Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Violence and Popular Music

Building on some themes from Criminology, I was surprised to read over the weekend the the definitiveness of this report and the comments of officials at the Colorado Springs Police Department regarding violence and hip hop music. According to the story:

"After a spate of shootings, and with a rising murder rate, the police here are saying gangsta rap is contributing to the violence, luring gang members and criminal activity to nightclubs. The police publicly condemned the music in a news release after a killing in July and are warning nightclub owners that their places might not be safe if they play gangsta rap."

While there may be a correlation between hip-hop and violence, media of any kind is rarely the direct cause of violence in society (not to mention, most who listen to hip-hop don't commit crimes). Yet blaming popular culture and media is easy and it goes back decades.

Comic books were blamed for juvenile unruliness and crime in the 1950's. In 1998 an Oregon teenager by the name of Kip Kinkel went on a rampage at his school Thurston High (documentary watched in 3070 last week). Much of the blame for Kinkel's crimes focused on his collection of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails music (ditto the Columbine killers a year later).

Yet millions of people listen to Nine Inch Nails (your instructor, for one) and don't transgress as a result. In fact, a student once reported that one of the Columbine killers had a Celine Dion cd in his collection. While various acts of self-injury might be attributed to listening to the "Titanic Theme" (such as jumping overboard, for example), I doubt anyone has ever blamed her songs for "causing" a shooting rampage.

We discussed in Intro last week that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. We can establish all sorts of correlations between variables (like music taste and personal behavior). But until you examine the effects of other variables (such as poverty, mental illness, marginalization, etc.) the relationship between violence and hip hop (or any music) must be viewed suspiciously.

As Dr. José J. Barrera of University of Colorado states, "No serious observer believes that current manifestations of youth culture and pop culture actually fuel criminal activity.” In fact, if you want to look at hip-hop and crime, let's explore the relationship between it, "Stop Snitching", and the abysmal homicide clearance rates (arrest rates) found in some inner-city communities today.

Nonetheless, the police in Colorado Springs seem intent on blaming the music and only the music: "With 19 homicides already this year, compared with 15 in 2006, the police insist on a correlation between gangsta rap and violence...the police issued a news release blaming the violence on gangsta rap. " This is unfortunate.

Crime is a multi-faceted problem. By focusing on just violent gangsta rap, community leaders in Colorado Springs ignore other avenues to address crime and its many causes. Hip-hop and its cultural impact is certainly worthy of research and discussion, but we tread dangerously close to reinforcing stereotypes by refusing to look at other causes of violence in society.

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