shaping the youth of today?

Can music influence people to commit suicide or engage in illegal activities?
by Carmen Tassone

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 sinks in."
           "Most certainly."
            "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?"
            "No, we shall certainly not allow that."
            "Our 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 roll" was 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 be me."
     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.

 Works Cited:
Plato. The Republic. Everyman's Library. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New Edition. 1976.