MED4106 Radio & Popular Music Reading Response Week 2

Regulation & Moral Panics

In ‘Moral Panic, the Media and British Rave Culture,’ (1994) Sarah Thornton discusses the support youth culture offers underground and sub-cultures as opposed to mass media, especially with music. She focuses on Acid House music which was largely associated with drug use and led to moral panics.

Similarly, in ‘“I’d Sell You Suicide”: Pop Music and Moral Panic in the age of Marilyn Manson,’ (2000) Robert Wright discusses the hegemony of successful artists at the 1998 Grammy Awards (including Elton John, Bob Dylan and James Taylor.) Manson was mocked by the host over a year before the Columbine High School Massacre proving that he was seen as inappropriate even before the moral panic surrounded him. It also discusses how he was disliked by many (mainly older generations) because he was ‘at pains to work his young fans against what he sees as the staid conservatism of their parents’ cultural hegemony.’

Thornton suggests that because of the opposition between subcultures and the media, members of these subcultures want negative coverage in the mass media as an attempt to further distance themselves from ‘commercial’ popular music which they see as a social hierarchy. Write discusses the negative coverage rock music often receives, for example Manson’s lyrics being accused of encouraging suicide. This differs from Thornton’s which suggests members of subcultures don’t appreciate the negative attention. Similar situations have occurred in the past including Ozzy Osborne and Judas Priest being sued by parents and blamed for their children’s suicide or self harm.

Also, Thornton talks about how artists also try to distance themselves from mass culture, not wanting to be seen as ‘sell-outs’ and lose their ‘exclusive ownership’ within their subculture. However, many of these band’s music videos were shown on Top of the Pops suggesting they didn’t mind the mainstream attention and were saying they did to appeal to their fans. Again, this contrasts to the acceptance many rock musicians are denied. Wright writes about other artists including Leonard Cohen and Elton John, both of whom have lyrics that glamorise suicide. It shows that top 40 songs will oftenglamorise suicide more than most rock musicians, but won’t draw any attention because of the genre.

The ideas outlined about rock music are still relevant today as rock bands have been blamed for increases in teen suicide, depression and self-harm. In the lecture this week we looked at Regulation which is meant to be there for diversity, choice and protection, however this is contradictory as when more diverse genres of music become popular, they’re considered dangerous by the media.

To research this area I would compare music videos and lyrics of songs that have been in the UK top 40 recently with the most popular songs of a specific genre, for example, the chart in Metal Hammer Magazine. I would see how many of the lyrics or video for the alternative chart could be linked to problems such as suicide as well as seeing what inappropriate topics the top 40 songs would link to.


Thornton, (1994). ‘Moral Panic, The Media & British Rave Culture’. In: Andrew Ross & Tricia Rose (ed), Microphone Fiends, Youth Music & Youth Culture. 1st ed. London: Routledge. pp.(176-192).

Wright, R. 2000, “‘I’d Sell You Suicide:” Pop Music and Moral Panic in the Age of Marylin Manson,” Popular Music, vol 19, no. 3, pp. 365-385


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