Violence, Metal and Jared Lee Loughner

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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.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  sddks:

"If fingers are to be pointed"

They aren't. Again, scapegoats are only useful for those who have a fervent desire to further an agenda.

" they should be pointed at the ones who argue for the burnin of the flag, ignoring the Constitution,"

You  don't think this is a bit contradictory? If burning the flag is free  expression, and free expression is something which is guaranteed by our  government...clearly you see where I'm going with this. You can't say "I'm all for everyone who agrees with me to freely express themselves." That's not how it works.

"But I suppose that, as Bush is responsible  for every natural disaster, Palin is naturally responsible for every act  of violence in America."

Why rely on strawmen? Nobody is arguing either of those points.

If we do have to bring politics into it though, Palin's crosshairs map is a lot tamer than that "Second Amendment remedies" line spouted by Sharron Angle. There's only one way that could be interpreted. I'm not saying such violent rhetoric is to blame; I'm saying it could lead to people getting ideas, whether or not that's the intention.

Hm, deja vu with that last line...

point is, both statements are equally valid...which is to say, not very valid at all. They're both statements based upon trying to discredit something the person who would say them disagrees with, statements requiring no evidence.

The counter-arguments for both misguided statements are the same as well...Video games/music/films: hundreds of thousands of people enjoying R-movies and M-games *not* shooting up a school or attacking a Congressperson.Political rhetoric: How many Twitter followers do Sarah Palin or Keith Olbermann have? How many people watch Glenn Beck? Jon Stewart? And how many of those people, surrounded on all sides by uncivil political opinions, go out there and physically assault someone as a result? As with the games/movies/music, the answer is: not that many.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the truest, or at least the only knowable one, and we shouldn't try to twist and contort reality to make it fit our worldview.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  jhnwsly:

I think that with all due respect there is not only zero connection between Laughtner, what he did, and the music he listened to and more to do with a clear psychological and mental breakdown.

I was in high school during the columbine massacres in 99. I remember hearing all the familiar arguments about violent video games and messed up music. Guess what? since then games have gotten even MORE violent, and more people (including kids) play them (more than likely for longer hours)and as a result... school shootings since then have either gone down or stayed at about the same level. Oh well so much for that correlation.

Sometimes we're so eager to be right about certain things in life we can miss the obvious. Its not what goes into a man that defiles him rather what comes out of him (mt 15:11). Our media can only influence as for as much as we let it. We would be wise to remember that before we make correlations that fall apart upon impact.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Watcher500:

OK, I read the lyrics. Now that I hear the moshpit explanation that makes since, but that interpretation is hard to come by unless someone tells you. The words to that song on the surface are very violent and seem to celebrate death. It's scarey when people try to distance the act of violence from the violent media. What we put into our brains does affect us for the good or bad. For most of us, the affects are very subtle and it will never come out in any extreme manner. But, there are many people out there who have not been redeemed by Jesus Christ and therefore have nothing holding them back from allowing those influences to grow and take over their brains. They have no compass for what is right and wrong because the Bible is meaningless to them.  Many people don't have that basis to stand on.  Let's face it. For many people today, what's right and what's wrong is defined by the media.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  sddks:

Having just reread it, the previous comment wasn't meant to imply that there's never been a link between violent media and real-life murders by any means. It's just that no person of sound mind* will commit a crime *because* of media, and a person not of sound mind can be inspired to heinous acts by just about anything, as history can attest.

And yet...violent  individuals do seem to enjoy their aggressive media. I'd merely say that evidence for causation is lacking.

*This blog post does speak to the need for parents to be ever-vigilant against corrosive influences. I say "no person of sound mind" which doesn't include impressionable children.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

i think its quite a stretch to conclude that metal music made jared loughner kill. in fact, i'd go and say its just plain inaccurate. in the real world, causation is very hard to prove becasue there are so many factors at work here that could have contributed to his shooting rampage. I know plugged in isn't a fan of rock metal music, but as a fan i'm offended that its been demonized by linking it, even tangentially, to this tragedy.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  AravisK:

Because politicians weren't responsible for this guy's behavior.  Sarah Palin didn't write the Communist Manifesto, nor did Obama write Mein Kampf.  If you want to blame "people', blame Hitler and Marx for writing those two pieces of "literature."  I'm not saying that violent media is to blame; I'm saying that it could lead to people getting ideas, whether or not that's the intention.

this shouldn't have even been made into a political agenda because this guy was angry at the GOVERNMENT.  He was a registered Independent, and he wanted to go after elected officials.  He was in Giffords' district, and he chose her.  Of course shocking violence didn't come as a result of media.  The very first violent act was murder in the Bible.  If fingers are to be pointed, they should be pointed at the ones who argue for the burnin of the flag, ignoring the Constitution, and of course the ones who wrote those two books I mentioned before. (And I don't necessarily buy that he was crazy; he obviously had this planned out far in advance, and crazy people aren't very good planners, IMHO.)

But I suppose that, as Bush is responsible for every natural disaster, Palin is naturally responsible for every act of violence in America.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  sddks:

I find it interesting when people seem pretty eager to point to violent media while unequivocally saying the political climate had no impact, no way, no how. These notions seem to come from a desire to further whatever agenda a person feels passionately about. There are rarely any easy scapegoats.

Shocking violence didn't come into being with the advent of loud music or bloody movies. With the popularity of such media, we'd have a murder spree every other day if the explanation for this tragedy were anything other than crazy doing what crazy does.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  jmn15:

This is ironic because the song "Bodies" has nothing to do with violence. It's about the lead singer's experiences of looking down on a mosh pit while singing live. Violent media is meant to be a harmless diversion, showing you something you would never do in real life. Sadly some people think that copying what they see in the media is a good idea. There is a reason entertainment is called entertainment and not reality. It's a diversion that most people will use responsibly, but the ones who misuse it are the ones that we hear about. This is just another example of a tragedy happening because someone wasn't thinking about their decsions. This is not an example of media causing an act to happen. Im deeply worried we will continue blame the media(or whatever else) instead of taking to light the real issue: A misguided soul

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  AravisK:

While I don't want to blame a violent song for Loughner's actions....I certainly think it needs to be looked at more so than the "toxic rhetoric" lie being spread around.  Loughner was clearly unsettled somewhere in his mind.  Violent media like video games and movies just seems to add a lot of fuel to the fire.