According to a new study of 300 Southern California junior and senior high school students, rock 'n' roll songs with lyrics about sex, drugs, violence and satanism have minimal impact on the vast majority of teen-agers. And many of those same teen-agers cannot describe the content of their favorite songs.
These are some of the findings from a 40-page questionnaire administered to a sample of 12- to 18-year-olds last winter by Cal State researchers Lorraine Prinski, a sociology professor, and Jill Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of criminal justice. Their paper, "Sex, Violence and Rock 'n' Roll: Youths' Perceptions of Popular Music," will be published later this year in the quarterly Popular Music and Society.
The questionnaire asked students to name three favorite songs and to choose from a list of topics to describe what each was about. Of 662 songs listed, only 7 percent were perceived by students as being about sex, drugs, violence or satanism, categories of lyrics with which the Parents' Music Resource Center is concerned, compared with 26 percent perceived to be about "love."
"We added love because we wanted to see if there was a distinction made between sex and love," says Prinski. Other themes identified by the students: friendship, life's struggles, growing up -- "the things you would expect kids to be concerned with," Prinski says.
On the down side, students were unable to identify the themes of 37 percent of the songs they named as favorites, reinforcing educators' fears that many teen-agers today lack literary skills to understand and interpret metaphors and symbolism. Of course, with many popular songs tied in with concrete video images, their imaginations are not being exercised via rock songs, anyway.
According to projections based on the sample, fewer than 3 percent of teen-agers devote their full attention to lyrics while listening to music; for most of the rest, rock 'n' roll is mostly "background noise," leading the researchers to conclude that "the musical beat or overall sound of a recording is of greater interest," a truism that could probably have been gleaned from similar research any time in the last 30 years.
Prinski says that various groups, including the PMRC and California's Probation Department, have been making assumptions that there is a connection between song lyrics and behavior, but she says that connection has never been demonstrated scientifically.
"As a sociologist I know that behavior is a lot more complicated than what someone called 'the hypodermic needle effect,' " she says. "It's not as if someone listens to a song and then they act as a robot and act out exactly what they hear. It simply doesn't happen. As a sociologist, I'm more sophisticated than to expect that rock music is brainwashing kids, but there just hasn't been any data before."
Farm Aid's New Site
Farm Aid II, the benefit concert scheduled for July 4, has been having its share of problems. Only 26,000 tickets have been sold, and on Friday the concert site was moved from the 70,000-seat University of Texas Memorial Stadium to Southpark Meadows, the site of Willie Nelson's Fourth of July picnics the last two years. The move was partly the result of high liability insurance: At the first Farm Aid concert, in Champaign, Ill., the insurance cost only $30,000, but it would have been $200,000 at Memorial Stadium (as of yesterday, the concert still did not have insurance for its new site). Farm Aid II officials, still hoping to sell close to 60,000 tickets at $20 each, blame the slow sales on a slow economy in Texas. The 17-hour benefit concert now features more than 75 acts.
On an up note: Amnesty International had hoped to register 25,000 new members via the June 15 concert from Giants Stadium; by the time the 11-hour concert was over, the new membership stood at 35,000.
There will be a major multicultural New Song Festival this Saturday at the Wilson Center (15th and Irving streets NW). The concert, lasting from noon to dusk, will feature the Andean group Rumisonko; Izalco, with songs from Central America; Al-Watan, a Middle East ensemble; SASCO, the South African Students Committee Choir; Lifeline's music of working women; Rameza and Guitele Nicoleau from Haiti; and the Piscataway Singers, Lucy Murphy, Peter Jones and others.