Music causes pregnancy, disease, war

Last night on network news and today on the morning shows, I heard the laziest, most misleading and sensationalistic “reporting” about music and sex. You probably heard it, too: Rand study in Pediatrics says that raunchy lyrics lead to sex.

Lock up the kids! Elvis is in the house!

I was wishing for the guys from Freakonomics to take them on and, by golly, they did. Repeat after me: This is about correlation not causality. There is no way to provide that lyrics cause sex.

But these TV reports didn’t even acknowledge that. They didn’t go to anyone who would point that out. No, that would ruin a good tease. And they call this journalism?

  • Jeff, I recall watching George Will on one of these Sunday AM pundit shows comment on a similar story about the effect of TV violence on young people’s behavior.

    I was half expecting him to say something similar to what you’re saying, but then I was surprised. He said that the use of media to affect (or effect, I guess) behavior is the basic premise of advertising. It works.

    I agree with you that proving causality requires a controlled, prospective study with matched cohorts, but it is probably not possible to eliminate the bias and confounding factors in an effort to make such a study legitimate.

    Maybe the answer is to use Madison Avenue to help promote a more sensible/realistic view of sexuality. This is what the campaign is doing for smoking and it seems to be effective.

    You see the world through these journalism spectacles, then you judge everything by whether it’s good journalism or not. Please take a journalism vacation and try a different perspective. It might be that these people are sincere in their effort–consider that.

  • Call me crazy, but there had to be more then just a few people out there were hesitant to vote for Al Gore because of Tipper and the PMRC.

    Whenever money is spent on investigating the corrosive effects of *media* in our society, I wonder why it isn’t spent on investigating the corrosive effects of poverty, gun violence, the shrinking middle class, and the elephant in the room no one likes to talk about, high divorce rates.

    In this media environment, where music and entertainment are as sexualized as never before – Teenage pregnancy rates are DOWN.

    And have been going down for quite some time.

  • Karl, from the same paragraph you cite: “Nevertheless, the United States continues to have higher rates of teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion than other industrialized nations.”

  • So, if sexy music causes teen sex, then that means that kids who listen to Christian rock and join Life Teen groups are being brainwashed by the religious right!! Where is the OUTRAGE!

    Seriously though, this misrepresentation of research needs to stop.

  • And Bill..
    From that same article…

    “Nearly 60 percent of teens who become mothers are living in poverty at the time of the birth.”

  • Oh, and compared to other industrialized nations, we have a higher rate of poverty as well.

  • If we are not influenced by the media we experience, then why get upset over a few badly-Photoshop’ed photos? It’s all just wallpaper–background noise. It’s the Muzak in the supermarket. It’s USA Today with all those brightly colored graphics.

    This is a very cynical view. Also, see how quickly this topic was politicized. I think that in itself shows how our thought processes are shaped by the MSM which uses this technique. Not every argument can be boiled down to two opposing viewpoints. It might be easier to comprehend, and certainly easier to provide the much-vaunted balanced view in the minimum amount of airtime, but doesn’t allow a nuanced approach.

    Jeff, you’re not interested in this post?

  • Perhaps if we want some real, reasonded debate– rather than a pooh-poohing that videos (which are advertisements for songs) arent’ selling sex to whomever is watching them–we should look at who funded the study and why.

    When marketing groups fund studies that tell us everything’s great, we just nod our heads up and down and thank them for telling us that we’re really not being adversely affected by anything that we see in ads placed anywhere and everywhere we go. When it’s a political group with an agenda, then some get up in arms, while others think it’s great because it confirms their own beliefs.

    This study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development–do they have an agenda, or are they truly concerned at the cultural changes that are effecting/affecting children? (I haven’t looked into it just yet.)

    But how many commenting here ever spend time watching videos for any length of time? I dare y’all (even you, Jeff) to take a morning and watch either VH1 or MTV for an hour or two–then come back and tell me that what you’re seeing isn’t even slightly disturbing in the way that sex–and the degredation of very young women–is being used to “market” some very bad music.

  • Tish and Bill, I’m not arguing that media doesn’t have an effect. Far from it.

    What I am arguing is that in the grand scheme of things…

    What do you think shapes the mores of our children more: Media (capital M), or the culture as a whole, of which media is just a part?

    And since Media (capital M) has become so atomicized, can we blame Broadcast (capital B) media anymore?

    I’m on old metalhead. I have one of my childhood broken noses for being a ‘long haired, satan worshiping faggot’ – for liking certain music when it was very, very, unfashionable.

    Who is it that subscribes to cable and doesn’t lock out MTV? Who is it?

  • The culture as a whole *does* shape children–I don’t think we’re arguing that, Karl (at least I’m not.)

    What I’m arguing is to not outright dismiss studies that suggest media plays an important role in shaping children. (and perhaps an even bigger role than when some of us were young–esp. when we consider another study that discovered children as young as one year old have televisions in their bedrooms–sorry, can’t find the URL for that one.)

    As for a causative example of how images affect/effect children, look no further than Martin Scorsese, who has stated many times that he was profoundly affected by viewing The Robe (in cinemascope on a huge screen) when he was eight–as well as being affected by the Catholic images he grew up with. Scorsese happens to be a genius who directed that stuff into some of the most amazing and bloddy films ever made, and knows that images are often used to manipulate and cause people to see/do/think particular things. (frankly, the Catholic church has known this for centuries…)

    To Shinobi–yes, there’s outrage at what the ultra-right is doing to shape young people. I know of several progressive Christians who are writing about the Joshua Generation as well as Battle Cry and how these groups are targeting homeschoolers. However, what they are doing is not at quite the same level as mainstream media, so the investigations are not funded by large groups and are much-less publicizes.

  • Jeff,

    I like the folks at Freakonomics as much as you do, but even they admit to not having read the study in question yet. Furthermore, proving correlation does not necessarily preclude causation! As for the age-old question of whether media matters or not, cf. Book 10 of Plato’s Republic:

    “Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe –but I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them.”

    So Tish, you’re at the very least in good company.

  • Bill K,
    As I said to you in email as well, it’s the shoddy, lazy journalism I’m criticizing. This isn’t about sides — right and left — but it is about context and perspective. Shouldn’t they question whether this is about correlation or causality? Shouldn’t they probe how well the researchers show the connection they claim? No, that might ruin that juicy tease: Lyrics are ruining America! Let’s spend the night together! Oh, that’s right, that was our generation….. It’s insipid, shallow, sensationalistic, insulting reporting that they try to pass as journalism. That is my complaint.

  • Grier dares us all to “to take a morning and watch either VH1 or MTV for an hour or two — then come back and tell me that what you’re seeing isn’t even slightly disturbing in the way that sex — and the degredation of very young women — is being used to “market” some very bad music.”

    What you say (about being disturbed and degraded and the music being of poor quality) may be valid but it is off topic…

    …the question is, if I spend that two hours watching MTV, WILL IT HELP ME GET LAID? Did it work for you, Tish?

  • My teenage years in a nutshell: I was a geek. Then metal ummmm… Well of course I grew my hair long, wore ripped jeans, and the ladies thought I was far hotter then I was. Teachers told me my music was corrupting me. And instead of picking on me as is apt to happen to a geek… a few tried to pick fights.

    Then I had to get a job – so off with the hair re-revealing my homely self.

    All for the love of rock n’ roll man.

  • Andrew…um, I didn’t know you were Jeff’s ersatz blog monitor. Congratulations on your promotion.

  • 2 Live Crew Fan

    Why don’t you try reading the actual study:

    We conducted a national longitudinal telephone survey of 1461 adolescents. Participants were interviewed at baseline (T1), when they were 12 to 17 years old, and again 1 and 3 years later (T2 and T3). At all of the interviews, participants reported their sexual experience and responded to measures of more than a dozen factors known to be associated with adolescent sexual initiation.

    Multivariate regression analyses indicated that youth who listened to more degrading sexual content at T2 were more likely to subsequently initiate intercourse and to progress to more advanced levels of noncoital sexual activity, even after controlling for 18 respondent characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships. In contrast, exposure to nondegrading sexual content was unrelated to changes in participants’ sexual behavior.

    Among the 18 respondent characteristics mentioned: number of parents in the home, parents’ attitudes toward sex, age of peer group (older/younger), peer group attitude toward sex, mental health, deviant behavior, school performance, and ” Sensation seeking, a strong predictor of sexual initiation in a previous study of this sample in these tests.”


    (W)e included several indicators of adolescent interest in sex or sexual readiness before music listening to control for the possibility that youth who are considering coital or noncoital activities that they have not yet enacted may listen to more sex-oriented music. These indicators included baseline level of noncoital sexual activity, intentions to have sex in the next year, expected negative consequences of having sex, and sex self-efficacy.

    So yeah, they didn’t just run one regression analysis and print the results. How about that.

    Oh, and there’s no way to prove “causality”, or causation, for that matter. The best you can ever say about the relationship between any two phenomena is that one thing happened, then another thing happened. Smart guy like you should know that by now.

  • I think part of what’s going on here is an unwillingness to entertain the possibility that you can both stand for freedom of expression and question the positive/negative effects of media on human behavior. Jeff’s position in this regard has all the subtlety of a tobacco lobbyist. And pointing to the “insipid” reporting on the Rand report by the MSM rings a little hollow when all you’re bringing to the table yourself is knee-jerk responses and a link to a Freakonomics blog post which comments on the study as summarized by the Associated Press, not the original research itself!

  • my sister had a hard time getting pregnant because she has this abnormality in her uterus.”:’