Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grown-up "Devil's Music" Fans Totally Fine

Whenever fundamentalists bring up how evil and damaging role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are supposed to be (and yes, they are still doing that) I like to bring up my favorite letter of all time from Dragon magazine. In it, the writer pointed out that if you take (A) the number of suicides fundamentalists linked to D&D players and divide by (B) the number of D&D players according to accurate marketing information, the resulting suicide rate was half that of the general population.

My fellow D&D nerds and I had a good laugh back then about how fundamentalists were bad at math and didn't understand statistics. However, a new study of kids who grew up listening to "the Devil's music" - that is, heavy metal - shows that maybe those numbers were more accurate than we realized. Back in the 1980's a lot of metalheads also played D&D, and according to the study metal fans in fact grew up to be happier and better-adjusted than their non-metal listening peers.

With dramatic testimony in courtrooms and at Congressional hearings, concerned parents and even government officials warned that groups like Iron Maiden and Metallica were enticing our teenagers into moral and spiritual darkness—up to and including devil worship.

So now that three decades have passed since this alleged attempt by Satan to infiltrate young brains via eardrum-shattering sounds, how are those headbangers doing? Did their punishingly loud and intense music send them spiraling into lives of despair?

Not so, according to a newly published study. In fact, researchers find that former metal fans "were significantly happier in their youth, and better adjusted currently" compared to their peers who preferred other musical genres, and to a parallel group of current college students.

While I realize it's just as much of a statistical stretch to link metal to gaming as it is to link gaming to suicides, what it does show is that the fundamentalist obsession with "damaging media" is basically nonsense. I'm also reminded of the enormous effort conservative researchers have put into trying to find a link between media and violence, media and mental illness, media and trauma, and so forth - with nothing solid to show for it.

So it seems that the human mind has evolved to deal with dark imagery quite well without resorting to suicide or mass murder or whatever it was that the scolds were so worried about. Music censorship such as that advocated by anti-metal groups back then is quite simply pointless, and this is something we should keep in mind whenever a religious group starts warning about the dangers of different musical genres. Those fears are as old as the jazz age, and have never held up.

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