As fans and former emo kids around the world know by now, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington committed suicide last week at the age of 41. Fans mourned the loss of the singer, describing him as one of the great rock vocalists of our generation and the leader of a band that progressed the alternative music genre. But in these posthumous tributes, Bennington was often described with words like “angst” and “victim.” Much of Linkin Park’s discography revolves around the lead singer’s emotional point of view. If Bennington was feeling a negative emotion, like sadness, anger, or even nihilism, he expressed that wholeheartedly and without reservation. As a man in this society, Bennington displayed a vulnerability and raw emotion that was unprecedented for rock frontmen that came before him. And even in his class of rock stars, with pop punk peers like Blink-182 and later Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park stood out. Their songs spoke to heavy themes of loss, trauma, and degradation that transcended the superficial pain of not getting a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
And that is, I believe, Chester Bennington’s most important legacy. He shattered the emotional glass ceiling that men have to live under in their everyday lives. His vulnerable masculinity told millions of teenage boys it was okay to feel things and sit in the sadness for a little while.
Bennington’s own personal struggles have been well documented and openly discussed by the singer. He was a victim of child sexual abuse and spoke about how that trauma informed the lyrical content of his band’s songs. In addition, he turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the depression that his traumatic experience caused. He said these substances gave him a boost of “confidence” to face the world and control his surroundings. While Bennington overcame his addictions for the most part, pain and the journey to overcome it remained a consistent theme in Linkin Park’s music up until Bennington’s death.
But it is perhaps because of the depth of this pain, or in spite of it, that Bennington felt compelled to express himself so openly to his fans. And that action was groundbreaking. To the very end, Bennington used his music to grieve and work through his emotional turmoil. Society demands that boys and men stifle unpleasant or “feminine” emotions in favor of presenting “masculine” strength. They must not cry or express sadness, for fear of being perceived as weak. They must not linger on instances where they have been hurt, but instead “suck it up” and move on. They can be angry, but only with malicious intentions and not as a feeling of desperation. The fact that Chester Bennington did all of these things was an act of defiance to society’s norms of masculinity, despite Linkin Park’s sound being very masculine with intense vocals and at times aggressive, brooding melodies.
Bennington’s message could not have been lost on the male youth in America. This is the country where despite men having lower rates of depression than women, male suicide rates are exceptionally high. Suicide was the leading cause of death among men younger than 35 in 2014, and four out of five suicides involve men. Not only that, but while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful in their attempts, due to the more lethal methods that men tend to use. Research has also shown that depression is harder to diagnose in men because they often downplay their own symptoms; this has led researchers to conclude that the percentage of men suffering with depression is likely higher than what is statistically reported, simply because men are less likely to seek help for or recognize symptoms. The behavior of men in terms of their mental well being is carried from adolescence, and teens who are not encouraged to speak out will grow into adults who repress their deepest feelings.
Linkin Park gave young boys an outlet to sit in the murkiness of feelings they couldn’t express. Chester Bennington as a sensitive and victimized man himself gave voice to emotionally stunted young men across the nation, letting them know they weren’t alone. He refused to suffer in silence, and because of his powerful music, his young male fans now know they don’t have to either. Linkin Park’s music maay not be the antidote to the toxins that poison young boys into believing they must hide behind a facade of cool stoicism. And society still has many questions to answer as far as methods to best support our boys in teaching them to understand and work through their experiences. But it may help alleviate some of the stress of pretending. If only for four minutes at a time.