Country Music Kills: Radio Airtime Ups White Suicide Rate
    By Garth Sundem | June 5th 2010 06:00 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Garth Sundem is a Science, Math and general Geek Culture writer, TED speaker, and author of books including Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the...

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    I've been a blog slacker and for that I deserve a spanking. My vote is from the capable hands of the UCLA women's volleyball team. But that's another story. Here's the real story: country music kills.

    I've long known that country music makes me want to grab a lariat and hang myself from the nearest old elm tree. And now I find I'm not alone: social psychologists Steven Stack and Jim Grundlach found that the more a city's radio stations play country music, the higher the white suicide rate(1).


    Theirs was a big study, encompassing forty-nine metropolitan areas, and was careful to control for factors like Southernness, poverty, divorce, and gun availability. In other words, all else equal, country music makes people want to kill themselves. This was especially true when country music represented a city's sub- rather than mainstream culture.

    So here's my question: why? Do you think there's necessarily something depressing about country music? More so than emo alternative? Or smooth jazz? I did a little research while driving the other day and found that country songs generally fall into the following categories: I'm not as good as I used to be, Let's get drunk, God is great, Stay true to your family, and Here's how I stuck it to my cheating man. Do these categories create suicide?

    I'm open to any and all hypotheses as long as they're harebrained and generally unsupported.

    Wait! I know your finger's hovering over the checkout button, but don't pre-order my new book, Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons yet!

    I'm trying to punk publishing lists. Specifically, if you might've been planning on buying the book anyway, could I talk you into doing so just after noon EST on August 7?

    That way (the theory goes) sales will spike, the title will make lists, the sales snowball will continue, and eventually the world will be my oyster! (Insert evil laugh.)

    Either that or the experiment will crash, burn, and make for a nice blog post.


    (1) The Effect of Country Music on Suicide, Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach,  Social Forces, volume 71 issue 1, 1992, p211


    It is widely known that in all genres it's the singer, not the song, which is why so many singers get the credit for lyrics which somebody else wrote.  Did anyone really check their facts?  Are the suicides mostly uncredited songwriters?

    Some singers have a gift for abstracting the core themes of country music and writing their own lyrics.

    It's rare that someone asks the audience not to buy books, but okay.  What is more common is the women's volleyball team thing, though you might opt for USC over UCLA.   Wha ...?  Me endorsing a school for rich, dumb kids over a cheaper state school that is just as good?   Well, I just read today that they were paying a fairly average and likely cheating football coach $4.6 million and even the athletic director got $1 million, and no one can ever tell me what they do, other than get water for expensive football coaches.

    That means the USC womens' volleyball team likely has budget.  With that kind of money for training, those girls can probably bring on a real downhome whuppin'.
    UCLA women's volleyball team

    P.S.  Right, back to business.  When your graphics folks at the publisher can put together a nice 300 x 250 size ad for the book and get it to me the first week of August or so, we can get you some free press - if they put 'buy it August 7th' in the ad, even better for gaming those lists!
    Garth Sundem
    Your argument is a persuasive one...until checking the image. I submit that #7 could spank, with or without a training budget. I'll definitely stick a 300x250 ad on my publisher's to do list. Cheers!

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    Steve Davis
    You know the old saying Garth; if you play a country song backwards you lose your hangover, but you get your wife back, your dog back, and your job back!
    I have not checked the study, but I assume this is just another case of media getting correlation mixed with causation. If it is causal, your claim "all else equal, country music makes people want to kill themselves", could get the causal direction around the wrong way. If it is causal, perhaps population prone to suicide promotes the playing of country music. But I doubt there is even a causal connection here. Correlations are interesting in an of themselves, but I don't think they should be dressed up as causal connections. The media does this way too often.
    They should stop playing country music on the radio!

    Correlation is not causation. Perhaps people who like country music commit suicide more often because they're contemplative, generous, patient souls, surrounded by materialistic idiots who like dance music ;)

    I'm just sayin'... things aren't as simple as "people commit suicide more often in areas where music is played, so the music must be killing them."