Saturday, February 5, 2005

NME: The Blame Game

Marilyn Manson is too easy a scapegoat when a disturbed teenager kills his girlfriend, says NME's Keith Laidlaw.

Murder is always shocking, particularly when the victim is a teenage girl. So when 16-year-old Luke Mitchell was found guilty last week in Edinburgh of killing his 14-year-old girlfriend Jodi Jones in a brutal attack, the revulsion expressed in the press was totally natural.

However, in the rush to portray Luke as a monster, once again alternative culture became newspaper shorthand for dark, weird and depraved. Much of what was reported in hysterical tones about Luke's behaviour won't seem so shocking to most of us: listening to goth and grunge, dressing in black, smoking cannabis, having sex underage - even self-harm. Far more disturbing were Luke's violent fantasies and obsession with knives, but many commentators saw little distinction between these and other aspects of his life.

What didn't help was that part of the prosecution's case hinged on Luke's love of Marilyn Manson. Famously implicated in the Columbine school massacre, Manson made for a convenient bogeyman in this case too.

In fact, the policeman in charge of the case believed Luke murdered Jodi in a fit of anger after she confronted him about two-timing her. Manson's name came up in court mainly because of the similarities between the way Jodi's body was mutilated after her death and the injuries of Elizabeth Short, a Hollywood actress murdered in the '40s. This so-called "Black Dahlia" case is an interest of Marilyn Manson's and Luke owned a copy of his painting of Short's remains. But to suggest that Luke was somehow motivated to commit murder by the painting is far-fetched. Luke had a history of mental instability which made him far more dangerous than the morbid preoccupations which settle on millions of teenagers at one point or another.

Of course, calling yourself the God of Fuck is unlikely to endear anyone to the moral majority, but it is astonishing that anyone can still believe Manson's pantomime "satanic" posturing could be a malign influence on anything other than the good taste of an otherwise sane person.

The only thing proved in court is that a sick and disturbed young man did something abhorrent. Unfortunately, it's still easier for some to blame alternative music for society's ills than face up to our failings in helping people to fight their inner demons.

Keith Laidlaw is occasionally driven to violent thoughts by listening to The Others