In Sikh shooting, don’t blame the metalheads

There’s no need for this.

It’s rare, and very sad, to have three mass shootings in the news at the same time. Yesterday in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page opened fire in a Sikh temple, killing six congregants and wounding others, including a police officer, before police shot and killed him. It comes just as we are still making sense of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, two weekends ago, and as Tucson, Arizona shooter Jared Loughner returns to court tomorrow and is expected to change his plea from “insanity” to “guilty.”

One of the problems I’ve seen with the American public’s analysis and understanding of those who commit mass shootings is that we tend to forget the details over time. Right now, as awful as it is, we have the opportunity to look at three suspects — and coverage of them — side by side: Page, Holmes, and Loughner.

Page: His identity was just revealed this morning, and so far the coverage has focused on three things: his military service, his apparent white-supremacy leanings, and the fact that he played in a hardcore band that expressed those leanings. Early on in the reporting cycle, this is typical; we hear about the surface-level stuff, but deeper issues take time for journalists to tease out. Page was also an army veteran. He was never deployed. It’s unlikely he had PTSD, but possible that other mental issues made him unfit for military service. It’s also possible that his political views took him to a rare and extreme place. We won’t know for a while, yet.

Holmes: At first, there was speculation about whether violent movies or video games inspired him to kill 10 people and injure dozens more. Some also questioned whether the Devil — or demonic possession — was involved. We now know Holmes had deep psychological issues that worried his doctors, and that he was dropping out of grad school — often a sign of worsening mental illness.

Loughner: Again, early reports were way off. Reporters pegged Loughner as a metal fan and an occultist, when in reality it looks like he was deeply disturbed. He has spent the better part of the last year and a half in a psychiatric unit. Now, doctors think they have restored him to a level of competency that would allow him to stand trial. The question remains: was he mentally sound when he fired into that Tucson crowd?

Frequently, psychological issues are core to these men’s struggles. I’m not saying all mentally ill folks are time bombs ready to go off. It isn’t like that. Most people with mental-health struggles, just like most video-game fans, most occultists, most Satanists, most goths, most metalheads, and so on, are not going to hurt anyone. Ever.

What I am saying is, since we know that mental-health issues are central to many mass shootings, what purpose does it serve to call Page a “metal head” on the front page of a major news site — other than to make it sound like his affiliation with metal somehow sparked the killing (it didn’t)? Or even to suggest that metalheads are somehow more likely to fire guns into churches where people are congregating peacefully (they aren’t).

Sure, I know that reporters are also trying to give readers a picture of who this guy was. But the way we dissect these reports, we’re looking for clues — why did he do it? Every piece of information becomes part of the blame game. And when we look in the wrong places, not only does it reinforce negative, incorrect stereotypes about unrelated groups (such as metal fans), but it keeps us from looking in the right places. And that’s the only thing that will help us prevent such tragedies in the future.


27 responses to “In Sikh shooting, don’t blame the metalheads

  1. It is odd that they could have just as easily dropped “army vet” where it says “metal head” and actually given us more accurate information.

    And this is what really gets to me: if the person listens to country music or is in a country band, is that used to essentially define the person is they go on a shooting spree? Never. You will never find a headline that says “Killer neo-Nazi bluegrass banjoist”.

  2. Smallerdemon, that is simply because you don’t see nearly as many mass-murderers that are immersed into bluegrass or Pat Boone as the overwhelming number into violent music. Hmmmm, can it be that once again Beth is stumbling all over the evidence to blame it on mental health without even once considering that bombarding ones brain with songs glorifying death may actually contribute to the mental illness.

  3. Since this you your post, how about you provide the rock-solid scientific studies that show absolutely no link to violent media and violent behavior. The burden of proof is on you.

  4. From one of my favorite singers…

    Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds
    I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
    I went right home and I went to bed
    I stuck that lovin’ .44 beneath my head


    Drugs and violence! Awesome! And the folks in the background are prisoners cheering this song out of recognition.

    You don’t have to go far to find plenty of violence in country music, and even bluegrass. Especially bluegrass. Bluegrass has it’s own entire sub-genre devoted to violence:

    I took her by her pretty white hand
    I let her down that bank of sand
    I pushed her in where she would drown
    Lord, I saw her as she floated down

    Returning home about twelve or one
    Thinking “Lord, what a deed I’ve done?”
    I killed the girl I love, you see
    Because she would not marry me

    Why in the world do you think country music was popular?

  5. I mean, in 1953 Tom Leher was doing parodies of the murder ballad, meaning that it was popular enough that his audience was going to know straight away what he was making fun of.

    Look, 1953 is well before violent rock and roll. These are Irish murder ballads, and bluegrass is a direct descendent of Irish folk music. What about Little Sadie?

  6. And not to keep harping on it, but… here’s a playlist of the 13 grisliest murder ballads of all time.

  7. Smallerdemon, I did not say that I endorse violent Country lyrics, I find them just as disgusting at violent Heavy Metal or Rap lyrics. However, they are not as prevalent as those in Heavy Metal and Rap – that is a fact. Also, I wrote that there are not as many murders associated with Country and Bluegrass, not that there are not any. Here is the difference between us; I can admit that any lyrics that glorify murder, rape, necrophilia, etc… are wrong, even if I like the artist or genre.

  8. “…they are not as prevalent as those in Heavy Metal and Rap – that is a fact” But it certainly was in the past when it was the dominant genre. Look back at the popular country music of the Civil Rights era. I mean, even my grandfather talked about and sang murder ballads (Tom Dooley was a big favorite among his his music group in Alabama when I was growing up in the 70s). Right now, rock music is the dominant genre, and hip-hop is a close second (or maybe even first now). It’s isn’t the music genre or style that makes a crazy person go out and do something. Indeed, they might use it the same way they would use drugs or alcohol to block out reality, but people do that with movies as well. Moreover, with movies, violent people often take movies with intended messages and obsessively watch them in order to draw the opposite messages from them. It’s well know that during the war in Iraq that there were a lot of the less than sane soldiers that would lock onto movies like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket and even Apocalypse Now to feed their violent tendencies, even though everyone of those movies (and so many more) are straight up condemnations of the lunacy of war. Crazy people see what they want to see in everything that they take in, be it movies or music or books. What if you found Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on his shelves? What if he wrote scifi stories about race war? Would we delve into how the genre of scifi fueled his hatred?

    “Here is the difference between us; I can admit that any lyrics that glorify murder, rape, necrophilia, etc… are wrong, even if I like the artist or genre.”

    “The point being that that person dictates what the other person is saying (making an assumption), and then immediately proceeds to debunk that statement. ” Well, let’s just start with your meaning: I, me personally, as per something I posted previous to this said in detail “I will never admit that music lyrics glorifying murder, rape, necrophilia, etc are wrong.” It’s interesting that you caught that somewhere in what I said, as I don’t see it. Of course, the key word here is “glorify” since that’s that unstated assumption you are making about metal and hip-hop (rap). Indeed, some of it does glorify it, and that’s pretty fucked up. And, just as I hand-picked a few nice country gems with violent content, you can pick and choose any number of metal or hip-hop songs with violent content (along with opera, don’t forget that genre since it’s FULL of all of the aforementioned atrocities, in fact, I’m almost certain that’s ALL opera is about) and say “Look see. Point made. If this song glorifies then all songs like this glorify it.” Indeed, in our country right now that last sentence sums up the level of discourse and dialogue currently going on in our country about everything: Blame. Not just blame, but blame based on terrible rhetoric. And I don’t use “rhetoric” here to mean the terrible “talking points” of all sides, but in the genuine sense of terrible method of discourse. No one wants to talk about more deep seated problems in the cultural threads of our history, and no one wants to talk about violent music with any level of depth beyond using it as a scapegoat (except for Beth here, which is one reason I like reading her blog). And no one wants to use establish methods of discourse or argumentation. What we want is to easily point out problems. To say “This, see. This was the problem.” And even when we do go beyond that, it’s almost always done superficially to tie together the loosest of strings of a narrative to force it to make sense. And that last part in any shooting incident is key: we are trying to make sense of crazy people. And it is making us crazier and crazy to each other.

    • I apologize for stating that you can’t admit that music that glorifies violence is wrong.

      My point is that there are most likely many reasons someone decides to go on a shooting spree, We should not discount any of them. I fail to see an even-handed approach with Beth. I have not seen any posts (although they may exist) in which she condemns violent lyrics, be them Rap, Country, Pop, Opera or Metal. This most recent shooter’s life revolved around his interest in hate music. He used it to recruit others to his hate fest. To say it has no bearing at all on what he did is to be willfully blind.

  9. “The lyrical themes of death metal may invoke slasher film-stylized violence, but may also extend to topics like Satanism, anti-religion, occultism, nature, mysticism, philosophy, science fiction, and politics. Although violence may be explored in various other genres as well, death metal may elaborate on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape and necrophilia.” (

    • Invalid. They picked subjects at random to listen to the songs. They needed to do a before & after with people who are fans of the music. People are wired differently; people who listen to music they don’t like are (this is not scientific, just my sense) are probably going to be grumpy afterward.

  10. Interesting, you dismiss anything that does not align with your belief. You are not objective at all. Am I saying that violent media is the sole reason for violent behavior – no. However, I do see that it is something that needs to be explored. Why is it that at political events they will play certain types of music to elicit patriotism, at churches the music played it to get one into the sprit of worship, at sports events the music played brings out competitiveness, a wrestling match plays music to increase aggression. If you are honest, you will admit that different types of music enhance different moods and behavior. Here is another link for you regarding Heavy Metal and aggression.

    • It’s true that I have a particular perspective, and this blog is devoted to supporting that perspective. It’s not about “subjective,” or “belief.” I’ve researched this topic extensively and have interviewed more than 100 people.

      One of the problems we’re having in communicating about this is that we come at this topic from different angles and in many cases are not even talking about the same things.

      For example, you say, “different types of music enhance different moods and behavior.” I’ve never denied that. However, different types of music also evoke different moods in different people. Not everyone likes classical. Some adore it. Same for jazz, or metal, or hip-hop. Someone who loves jazz isn’t going to feel the same way while listening to it as someone who hates it. Many of these academic studies on music and emotion are bogus because they discard that fact.

      For more on this phenomenon and how music-listeners vary, a great book is Levitin’s “Music and the Brain.”

      If you’d like to see a blog explore how violent music contributes to violent behavior, I invite you to start one. WordPress accounts are free.

  11. Thanks for the invite!

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