"It seems because Manson’s image revolved around violence and goriness, these atrocious actions and comments were all taken to be part of his stage character." In light of the recent accusations against Brian Warner (more commonly known as Marilyn Manson), Viewpoint Editor Sophia Brousset argues that media has played a role in make rhetoric surrounding women's violence look benign.
For years, Brian Warner, more commonly known by his stage name, Marilyn Manson, has personified what was seen as the “nonconformist” side of the music industry (that is if you define nonconformity as being a blatant sadist), which hinges on shock value and the shaking heads of parents everywhere. At the beginning of the month, actress Evan Rachel Wood accused him of grooming, manipulating, and abusing her throughout their relationship which began when she was just 18 and he was 36. Since then, other women have come forward corroborating her story and discussing their own experiences with Warner. The accused’s actions are immensely disturbing, having been alleged of torturing these women using starvation, sleep deprivation, death threats, lashings, rape, and tormentation.
You can call these accusations distressing, appalling, or sickening, but anyone who knows his career cannot call them shocking. The musician loudly spoke about his fantasies to smash Wood’s skull in with a sledgehammer; he told the world about cutting 158 X’s into himself after his break up with Wood; he has depicted himself killing actresses meant to resemble Wood in his music videos.
I understand that much of this violent lyricism is part of the metal genre as a whole. The rhetoric of metal artists is often not meant to be taken literally. It is supposed to symbolise a break from the norm and from the vanilla rather than directly instigate any type of real violence. However, it is certainly concerning that one of the biggest names in metal appears to have taken the lyrics literally. It seems because Manson’s image revolved around violence and goriness, these atrocious actions and comments were all taken to be part of his stage character. He was able to hide in plain sight, being completely unapologetically himself yet facing absolutely no suspicion of being a real abuser.
But enough on this vile individual. This problem reflects more significantly on the disgusting levels of normalisation of violence against women. I am not saying we live in a society in which physical abuse against women is socially acceptable; however, we see a clear desire to hurt women peeking through the cracks in subtle (that is, subtle if you do not critically reflect on them for more than thirty seconds) ways. Pushing aside the Manson case (for the love of god, the man called himself Manson and people still act as if this is a shock), off the top of my head, I can think of several examples of mainstream music which blatantly detailed abuse against women; Eminem’s “Kim” in which he disturbingly details his hatred for his-then wife and lays out his fantasy about murdering her; heck, even fun’s “We Are Young” glosses over the fact that it is a story of domestic abuse with its undeniably catchy pop feel.
This is not a music industry-specific phenomenon; in movies, violence against women is sexualised. As The Guardian’s Noah Berlatsky puts it, “For women in media, violence is sexual, exciting, and defines them.” Think of the quarantine hit “365 Days” — the Netflix film is about an Italian gangster who kidnaps a Polish woman; she is to be his prisoner for “365 days” and if she doesn’t fall in love with him within that time, she is free to go — essentially Beauty and the Beast and 50 Shades of Grey meshed into one horrifying spectacle. The film inspired a trend on TikTok (an app used largely by teenagers) in which young girls showed off their bruises, strangulation marks, and cuts from their sexual interactions after watching the film. The film markets BDSM to its impressionable audience without any proper warning as to its dangers. On top of this, it basically tells us that a powerful man, like the Italian gangster in the film, can have whatever he wants because any woman can be coerced into wanting it.
Porn is another notable offender. A study found in the journal Violence Against Women found that around 90% of best-selling pornographic videos depicted physical aggression against women. Many would argue that porn is nothing but “fantasy”. They would claim that everyone is entitled to their own kinks as long as they are not hurting anyone. I would mostly agree — but the idea that violent porn is victimless simply ignores reality. There is a growing pool of evidence which connects intense pornographic consumption and violent crimes; further, we can clearly see the way sexual norms have changed over the past couple of decades as violent forms of sex like BDSM are becoming more normalised.
All these examples can be viewed under the idea of “cultural violence” outlined by sociologist Johan Galtung. Cultural violence can be defined as elements of culture which normalise violence both directly and structurally. We see this normalisation in the images, texts, and music that pervade a culture. The celebration of artists like Manson, the production of films like “365 Days”, and the consumption of easily-accessible violent pornography all aid in this justification of violence against women.
The fact that in the Marilyn Manson case, his disturbing music, egregious comments, and violent persona raised next to no red flags is a clear reason we should not solely recognise abuse when it is abundantly, undeniably, and unequivocally clear. As a society, we must stop dismissing the evidence when it is right in front of us; the normalisation of fictional, artistic, or pornographic depictions of violence against women has made us immune to the fact that this often manifests in violence.