Tag Archives: Venom

The war against metal is still alive — in some minds

Did Rick Santorum declare war on heavy metal? No — but a hoax is making people think so. Santorum photo by Gage Skidmore.

These days, it can be doggedly difficult to tell truth from fiction. When some of the best news broadcasting comes from Comedy Central, and political candidates say things that seem straight out of The Onion, it takes a sharp eye to know what you’re seeing.

Last week, Tyranny of Tradition posted “Rick Santorum Declares War on Heavy Metal.” Tyranny of Tradition, written by Keith Spillett, is was created “in the hopes of working out some internal questions I have been struggling with in a public way so that those who wrestle with the same questions can have the opportunity to gain deeper insights to their meanings,” Spillett wrote. “There will be some inconsistencies, oversimplifications and illogical arguments in the posts ahead.”

But most people didn’t know that when they read the following:

“If you listen to the radio today, many of these brand new, so-called heavy metal music bands like Black Sabbath, Venom, The WASP and Iron Maiden use satanic imagery to corrupt the minds of young people,” announced Santorum at a 10,000 dollar a plate sock-hop in Valdosta, Georgia on Thursday.

Santorum’s popularity in the polls has grown substantially since he began speaking out against metal and its assault on traditional values. He has spent much of the past week in the Midwest encouraging young people to stay away from metal artists and listen to performers like Michael W. Smith and Pat Boone. In a recent Gallup Poll, 87 percent of Republican voters think that the biggest problem in America today is “the demented bloodlust of teenagers caused entirely by heavy metal music.”

Many blog commenters got the joke right away: “1984 called, they want their controversial topic back,” one quipped. But many others fell for it, believing that the conservative Santorum was reviving the PMRC’s crusade against metal — in fact, against the same metal bands (WASP, Venom) that stuck in Tipper Gore’s craw in 1985.

Apparently, the post went viral on Facebook and Twitter, with many metal fans outraged to be facing the same old moral panic.

What’s interesting to me is that a hoax like this can get so far before people catch on. It means a few things: one, that metalheads’ perception of Republicans is that they’re stuck in the past, ill-informed, and ready to go on the warpath against teen culture. Two, that the spectre of what the PMRC did in the 1980s has not completely gone away, even nearly 30 years later. And three, that the culture of heavy metal has not yet made peace with the dominant culture — and likely never will.

Letting teens confront their own fears

Geraldo Rivera did more than his fair share of fear-mongering, convincing parents that heavy metal would harm their kids. Photo by Flickr user John Brian Silverio.

Being a kid or a teenager today is, in some ways, very different than it was when I was growing up. Many fewer kids walk to school (or ride the bus) on their own. Eating, television, computers — every aspect of their lives are closely monitored. Instead of simply teaching kids not to give out personal information, we write software that does it for them. We read something in the paper or see it on TV and get scared. We stop trusting the world to keep our kids safe, and in turn we stop trusting our ability to teach our kids to navigate an unsafe world — and we stop trusting our kids’ ability to learn to navigate it independently.

But kids still pick up on the fact that it’s a scary world. STDs, gunfights, terrorism, war, dictatorships, massive fires and floods — you don’t arrive at adolescence without at least a vague awareness that the world is a pretty messed-up place. But if you’re shut off from the music and media that can help you process those impressions, then what happens? There’s little left to do but internalize it.

Fortunately, many teens find their way toward catharsis — even if it’s forbidden. Justin Norton wrote this piece for Invisible Oranges about heavy metal music and its role in helping him — and other teens — confront their fears.

The family across the street had a reputation for fighting and arguments that ended in screaming and door-slamming. While my parents were at work, the imposing live-in boyfriend slept through the day like Nosferatu (vicious hangovers were the likely culprit). A giant record store standee from Iron Maiden’s Killers dwarfed his window. The victim’s arms reached up at Eddie, but it was obviously too late. I looked up at Eddie every day, scared.

Everyone my parents wanted me to avoid seemed to have a tangential relationship with metal. The tough who flailed his nunchucks on the front lawn – he would have been perfect in a Mike Judge film – played Judas Priest on his boombox. Troublemakers had metal stickers on car bumpers. The music, while taboo, seemed a readily accessible way to enter a world that oozed strength and defiance.

The fear and power associated with metal became alluring. I was 13. Junior high was more brutal than elementary school, and I looked for ways to set myself apart. My bowl haircut damned me to comparisons to another nerd who had since left the school. I wanted to be something and someone else. I needed to change.

At the same time Justin was discovering heavy metal, television personalities like Geraldo Rivera and political influencers like Tipper Gore were telling parents to be afraid of this music. They said it caused children to become victims of Satanic plots, or caused them to become violent, even sexually violent. (We’ve since seen the same tactic applied to certain video games.) Teen metalheads were portrayed as the victims of a monstrous record industry who only wanted to prey on their curiosity and innocence, selling them toxic messages packaged as entertainment.

If you listen to metalheads, however, you discover that they were — and are — not unwitting victims. They know what they’re getting into with this music. They think a lot about the music and lyrics, and how those messages reflect against their own life experiences. They know when something in the music scares them. Sometimes they put it down, other times they investigate that fear until they conquer it. You can see that in Justin’s piece, which speaks for the experience of many teens who discovered metal in the 1980s, or who are discovering it now.

On the other hand, parents bought into the scary messages they heard:

Geraldo Rivera’s “Satanic panic” special was the worst. “This is not a Halloween fable, this a real life horror story”, Geraldo said before claiming teenagers could be “driven to commit terrible deeds”. The report immediately cut to video clips of Venom and Mötley Crüe, likely boosting record sales. Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” played in the background. Geraldo mentioned that most kids who listen to the music won’t end up killers, but the implication was clear: heavy metal will turn your kid into the equivalent of Jim Thompson’s sociopathic narrator Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me.

Watched decades later, the piece is laughable and frightening in a real way. These kinds of stories can ruin lives. Megadeth is called a Satanic band, despite never writing a Satanic song and the eventual conversion of their frontman to Christianity.

It’s hard to say for sure why so many parents fail to see through this kind of anti-metal propaganda, particularly when their kids — the very kids they assume are blank, undiscriminating slates — are the ones thinking hard about this music, its messages, and its relevance to their lives. It’s so important to trust kids, to trust their instincts when it comes to media. Sure, talk to them about it and make sure they’re actually listening to those instincts. But then let them explore. Take the training wheels off. Let them ride off on their own, fall down, pick themselves up again, and ride on.

Did your parents ever “protect” you from anything they thought was an unsafe influence — something that really enriched your life? Share your stories in the comments.

What if your favorite music could send you to jail?

Heavy metal and Egypt, hand in hand.

Even though plenty of Americans see heavy metal music as immoral, dangerous, violent music, there are are limits to what can happen to its listeners in this country. When Tipper Gore was waving her “filthy fifteen” flag at bands like Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., and Venom, the worst would be that your parents might take your records away and break them or burn them.

Not so in Egypt. In 1997, police broke down the doors of some 70 homes and arrested the young men inside. Their crime? Being heavy metal fans. Some were released after two weeks. Others remained in jail in Cairo for a month and a half. The same happened in Morocco in 2003 — where 11 metalheads were acquitted and three were convicted of devil worship.

It was black T-shirts that seemed to cause the most offense. (“Normal people,” pronounced the judge in the case, “go to a concert in a shirt and tie.”)

Acrassicauda, the Iraqi band featured in Heavy Metal in Baghdad, was perhaps the only such band in that city — and ultimately fled, because their lives were in danger for playing and celebrating the music they loved.

It’s one thing to listen to this music in America, where doing so is an act of individualism, of rebellion. It’s another when you can be jailed or killed for it. Why would young men risk their lives just for a few heavy guitar riffs?

For Accrasicauda in Iraq, as it was for many in Egypt, metal is the only outlet available, and it becomes the only thing worth fighting for. These kids take serious personal risks in trying to put on shows, in identifying with anything “American”, in growing their hair.

“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” reminds us there are still real outsiders in the big wide world, and it is not an easy position to stake. The documentary depicts, among other things, Accrasicauda’s last Iraqi show in Baghdad’s Al Fanar Hotel – played to intermittent blackouts and the background accompaniment of gunfire – and how much the success of the show means to the participants. “If we cannot find some fun here,” asks one audience member, almost begging the camera, “then where?”

The devotion to metal in Muslim countries, where it is dangerous to listen or perform this music, can tell us something about why anyone, in any country, would do so. It’s more than just entertainment. Kids who listen to metal feel as though they’re part of a tribe, as though they’ve found kinship with music and musicians who understand how they truly feel inside. Taking the music away doesn’t kill those feelings. It makes them more painful.

Muslim countries aren’t the only place where rebellious music is suspect. In Uzbekistan, a state television documentary warned citizens that such music is “evil” and “Satanic.”

“This satanic music was created by evil forces to bring youth in Western countries to total moral degradation,” according to the documentary.

Thankfully, America left that sentiment behind (mostly) in the 1980s, though it still lingers in some parts of the country. It still brings doubt to parents’ minds when they see kids listening to, say, Slipknot or Dir En Grey.

However, this music doesn’t mean anything less to American fans than it does to Egyptian, Moroccan, Iraqi, or Uzbek fans. It’s a powerful outlet, one that many kids need. The fact that some fans are willing to endanger their lives for it only shows how important heavy metal is to all its listeners, in Cleveland and in Cairo.

What if your favorite music could send you to jail — or worse? Would you still listen to it?