The road to hell

A Fort Worth crime-prevention group is warning parents about Goth-rock, but is that such a good idea?

Manson has long been the target of Christian-right groups such as the American Family Association, which refers to him in a recent newsletter as a "Christian-hating shock-rocker" or "hate-rocker" whose songs "promote a nihilistic, depressing, hopeless worldview." In November of last year, he was one of myriad musicians whose name and work were bandied during congressional subcommittee hearings hosted by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, and Joseph Liebermann, a Democrat from Connecticut. The hearings--titled "Music Violence: How Does it Affect Our Children?"--featured testimony from North Dakota parents Raymond and Christine Kuntz, whose 15-year-old son, Richard, killed himself in December 1996--while listening to Manson's Antichrist Superstar. (A few months before, in June, a teacher at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, had told a similar panel that Tupac Shakur's music was to blame for the March shooting rampage at her own school, resulting in five dead.)

Shortly before he shot himself in the head, Richard Kuntz had also been working on a term paper about Manson, which his parents presented to the committee as proof that the musician had worked his evil voodoo on their son. Yet, ironically, Richard's thesis seemed to echo his parents' own concerns: He wrote of how Manson "shows that it is possible for Christian society to produce someone who is against everything it stands for" and how "many children's minds are being degraded" by such "evil" groups as Marilyn Manson. Several editorials that ran shortly after the hearings ended wondered why Brownback or Liebermann never considered that Richard's suicide might have been the result of poor parenting.

Brownback, who read Manson's lyrics aloud, displayed the same sort of panic attack that manages to turn any serious debate about music and violence into a politician's dog-and-phony show. He insisted that "there doesn't seem to be many Marilyn Manson fans over the age of 20," and lumped most music into the category of "hyperviolent, misogynistic" without citing specific examples. This, even though Frank Palumbo of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the committee that "to date, no studies have documented a cause-and-effect relationship between sexually explicit or violent lyrics and adverse behavioral effects."

The Crime Resource Prevention Center's attacks on Manson are the first time a law-enforcement agency has gone after the musician. But it's certainly not the first time a Texas law-enforcement agency has threatened a musician or his record label: In 1992, the Dallas-based Texas Peace Officers Association went after Time-Warner when Ice-T's song "Cop Killer" appeared on the Body Count album. Some label officials at Warners were threatened with legal action if they didn't dump Ice-T; a few were even sent death threats. Eventually, Ice-T left the label for the much-smaller Priority Records. He claimed he did it to take the pressure off Warners; others at the label insisted he jumped after he was pushed. Either way, Ice-T's career was never the same. In time, the Original Gangsta would turn up as a talking kangaroo in the movie Tank Girl.

But Jacquez insists his organization is not advocating censorship of Manson or his label, Interscope Records, merely responsibility on the part of parents and teachers who need to know more about what their kids are listening to--and why they're listening to it.

"It's not about Mr. Manson," he claims. "It's about the parents' responsibility to take responsibility with their own child, whether he's 5 or 50. It's about sitting down with your child and saying, 'Let's listen to your music and discuss it. I don't understand it, so explain it to me,' and hopefully the parent will get close to the child, because a lot of our problems with gangs and juvenile violence is the family has been fragmented."

Some of what Jacquez has to say makes sense: There's nothing at all wrong with a kid telling his parent why he or she likes a band--any band, whether it's Manson or 'N Sync or Sepultura--if the parent is willing to listen and understand. Better to get to listen with Mom and Dad than have the folks panic behind your back.

But where Jacquez gets off track is when he begins classifying Manson fans and, in particular, Goth kids as gang members. He likes to talk about how Goth kids are into graffiti, drugs, violence against themselves and others. He says he knows this because police officers have told him as much. Yet he offers no statistical information to back up his claims--because no such information exists.

"A gang by definition is a group of individuals, three or more, that meet on a regular basis and have certain identifying characteristics and have a leader they look up to that commits criminal activities," he says, pointing out that Goths do fit the "criteria" for being included with Crips and Bloods as gang members. (Then again, using his definition, frat boys and farmers are gang members as well. Jacquez insists that what's really going to save these children's souls is...school uniforms.)

"What we're saying is, these Gothic kids are all meeting together, usually in schools or malls, and are all dressed in their garb or their attire," he says. "They might have an individual within that group they look up to in the group or outside the group, like an artist they get their philosophy from. Our experience shows us they're into graffiti. That's vandalism. A lot of them are practicing and advocating the use of drugs. And a lot of them are into self-mutilation, cutting themselves, slashing, that kind of stuff. There have been some cases where some have been committing sacrifices."

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