Pop Culture Goes Mad

By John C Beyer, director of mediawatch-uk

This article first appeared in the Western Mail


ver since the early days of Rock 'n' Roll, pop singers have been our childhood heroes.  Trends have been set not only in the styles of dance music but in clothes, make up and hair fashion too.  Recent television documentaries have shown thousands of screaming teenagers greeting their favourite groups at London airports and at pop concerts where the stars and groups have played their number one hits.  These programmes have shown that pop stars can and do influence their fans, not only to buy records but in lifestyle and behaviour too.

In recent times rap music has been linked to violent crime and to drug culture so much so that last year a Government advisor on youth crime announced a sweeping review of Britain's censorship laws. Lord Warner, the then Chairman of the Youth Justice Board, said there had been a coarsening of attitudes towards violence caused by screen images which have a negative impact on teenagers. "It's very hard to escape the concern that violent videos, violent films, violent music, violent games do influence some of the more impressionable minds" he said. Many people would agree with Lord Warner in this assessment and bearing in mind the state of our society where aggression and violence is fuelled by violent imagery would surely sympathise with efforts to reverse the destructive trend.

Pop music and those who manufacture it, are well aware of its power to influence impressionable youngsters. In the last twenty years the full panoply of technical innovation, records, CDs, videos, DVDs and television and film, have been used to promote and market pop stars and fortunes have been made. Many parents find it difficult to communicate with their youngsters who are absorbed by the world of glamour that the industry has created. 'Top of the Pops' has given rise over the years to numerous complaints not only about lyrics but also about the singers and their dance routines. The camera angles seem calculated to show the most erotic movements all of which inspire young children to follow the example set.

It is not surprising that youngsters, who lack maturity, are targeted by the music industry as the most likely source of disposable income. But selling music is only one part of the rationale. It is also in the business of selling ideas, beliefs and behaviour.  We believe that the latest stunt by Britney Spiers is just about the most dangerous yet.  Don't the record producers know that most teenagers have rows with their boyfriends and girlfriends and the notion of 'finishing' with him or her is part of growing up.  However, to associate this with drowning in a bath and slashing wrists sets a very dangerous precedent. I agree with those who say this is stupid and irresponsible.


e know that showing such scenes on television can have disastrous consequences and hospital casualty departments bear out that suicides on screen can lead to desperate people attempting the same way out of their depression and despair. Youngsters feel love very keenly and feel desperate when their worlds are turned upside down by rejection. It is all very well for the talented Miss Spiers to want to show herself in a different light but this dark side is not what her fans really want. The dark side of life seems to be portrayed more and more in films and on television and we believe that it perpetuates the problems in our society rather than help to bring relief.

This year mediawatch-uk is celebrating 40 years of campaigning for higher standards in the media. We recall that when the Clean Up TV Campaign was launched in 1964 the late great Mary Whitehouse called on the women of Britain to rise up and say that they are prepared to fight to protect their homes and their children from exhibitions of sex and violence. This is not what the vast majority of people want. It is all too easy for the pop music industry to deny responsibility for what they do but if one child copies the actions of Miss Spiers who will comfort the parents if the child dies?

For far too long the media has acted in its own interests, promoted its own ideas and beliefs, its own agenda and ideology. Freedom of expression has been the overriding concern and the main excuse for pushing back boundaries of acceptability. It is rarely mentioned that these freedoms carry responsibilities, particularly with regard minors and to the health and morals, which are all too often ignored.

Pop culture is something that has largely been imposed along with a lot of other 'culture' by a powerful elite beyond democratic control. Not all of these have had a beneficial effect and it is certainly true that depicting depression, despair and suicide could do great harm.


ur great hope is that youngsters will become far more media literate, learning to be discriminating in their taste and rejecting that which is harmful or offensive. Perhaps the latest generation of pop artists will be more careful about the influence they exert on their up and coming fans and show greater respect and responsibility. Let us hope that Britney's latest video will simply not make it to the TV play list!

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