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Culture and the Arts
Marilyn Manson, the Rebellious Teen, and Other Irrational Fears

by Deidre Conn

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 1.

Marilyn Manson.GIF (77494 bytes)While listening to the local modern rock station on my car radio on the drive into town today, I realized something: sometimes it isn't what society accepts that reflects its tolerance for minority viewpoints. Sometimes it's what society fears, rejects, and blames for its own lack of vigilance. Often that scapegoat takes the form of a popular outlet youth use to express their natural tendencies to rebel against established norms; in this country it's rock-'n'-roll.

Yes, that influencer of young minds and harbinger of hate for minivans and stock options is under attack again (gasp!). It's understandable in today's climate of youth-oriented violence, where a Kentucky teen is liable to walk into school and gun down a prayer group, or an Arkansas youth can ring a fire alarm and then pick off panicked students in the playground with a rifle. It doesn't mean it's right, however. Most people forget that what to parents is a group of tattooed, pierced, and devil-worshiping social deviants is also (to those who still actually listen to the music and not the watered-down pablum that passes for it on the radio) a group of artists with often relevant things to say about the society in which they live. Either way this music is part of this culture, and no matter what people who have forgotten their youth may do, it's here to stay.

Ever since it's been around, this "young people's music" has put the fear of Youth into adults. Elvis's hips were too provocative for the young, impressionable audience of Ed Sullivan's television variety show; Alice Cooper's snakes and on-stage self-executions were too shocking for decent people to let their teenagers see; the lyrics of Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne's bat stunt made people fear that their fans worshiped the devil and might kill themselves. And now the shock-rock master of the moment, Marilyn Manson, is being attacked for his lyrics, his looks, and his stage shows.

Although Manson's look has evolved from his black-wearing days into a more glam look reminiscent of early David Bowie, he's still the target of scorn. Sure, he may subject his audiences to a perpetual moon thanks to the rearless pants he wears, but these antics are really nothing more than a combination of the pyrotechnics and performance art pioneered by such 70s and 80s rock dinosaurs as KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, and Alice Cooper. However, Manson, whose lyrics often take a subversive and satirical look at American culture, is still attacked, especially by religious fundamentalists, who claim that in his concerts he performs lewd acts with minors, animals, inanimate objects, and anything else at hand, and that he forces his audiences to worship Satan. They even go so far as to claim that in his youth Manson played both the characters Winnie and Paul on the 1980s sit-com "The Wonder Years," although I'm still curious about what that would have to do with him being a monster.

My problem with all of this is that, when people go to court to try to block his concerts or protest yet again to have the evil influence of rock-'n'-roll purged from their towns, they are practicing censorship, which in this form tends to violate the First Amendment. For example, I hate Lawrence Welk's music with a passion: in my opinion it has no artistic or social value and should be eradicated from the face of this planet. However, because of my respect for the First Amendment I am not going to go out on a "Stop the Evils of Bad Polka and Bad Singing" (as opposed to good polka and good singing, which do exist) crusade complete with strong-arm tactics such as boycotts and letter-writing campaigns to public television to get it to stop playing reruns of his show. Instead, I simply change the channel when it's on: problem solved.

Protests that succeed in blocking Manson's performances set a dangerous precedent, and that is this: America, whose government was founded on the principle of protecting the minority stance, is suddenly a place where "majority rules." It is time this country realized that the majority does not rule. The Constitution and amendments are meant to protect the rights of the minority from the majority of people who would, as human nature dictates, trample over them and deny them their rights. Like they are trying to do to Manson, rock-'n'-roll as a whole, and the next generation of adults in this nation.

I also think American parents should remember their youth. If you were a teen in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, remember that you dressed like that and listened to the music you listened to for a reason: to tick off your parents. Now that you are parents, your children are doing the same thing with black clothes, black nail polish, and white make-up. No matter how much your parental instincts make you want to go out and stamp out all the dangers you perceive, remember that you are in a society that is striving to be civilized, and, in such a society, you can't let those instincts run rampant; if you do, there may not be much of a society left.

Besides, if you started listening to the music your teens listen to, and started understanding the actual messages artists such as Marilyn Manson mean for their audience to hear, it may have two effects: (1) You might start getting into the music and thinking these artists aren't so bad, and (2) Your kids, completely bewildered over Mom and Dad liking their stuff, will start dressing in polo shirts with pen protectors and penny loafers. Try it and see what happens; it couldn't hurt.

It's been proven by psychology: adolescents will rebel from the norms their parents establish before finding their own societal norms to follow. No matter whom a city bans or a parent hates, this will not change, unless human nature does, and that isn't likely in the near future. It doesn't, and it shouldn't, allow the majority to crush minority viewpoints. This doesn't mean Marilyn Manson is the next Beatles; it just means that he isn't the next Charles Manson. Rational parents should know the difference; their children do.

Deidre Conn is a member of the Campus Freethought Alliance.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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