On Jared Loughner’s YouTube channel, a lone video is listed as a “favorite” of the alleged Arizona shooter. As a hooded figure wearing a garbage bag for pants limps across the desert to set fire to an American flag, a howling heavy-metal song called “Bodies” serves as the video’s relentless soundtrack.
“Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor,” the singer barks in a refrain that carries an eerie echo in the context of the shooting rampage Saturday in Tucson.
Investigators haven’t suggested a link between Loughner’s violent outburst and “Bodies,” a 2001 single by the Dallas band Drowning Pool. But Loughner’s embrace of “Bodies” — at least as the backdrop to a favorite video — strikes a familiarly chilling chord: The Drowning Pool song served as the soundtrack to a double murder in Oakton, where in 2003, then-19-year-old Joshua Cooke cranked the throbbing tune on his headphones, walked out of his bedroom holding a 12-gauge shotgun and killed his parents.
As people curious to understand Loughner have watched his videos since the shooting spree, they have come upon a raging, edgy anthem that likely brought to mind the many previous cases in which songs were blamed — perhaps unfairly — for inspiring violence.
“You’re never sure what caused an individual to commit a specific act,” said Brad Bushman, a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University. “But I’ve been doing research on violent media for 20 years, and the evidence is that it leads to aggressive behavior. It’s not the only factor that leads to violence, but it’s one of them.”
In a statement posted online Monday evening, Drowning Pool said: “We were devastated to learn of the tragic events that occurred in Arizona and that our music has been misinterpreted, again.
“‘Bodies’ was written about the brotherhood of the mosh pit and the respect people have for each other in the pit. If you push others down, you have to pick them back up. It was never about violence. It’s about a certain amount of respect and a code.”
The statement added: “For someone to put out a video misinterpreting a song about a mosh pit as fuel for a violent act shows just how sick they really are.”
David Horowitz, executive director of the First Amendment group Media Coalition, said “it seems like a real stretch” to suggest that “Bodies” had anything to do with the shooting.
In addition to its ignominious past as Cooke’s anthem of choice, “Bodies” was used as a tool of torture at Guantanamo Bay in 2003 when it was played repeatedly to “stress” detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi. The song has also been a battlefield anthem for U.S. troops and professional wrestlers and fighters. It’s even been covered by a parrot.
Linking media with acts of violence is an age-old tradition, with some people accusing artists of having inspired or triggered crimes. Most such controversies have centered on popular music, which has a long, complicated history with violent criminals.
Charles Manson’s curious interpretation of various Beatles lyrics famously helped shape his twisted “Helter Skelter” worldview. Ronald Howard, who killed a Texas state trooper in 1992, claimed that excessive exposure to violent gangsta rap prompted him to pull the trigger. A New Jersey man killed his mother and an 11-year-old boy, then claimed that a Metallica song made him do it.
In 1995, a 15-year-old girl was choked and stabbed to death by three classmates who claimed that listening to Slayer led them to kill. In 2009, after a grisly quadruple slaying in Farmville, Va., questions arose about the role that a bloody rap genre known as horrorcore might have played in the killings.
University of Arizona professor Ed Donnerstein, co-author of a 2003 study “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth,” said Monday that he’d been looking for direct links between Loughner’s media consumption and Saturday’s shooting, but there is no evidence in any direction.
“He’s obviously a very disturbed individual,” Donnerstein said. “So there would be lots and lots of factors interacting with each other that could contribute to his behavior. If the media was an influence, it was one of many, many influences . . . and sometimes, it’s very, very difficult to parcel out what particular factor is more important than others.”
Even if the song had directly inspired Saturday’s violence, Drowning Pool or any other artist shouldn’t have to shoulder any responsibility for how its works might be perceived or used, said Horowitz, of the Media Coalition.
“The idea that we would diminish the speech that we allow based on how it might be received by the most unstable listener would leave us with little speech whatsoever,” he said, adding that “people commit murders in the name of the Bible or the Koran. To somehow hold the artist, the author, the speaker responsible for how the most unstable person drawn to the music or literature or movie might later act would deprive the 99.999 percent of people who never do anything illegal or violent.”