one of her latest posts, “The Season of the Witch.” In it, she writes about her own teen obsession with witchy films — as well as the cultural anxieties that are often behind horror films and our fears of them.

Before there was The Craft, there were the Salem witch trials, which started because the young girls of the town were engaging in unearthly, demonic behavior—such as “screaming” and “throwing things.” You know. The sort of thing you’d never do as a 12-year-old, especially not if you were stuck in a freezing-cold Puritan settlement where the funnest activity was churning butter.

Doyle smartly addresses the stories of cultural figures like Annelise Michel, a teenage girl who died in Germany in 1976 of neglect and starvation because her staunchly Catholic parents insisted that her adolescent behavior (and epilepsy) was the work of demons possessing her. In a more fictional account, there’s The Exorcist, which Doyle views thusly:

Once you realize that The Exorcist is, essentially, the story of a 12-year-old who starts cussing, masturbating, and disobeying her mother — in other words, going through puberty — it becomes apparent to the feminist-minded viewer why two adult men are called in to slap her around for much of the third act. People are convinced that something spooky is going on with girls; that, once they reach a certain age, they lose their adorable innocence and start tapping into something powerful and forbidden.

In our society, women’s sexuality and the occult remain two subjects many people understand less well than they should — and we fear what we don’t understand. It makes sense that these two should be combined, or serve as metaphors for one another, in our films and fiction.

The question remains: why do we fear teenage girls so much? I’ve seen this asked many times, but haven’t found a comprehensive answer. Certainly, it is a topic we revisit in horror films. What’s interesting is, some films are obviously there to allow people to explore these fears in a safe, fictional way. And other films — such as The Craft — help teenage girls come to grips with fears about how their bodies and minds are changing as they enter adolescence and, eventually, adulthood. Although it would be great to leave these fears behind, we haven’t — and this is how we’re dealing with it, for now.

Do these films contribute to actual girl-hatred and girl-fear in our culture? Or do they simply reflect and (hopefully) exorcise the fear that already exists? I suspect it’s more the latter. What do you think?