Maybe I'm a few years late to this particular discussion, but I think it bears repeating.
Last week on Pandora, I heard a great new song: "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People. It had a catchy, edgy beat and I found myself humming along. Later, my daughter said her 6th grade class had discussed this song because it talks about a school shooting. I didn't think much of her comment at the time, but the thought stuck with me.
Yesterday, I did some research on the song and, thanks to Google, found out the story behind the song. It's about a student who is bullied and harassed and who takes his gun to school to seek revenge. The lyrics are "run faster than my bullet." Here's what SongFacts says about the song:
Mark Foster explained the song's meaning to Spinner UK: "'Pumped Up Kicks' is about a kid that basically is losing his mind and is plotting revenge. He's an outcast. I feel like the youth in our culture are becoming more and more isolated. It's kind of an epidemic. Instead of writing about victims and some tragedy, I wanted to get into the killer's mind, like Truman Capote did in In Cold Blood. I love to write about characters. That's my style. I really like to get inside the heads of other people and try to walk in their shoes."
Foster says he considered writing the song from the perspective of the victim, but felt that would be a cop out. He also points out that there is no actual violence in the song, as the threats are all the kid's internal monologue.
Another writer for the Chicago Tribune decried the song's dark meaning:
One person's edgy, thought provoker is another person's dark influence to be shunned. Who's right?
Writers of songs and writers of books live in parallel universes when it comes to pushing the envelope. We each decide how far to push boundaries in our creations, and often society will push back.
So where's the limit? Is it inherently wrong to tell a song (or story) from the perspective of the bad guy? I bet you can name books that do that exact same thing. But will that perspective glorify the violence? Are we condoning the behavior we discuss? Who decides that? Certainly there is no real fear in our teens hooking up with vampires who then love them too much to bite them. But what about realistic fiction? What about writing about the power a kid feels when he pulls a gun on someone or when a girl smokes her first joint? Are we giving kids ideas they wouldn't otherwise have?
What do you think? Leave your comments below.
(and tell me if you like the song too! I think the song is catchy and the words create a vivid scene in my head that could easily make a powerful book.)