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Daniel

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Listening to country music could be pushing you over the edge

Saturday, December 29, 2007
Vancouver Sun
(Canada.com)

Everyone knows that heavy metal music is the devil's music, and that listening to rappers will surely turn you into a gangster.

But a lot of people still seem to be unaware of the deleterious effects of that most maligned form of music -- country and western.

Now they really should be aware, since we've known of country music's evil ways since at least 1992, when sociologists Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach published their study, The Effect of Country Music on Suicide (PDF).

The study received considerable attention when it was first released, was resurrected in 2004 when it received an IgNobel Prize, and, as further proof that a good story just won't die, especially when it's about death, is back in the news thanks to discussions on the ScienceBlogs website.

Given country music's preoccupation with edifying topics like addiction, divorce, depression and joblessness, Stack and Gundlach hypothesized that perhaps it was linked to suicide.

So they compared the suicide rates in 49 metropolitan areas with the amount of country music played on the radio stations in those areas, and wouldn't you know it, they found that the more country music is played, the higher the suicide rate.

Now you might be thinking that the link was the result of some confounding variable -- that for example, poor areas might play more country music, and hence the link is really between poverty and suicide.

But Stack and Gundlach are one step ahead of you, as they controlled for such variables, and found that the effect was independent of poverty, divorce, gun availability and something called "southerness."

Now this doesn't mean that country music actually causes suicide, though anyone who has listened to Hank Williams might beg to differ. Indeed, it could be that depressed people are more drawn to the melancholy lyrics of country songs. Or the link might be a random correlation that doesn't mean anything.

In any case, Gundlach told ABC News that he received hate mail after the study was published, and Newsweek magazine -- not exactly an apologist for the country and western set -- referred to Gundlach and Stack as "academic coneheads."

All of which reveals that while we're not sure if country music is hazardous to your health, criticizing country music definitely is.
 

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