his is an awfully tough question to answer. I suppose for me to give a reasonable
response I'll need to rely on more than just my personal experience and opinion.
But before I call upon any assistance, I would like to go first and say I see music as a
very powerful form of expression. Music can convey a message, an idea, a feeling.
a concept, to a multitude of others. It is possibly bested only by the written word, and that may be losing ground.
I also believe music has a profound impact on people and their
lives, not just young people. I mean, have you never heard a song that stirred
emotions inside you that summoned a sense of serenity, a sense of escape? A song
that could bring you home, or a song that reminds you of family and friends, and great
times gone by? Or maybe a song that becomes your own--a self declared anthem
if you will. Or maybe one that woos a wedded couple of twenty years to say,
"Listen, they're playing our song." And so with this I think if it is
possible for a song to be influential enough to make us laugh, smile or be happy, why is
it not possible for a song to engender a feeling of sadness, grief or sorrow as well?
In spite of all this however, I'm still unsure that music has
the persuasive power to encourage a person to take his or her own life. Nor does it
seem likely that music is influential enough to motivate them to engage in illegal
activities. But as I wallow in my uncertainty, I'm put at ease to know this is not
a new disturbance in our lives.
It seems throughout history concerned people have questioned the
influences of music, poetry and stories on the youth of the day. Even as far back as
367 BC similar concerns have been raised and are evident when Plato wrote:
"Then do you know that the most important part of every task is the beginning
of it, especially when we are dealing with anything young and tender? For then it
can be most easily moulded [sic], and whatever impression any one cares to stamp upon it
"Then shall we carelessly and without more ado allow our children to
hear any casual stories told by casual persons, and so to receive into their
souls views of life for the most part at variance with those which we think
they ought to hold when they come to man's estate?"
we shall certainly not allow that."
first duty then, it seems, is to set a watch over the makers of stories, to
select every beautiful story they make, and reject any that are not
beautiful. Then we shall persuade nurses and mothers to tell those
selected stories to the children. Thus will they shape their souls
with stories far more than they can shape their bodies with their
hands. But we shall have to throw away most of the stories they [the
poets] tell now." (Plato, 54)
This passage is taken from Plato's Republic
and comes from "Book II" when Socrates and the Sons of Ariston, among
others, discuss how to build a republic. This discussion originated
from "Book I" where Socrates defended the virtue of justice.
But by "Book II" neither side had been swayed from their position, and
so they decide the best way to test their theories of justice and
injustice was to build a republic from scratch and control every aspect of its growth,
including its children. In the above segment, Socrates suggests they shield the
children from all things that are "not beautiful." Meaning, he wanted
to prevent the children from being exposed to the benefits of being unjust.
And though I disagree with proponents of injustice, who said
that it was bad to be just and good to be unjust, I do see their point. I know it
sounds a little backward, but if you think about the meaning of the old adage "nice
guys finish last" you might come to understand why they thought
injustice was good. An unjust person might do anything to acquire
wealth, power and other pleasures of the body, while a just person would
seek a different stage in life that would not taint his soul and spirit
with such possessions or indulgences.
But the proponents of injustice did raised an intriguing
question about these two types of people--a just man and an unjust man. If each
men possessed a ring that let them become invisible at
will, would it change their sense of justice?
Of course the unjust man would remain the same.
Matter of fact, he'd probably be more unjust since he was free from
indictment for any crimes that he might commit.
But what of the other guy, the just man, would this change him? He
knows the ring would also allow him to do anything he wanted without
prosecution. The Sons of Ariston believed it is in our nature to
be unjust and most people are only pretending to be just. They
felt the just man would become unjust since he knew no one could see him
be unjust. Socrates believed the just man would remain true to his
heart and stay the course. But to prove either position, their Republic would
have to be completely just, and that meant any influences on the
children would have to be good.
Similarly, parents of today are concerned with
exposing their children to musical groups (among other things) that sensationalize drug use,
sex and death.
If I remember correctly "sex, drugs and rock 'n
the rallying call for most rockers in the 70's. Even though I've heard it rephrased as "sex, drums and rock 'n
roll," musical groups still relish in it, kids live for it, and
some parents close their minds to it. And as in the article by Anna
Quindlen, "Suicide Solution," some parents may even point to
it as the cause of a needless tragedy.
I do remember hearing about the case Ms. Quindlen
refers to in her article. While I wasn't a Judas Priest
fan, I felt then, as I do today, the parents were wrong to blame the
band for their children's double suicide. Ms. Quindlen said it best when she wrote, "It is a sad attempt by
grieving grown-ups to say, in a public forum, what their lost boys had
been saying for years: someone's to blame for my failures, but it can't
Maybe if Plato had his way, such undesirable
influences could be banished from his Republic. But the truth is
such freedoms of expression in our society are protected by our Constitution.
So as a parent myself, I feel we have the right, as well as, the obligation
to control the influences that enter our homes--our republics--because
we are ultimately responsible for the actions of our children.
And so to answer the question put forth at the
start, I believe music makers and wordsmiths can not possibly be held accountable for
the actions of our children. What's more, as with Socrates, I am
cautious of unjust influences on our children, because they are
impressionable and need sheltering from such things. I truly
believe we all start life out just, and I fear unjust benefits appeal to
our children, but I think the absence of unjust things could result in
our children being more just to their parents, to their teachers,
and to themselves.