In the wake of Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., the press and behavioral experts have swarmed over every bit of evidence from his life in an attempt to answer the question, “Why?”
Much of the initial speculation focused on the alleged link—or not—to vitriolic political rhetoric in the media and by some politicians. On Monday, however, the Washington Post published a lengthy article examining another potential puzzle piece in Loughner’s unstable life: his music interests.
Specifically, the Post commented on the single video on Loughner’s YouTube channel, one he listed as a “favorite.” It shows a hooded person wearing a garbage bag as he burns an American flag in the desert. Its soundtrack? The song “Bodies” by the metal act Drowning Pool.
The song’s chorus repeatedly says, “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor,” which Post staff writer J. Freedom du Lac described as “a refrain that carries an eerie echo in the context of the shooting rampage in Tucson.” Du Lac notes that no one is saying that Drowning Pool’s song is responsible here. Rather, the inclusion of this song is one of the few clues anyone has unearthed about Loughner’s affinities and tastes. Said du Lac:
Investigators haven't suggested a link between Loughner's violent outburst and 'Bodies,' a 2001 single by the Dallas band Drowning Pool. But Loughner's embrace of 'Bodies'—at least as the backdrop to a favorite video—strikes a familiarly chilling chord: The Drowning Pool song served as the soundtrack to a double murder in Oakton, where in 2003, then-19-year-old Joshua Cooke cranked the throbbing tune on his headphones, walked out of his bedroom holding a 12-gauge shotgun and killed his parents. As people curious to understand Loughner have watched his videos since the shooting spree, they have come upon a raging, edgy anthem that likely brought to mind the many previous cases in which songs were blamed—perhaps unfairly—for inspiring violence.
Du Lac then delves into the age-old question of how we can begin evaluate what role, if any, violent media might play in an unstable person’s choices to commit horrific violence.
On one hand, the article quotes Brad Bushman, a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University, who said, “You’re never sure what caused an individual to commit a specific act. But I’ve been doing research on violent media for 20 years, and the evidence is that it leads to aggressive behavior. It’s not the only factor that leads to violence, but it’s one of them.”
On the other, University of Arizona professor Ed Donnerstein, co-author of the 2003 study “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth,” argued that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to connect the dots between Loughner and Drowning Pool. “He’s obviously a very disturbed individual. So there would be lots and lots of factors interacting with each other that could contribute to his behavior. If the media was an influence, it was one of many, many influences … and sometimes, it’s very, very difficult to parcel out what particular factor is more important than others.”
For its part, Drowning Pool has vigorously denounced any suggestion that its music played a part in this tragedy, going so far as to take the Washington Post to task for implying such a connection. The band’s initial statement, posted on its website, said, “We were devastated to learn of the tragic events that occurred in Arizona and that our music has been misinterpreted, again.” After the Post’s article was published, the band added, “We find it inappropriate to imply that our song or rock music in general is to blame for this tragic event. It is premature to make this assumption without having all the facts in the case. It is just as likely that this horrible act was caused by the irresponsible and violent rhetoric used by mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post. Listening to Drowning Pool music does not make you a bad person. Misleading people does.”
The band also reiterated that the song in question (check out the lyrics here) is about how to treat people when they fall to the ground in a concert mosh pit: “‘Bodies’ was written about the brotherhood of the mosh pit and the respect people have for each other in the pit. If you push others down, you have to pick them back up. It was never about violence. It’s about a certain amount of respect and a code.”
We’ll likely never know with certainty whether Loughner’s affinity for this video—and the music that accompanied it—played any role in inspiring his actions. That said, this aspect of the tragedy once again raises questions about the possibility of such a connection.