Metalheads:Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation (Book Review)
Released: 1996, Westview Press
There are a growing number of academic books about Heavy Metal and this was one of the earlier ones. First published in 1996 METALHEADS was written by J.J. Arnett, an associate professor at the University of Missouri. He attended a Metallica concert and decided to do a study of ‘Metalheads’ and their subculture. This book is the result of his research.
His research was conducted by interviewing 108 Metal fans (70 males, 38 females) from Atlanta, Georgia and Cambridge, Massachusetts with an average age of about 18. They filled out a questionnaire with 31 questions and then he conducted live interviews, which lasted from 30 minutes to two hours. Each chapter has a profile of a metal-head and is focused on various components of youth experience, specifically lifestyle, family history and musical preference as relating to alienation. Much of the research is based around patterns of youth behaviour; namely sexual habits, drug and alcohol usage and criminal habits (vandalism, speeding, shoplifting etc) and so on.
I’m not going to spend much time on this review because essentially Arnett’s conclusions are deeply flawed and completely unrepresentative of the Metal community at large. He states right from the beginning that he is not a Metal fan and is readily apparent is anti-Metal from the beginning with a stream of constant negative comments about the music, the performers, the concert experience, and the lifestyle. Being anti-Metal is not a problem but as a clinical researcher his work is so clearly biased it becomes irrelevant and ultimately useless.
His interpretation of Metal music, imagery, sub-culture and lyrics are so hopelessly warped that his conclusions are the same old nonsense the conservative establishment has been pushing for thirty years, ie. Metal is bad. Kids who listen to Metal are bad. The only way for kids who like Metal to escape alienation from the mainstream is to embrace family, community, religion, the nation etc. Arnett interviewed a bunch of messed-up teenagers (most teens are screwed up anyway) and discovered a bunch of them listen to Metal and blamed the music for their mildly anti-social behaviour. Brilliant conclusion.
This book serves little or no purpose for the vast majority of Metal fans other than to serve as an cautionary example of the number of uneducated, biased and negative stereotypes about metal (and Metal fans) that continue to be perpetuated in society by the ignorant and uninformed. Arnet’s alarmist perception of Metal seems quaint by today’s standards and even in 1996 his concepts were old-fashioned. This book was outdated before it was even released, and it remains a relic of a bygone era where uninformed and unenlightened adults looked for an easy scapegoat for their own failures as parents. METALHEADS is an 180 page anti-Metal diatribe that is not really worth your time or money.