Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Slayer Controversy

Ah, Slayer. Slayer is one of my favorite bands of all time. There is no question that some of their subject matter can be a tad on the offensive side. For their entire careers, they have been plagued by allegations of Nazism, Satanism, and Anti-Christianity. For the latter two, deservedly so, although much of their message is delivered tongue-in-cheek. Admittedly, this does tend to get lost in the violent music.

There have been times though in music history that bands have been sued for the "messages" in their music. Slayer is one such band that was brought to court.

I'm not going to name names here, because I believe in the privacy of the victims' family. I just want to shed some light on the events and the lawsuit itself. I do feel bad for their family, however suing a music group for supposedly inciting people to commit murder based on the group's lyrics is outrageous.

The facts are as follows: A young woman was raped and murdered by three young men. The three men knew the girl, but it is unclear how well. The stated intention of the men was to kill her as part of a Satanic ritual in order to give their garage band the ability to go make money. They returned to the body several times to continue having sex with it. The body was only found when one of the boys converted to Christianity and told the cops. All three are now in jail serving long prison sentences.

Not content with the imprisonment of the perpetrators, the parents of the girl went after Slayer for their violent lyrics that they claimed incited the men to rape and murder their daughter. The case was originally filed in 1996, shortly after the discovery of the body but was delayed pending results of the criminal trials.

The original case was eventually thrown out by the judge who felt there were no legal grounds for holding the band responsible for the murder of the girl. The judge allowed the parents to try to amend their complaint, which they did citing the band for distributing harmful material to minors. This case was also dismissed when the judge found that there was nothing harmful, indecent, or obscene about the music to rise to that level.

Slayer's lyrics can be a bit on the extreme side, there is no question about that. However, U.S. courts have always required a little more than extremity in order to restrict speech. Speech must be indecent or obscene and neither of these is particularly true for Slayer. The speech may be a little disturbing, but it simply never rises to the level of the courts having the right to restrict it. Besides, in a way, Slayer's music already is restricted. Most albums feature the explicit lyrics sticker, which to some people is not much of a deterrent and may in fact make the album more attractive. But the fact remains that if the stores are doing things right, they are not supposed to sell albums featuring this sticker to minors. It's not Slayer's fault that their music gets into the hands of minors.

I have long had an issue with the blame media gets for violence. I was a senior in high school when Columbine occurred. I remember being outraged that the media was taking shots at bands like Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and KMFDM and violent video games for the actions of two disturbed high school boys. The fact of the matter is that we don't know whether media incites people to violence or whether people who are already predisposed to violence seek out violent imagery. It's a correlation, not a causation and people NEED to be aware of that fact.

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