All simple monkeys with alien babies
Amphetamines for boys
Crucifixes for ladies
Sampled and soulless
Worldwide and real webbed
You sell all the living
For more safer dead
Anything to belong
Rock is deader than dead
Shock is all in your head
Your sex and your dope is all that were fed
So fuck all your protests and put them to bed
God is in the T.V.
– Marilyn Manson
Getting Real With David T. Bruce
My 12-year-old son received a low grade for an assignment at school because he used Marilyn Manson’s name in a list of musical acts. In addition, he noted the only the titles of two of Manson’s more popular songs. He did not use the artist’s name or song titles in any other context. He did not discuss the performer’s music, antics, or ideals. Of course, Marilyn Manson’s reputation precedes him, and the teacher went out of her way to review the lyrics of the songs, and based on these lyrics (which were not provided or eluded to in the assignment), the teacher assigned a poor grade based on her opinion of the lyrics she found on her Internet research.
Marilyn Manson is certainly not a performer that should be introduced to a younger audience. As parents, my wife and I spend an inordinate amount of time researching song lyrics, concert performances, and the ideologies of musicians of all genres. Many musical acts that are mainstreamed through movies, television shows, and restaurants are targeted at a larger audience but are simultaneously available to the younger set. We think it is important to be a partner in exposing our children to pop culture, guiding them proactively as opposed to doing damage control when questions arise.
While Marilyn Manson is a musician that we do not permit our son to spend a lot of time listening to (or any time watching), we do recognize that he has a cursory interest in his music. This interest can be satiated by pointing out the songs that are appropriate to listen to, by discussing the history of the musician to a small extent, and by explaining that the musician is not a hero, but a human who has ideas and makes choices as the rest of us do.
Some of Manson’s ideas and opinions may be valid, while some of his choices are patently poor. As parents, we can choose to shield our children from everything considered to be inappropriate, or we can guide them through the myriad facets that define a person or in this instance, a musician, who overtly portrays images that are meant to shock and offend. Our society tends to demonize subversive behavior, giving the behavior and associated language far more power and attention than is necessary. We give words too much power. My son’s teacher gave the words too much power. From our point of view, the words have no power once they are understood. We do not sensor a song at home because an artist drops the F-bomb or broaches subjects deemed dangerous to our children. We do sensor lyrics on content, whether or not a word exists that might offend the gentle sensibilities of our society.
An objective exploration of the lyrics in question might compel a person to concentrate on the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, who was a philosopher that challenged his contemporaries to question the existence of God, at least in the conventional context. We can examine these lyrics as words that challenge how our society perceives God and how our society perceives the likes of Marilyn Manson. The lyrics in question might easily paint a picture of the fear that drives people to judge others based upon surface assessments, ignoring the attitudes and ideals that shape who and what we are.
Exposing our son to Marilyn Manson will not make him a devil worshiper any more than exposing him to what condoms are for will turn him into a sex maniac. We’re teaching him to think for himself.
Regardless, assessing a grade based on fear seems inappropriate when our goal is to educate children about the world around them. Imposing a personal set of values in an educational environment seems a breach of ethics and of trust. Words do not need to be dangerous to our society. Ignorance is dangerous; fear is dangerous, and both permeate our culture in respect to those art forms that challenge the foundation and the direction of our society.
We can shield our children from the subversive, but we do so only until they enter the world on their own, at which point they are blindsided by realities that exist, without the tools to interpret or understand these realities. Parents and teachers together can guide children. We do them a disservice by slapping their hands for even approaching a subject that may be considered seditious. The shock is indeed all in our heads.