Drill, juggalos, death metal—studies have shown that listening to violent music can actually make us happy, so why do authorities continue to censor it?
For the past couple of years, London’s Met police in have been waging a war against drill—a type of rap that originated in Chicago but has gained serious traction in some areas of the British capital. Since we covered the issue back in May last year, the situation has worsened. Drill rappers are facing jail time for simply performing their songs, and YouTube has taken down dozens of videos, raising concerns about how the criminal justice system is blurring the lines between freedom of expression and inciting hatred.
Some drill acts have been involved in violence; some used their lyrics to explicitly incite it, and used their music videos to harangue rival gang members. But drill is hardly the sole cause of London’s violence crime problem. And turning it into a scapegoat only perpetuates that problem.
Scientists at Macquarie University’s music lab recently tried to answer the age-old question—do violent lyrics desensitize people? Researchers asked participants to listen to death metal music—specifically, Bloodbath’s cannibalism-themed track “Eaten”—to see if they then became numb to violent images. They didn’t find fans of the music to be any more desensitized than non-fans. “[Death metal] fans are nice people, they’re not going to go out and hurt someone” lead researcher Prof. Bill Thompsons concluded. “If fans of violent music were desensitized to violence, which is what a lot of parent groups, religious groups, and censorship boards are worried about, then they wouldn’t show this same bias,” he told the BBC. “But the fans showed the very same bias towards processing these violent images as those who were not fans of this music.”
Serious violent crime in the UK is a real issue; last year it rose 19% across the country and currently, homicides in London are at a 10-year high. The issue isn’t exclusive to the London drill scene. An investigation by British newspaper The Times recently revealed that violent crime in the UK is surging four times faster outside of London as it is inside of the capital, and the UK drill scene, which began in a region of south London in 2012, has pretty much stayed within the confines of the city ever since.
Drill has become part of the moral panic puzzle, perpetuating an old wives’ tale that listening to violent lyrics breeds violent behavior, and steeping it with racial stereotypes. Earlier this month, researchers the University of Missouri in Columbia discovered that pop music is just as violent as hip-hop and rap. They looked at violent and misogynistic lyrics and found that run of the mill pop is a bigger perpetrator. One example they used was Maroon 5’s “Wake Up Call,” a song about a man shooting his girlfriend’s lover after finding them together. “One wonders why pop music is not as maligned as hip-hop/rap for its communication of violence,’ the report commented.
Vilifying one very specific genre of rap isn’t just ignorant, it’s counterproductive. It wilfully ignores facts in favor of prejudice masking as a public good.
When the Met commissioner Cressida Dick asked Youtube to remove drill music videos, it was because she associated their lyrics with the surge in stabbings and murders, and ignored a much wider societal issue. Just over a week ago, Dick was forced to acknowledge a link between violent crime and the reduced number of police officers in the force in a radio interview. “I think that what we all agree on is that in the last few years police officer numbers have gone down a lot,” she said. “There’s been a lot of other cuts in public services, there has been more demand for policing and therefore there must be something and I have consistently said that.”
It looks like the police had better keep their own house in order before they start censoring others.