October 16, 2008

All The News Part 2: An Ode to Tipper Gore

A few weeks ago, I revealed that I was the editor of my high school newspaper. Then I reprinted one of the editorials I wrote 17 years ago. And since you guys seemed to dig it - though it was slightly embarrassing for me - here's another. Today's topic - music and censorship.

Have you ever wondered why small groups of people seem to think that they have the right to make decisions for us concerning our life? Shouldn't we be able to make our own choices about right and wrong?

In the mid 1980's, an awareness group was formed by Tipper Gore. That group transformed into the nationwide group who call themselves the Parents Music Resource Council, the PMRC. Mrs. Gore was inspired when she walked into her son's room and heard a far-from-hit-single by the band WASP. She turned her life into a crusade to do away with seemingly harmful music to protect the younger generations.

The PMRC recently got its hands dirty with groups such as 2 Live Crew and Judas Priest. The threat of evil doings has always been a part of heavy metal and rap to some degree. Everyone in the PMRC has always been afraid to listen to Alice Cooper or Black Sabbath. Other such artists have also been blacklisted by the PMRC in recent times. They have involved the artists, record companies and record store chains across the country.

One of their latest victories has been record labeling. Parental warnings and explicit lyrics labels can be found on a lot of recent releases from metal to rap. It's not all bad if you're opposed to explicit lyrics or subject matter. It serves as a warning. but to record distributors it serves as an unnecessary expense. The cost of the labels has also surfaced in the ever-rising prices of tapes and compact discs.

The resentment towards the PMRC has gradually blossomed over the years. And rightly so. The majority of people in this country resent the fact that there are others making decisions that we should be making for ourselves.

Due to pressure from the PMRC and other community action groups, several local chains actually refused to stock or advertise 2 Live Crew albums. In some areas of the country, an avid record buyer must be 18 or older to buy a labeled album.

As a while, the United States has always been a fully democratic society. Freedom is treasured and among those freedoms is the right to listen, read, or watch what you want. Anybody who thinks they can take the right of self-expression away is wrong.

With the development of so many groups fighting for so many different causes around the world, it seems almost pointless to try and have a record banned because two or three people didn't like the lyrics. From the Salem witch hunts to the MacCarthy trials, we have hopefully learned that the condemnation of people or their ideas never works. Suppression has always led to uprisings whether it's the Civil War or strikes. Some people might claim that our society is becoming too violent or teenagers are becoming too rebellious but banning a few records won't help.

I've always heard that if you take something away from someone, they're only going to want it more. Neither the PMRC nor any other group of its kind has the right to take away our freedom of self expression or our right to believe in that self expression.

One day I'll look back at the stuff on this site the same way I look at all the stuff I wrote in high school and think man, I was a little juvenile and a lot idealistic. I already feel that way with some of my earliest entries. What really makes me chuckle is how bad we thought things were back in 1991 when this was written. This was, of course, before the Janet Jackson Effect - the point at which nearly everything questionably edgy became taboo and banned from the television or radio airwaves.

I loathed the PMRC. I thought Tipper Gore and her WASP-hating pals were pure evil. I wanted to drown them in a vast collection of death metal cassettes and hair metal-grade AquaNet. It seemed wrong to censor or label albums just as it would have been wrong to walk into the Louvre with construction paper and tape and cover all the naughty bits of famous works of art. Not that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was at all on par with the statue of David. I was so incensed I even wrote a song with my band called An Ode To Tipper Gore. It was a bluesy little number and the lyrics went a little something like this:

Fuck fuck fuck fuck
fuck you fuck you
Fuck fuck fuck fuck
You fucking suck ass

Catchy, don't you think? Not Top 40 material, but catchy.

I'm older. I have two kids. I'm ready to admit that I can now see some of the wisdom in what they were trying to do. I was watching CSI the other night (seriously one of the worst shows on TV that I can't help but watch) and I actually found myself thinking that it should be on an hour later in the evening. That show is disturbing to me - both the terrible acting and the violence - so I can't imagine how horrific it would be if my daughter stumbled onto it. Still, parents are the ultimate defense for their kids - the ultimate censors - but I guess the media and the groups that police the media have a role to play. My 17 year old self sure didn't think so. But times change. I have questions though.

#1. Why is violence on television okay but sex is not? You can see someone beheaded on television but god forbid someone flash some boob.

#2. What did you think was hot shit or edgy when you were a kid that seems so tame now?

Posted by Chris at October 16, 2008 6:58 AM

What about the *type* of violence. Up until recently in the UK, nunchuks (rice flails) were banned from films. Guns, beheadings, knifings, being driven over, strangling, garotting, smacking someone over the head with a hammer... all fine. But try and show the uncut version of Enter The Dragon in a cinema and you'd be prosecuted.


Oh, and headbutts. If I'm correct that's still a no-no on anything below 18-rated home releases. Again, in a video available to under 18's you can show any amount of kicking, punching, gouging, biting, spitting and so forth. But heaven forbid you show a forehead slam into the bridge of a nose.

If people are going to make decisions for us (which they will, and I hate it) then the least they could do is justify it - which they *never* do beyond "it's for your own good".

Posted by: Mosh at October 16, 2008 7:33 AM

Well my parents almost fainted when I brought Alice Cooper's Album home, but then my first husband was into some very heavy metal music and they soon realized that Alice was pretty tame.
Yes, parents are the first and last line determining what their kids are exposed to. I remember one time my mother took us to see a movie "The Collector" thinking it was a simple movie about a man who collected butterflies. When it turned out he was a psycho collecting women, my mom pulled me out the door. Later in life I watched that movie and it scared the daylights out of me! Good call Mom!

Posted by: Maribeth at October 16, 2008 7:39 AM

OMG - 1971 my family and I were lined up at the movie theater to see "Walkabout" and my mother abruptly dragged us home because a female (a native aborigine perhaps?) was topless in it. I was mortified that she did that.
I don't know why violence is ok but sex isn't - perhaps because not everyone is violent but everybody's having sex? Hits to close to home?

Posted by: NancyJak at October 16, 2008 7:54 AM

The media is a double standard when it comes to sex and violence on TV. There is a ton of sex on TV. Now, not having a TV I don't watch a lot, but now and then I'll go through a series via Netflix. Also, I see the ads everywhere. Right now there are huge Sex Drive ads (some show I guess) in the subway. We have a 3000x life size billboard in the middle of Times Square with all the mostly naked people in 90210 some of which are in coital poses.

I'm certainly no prude but damn our culture is over-sexed not in a good way. And I of course worry about my daughter internalizing it and wondering about her own body image in an unhealthy way.

Posted by: jessica at October 16, 2008 8:00 AM

question 1.- I like boobs

question 2.--Midgets, hookers, Goats and crack.

Posted by: William at October 16, 2008 8:12 AM

I live near Detroit and growing up we have always recieved the signal from CBC(cbc.ca)in Windaor and have always had the pleasure of thing like Degrassi Jr High and Hockey Night in Canada. The best part about getting CBC was that they would sometimes show nudity in their late night movies and late night on the CBC was like 11pm. So, if you can imagine, 11 and 12 year old boys in Southeastern Michigan staying up extra late on a Saturday night watching some awful French movie where we understood nothing just to hopefully see a glimse of some boobs or bush.

Posted by: harrylips at October 16, 2008 8:19 AM

Actually, I'd rather see sex on tv than violence. Sex, I can explain. Violence, I can't really. I can explain that people are attracted to each other, and that it feels good and blah blah blah (THOUGH I REALLY HOPE TO NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT FOR A VERY LONG TIME), but I think it would be hard explaining violence - some people are bad, etc - I don'tknow what makes people that way. I think it'd be too easy to tip the balance into fear explaining violence.

And I don't recall thinking anything was edgy. My parents are pretty open minded and didn't really care what we listened to (as long as it wasn't degrading to women, etc) or what I read...

But as an adult, I think the news is scarier now than it used to be... I hate watching the news on tv.

Posted by: Sarah at October 16, 2008 8:19 AM

Interesting article.

#1. I think violence should be calmed down a little and everybody needs to relax about any kind of nudity. Nipplegate is a huge joke in Europe. And how come it's safe to mutilate the human body on TV but not appreciate it? *sigh* Your comment about the parents being the ultimate censor is spot on.

#2. LOL. I remember that there was a statue of a naked guy (I think it was something Roman) in the B dictionary in second grade. We used to grab it and giggle when we were waiting in line for recess.

Posted by: Hannah at October 16, 2008 8:33 AM

I love reading this-- I too remember being outraged about the labeling. But I lived to be outraged at 17. When the school suspended a boy for his hairstyle (big hair metal style), I wanted to organize a march to the board of education. I still think that was valid.

I have wondered about why they allow no nudity, but horrible, scary violence many times. I would much rather explain the sex. And not have to reassure them that someone isn't going to cut off their head during the night.

Posted by: jane at October 16, 2008 8:55 AM

I can't remember anything I thought was "edgy", but I do remember watching "Cocktail" when I was 13, knowing that I shouldn't. I ended up telling my mom because I felt so guilty. I cried the whole time. I got in a lot of trouble. I didn't see what was wrong with it at the time, but looking back, I can see why they tried to keep me "sheltered" from certain things.

I hate TV now. My daughter is 7, and it seems like there is nothing safe to watch. Even Hannah Montana seems to have sexual undertones at times. Music is awful. I've resorted to only listening to Radio Disney while she's in the car with me. It drives me bonkers, but it's safe. What's worse is when I forget to change the channel when she's NOT in the car and I catch myself singing along to some song. Ugh. But I feel like I have to moniter every show on every channel and it sucks. Even cartoons aren't safe. Half the shit they show on Cartoon Network is not appropriate for children.

I agree with a poster above, I'd rathar see the sex than the violence. Like they said, I can explain the sex better than I can explain why some guy just got his head chopped off. I don't want to HAVE to, but I COULD.

Posted by: js at October 16, 2008 8:56 AM

It doesn't seem long ago when Marilyn Manson closed out the MTV awards. I remember being a little disturbed.

I think he just signed a contract with Disney.

Posted by: lora at October 16, 2008 8:56 AM

Blue hair was very edgy when I was a teen. Now, not so much.
Violence is OK but sex isn't because we were founded by a bunch of puritans.

Posted by: Arwen at October 16, 2008 9:00 AM

I think the sex versus violence thing is just deeply ingrained in our culture going all the way back to Plymouth Rock. Kissing in public was probably good for a trip to the stockade, yet wholesale slaughter of the native Americans was no big deal. In a lot of ways, we aren't much different today.

I remember watching an interview with Ron Moore (creator of Battlestar Galactica) and he was trying to understand the complaints the network gets about sex. You are watching a show in which the human race was just annihilated by nuclear weapons, and your complaint letter is about a sex scene?

Posted by: COD at October 16, 2008 9:07 AM

I think old people are the ones making the FCC rules and they're more scared of nudity than violence. Because they are ugly naked.

I thought smoking and Metallica was extremely edgy. Now, smoking is just sad and Metallica has been a joke for 10 years (although the latest album is a nice throwback).

Posted by: Brad at October 16, 2008 9:17 AM

Funny you talk about this. In the Early 90's I got on a huge anti-censorship kick, working with a group called Parents for Rock and Rap even though I wasn't a parent. I worked at a radio station at the time and successfully got them to allow some things on the air that were previously not allowed. Now, being a father, my views have certainly changed. Sure, maybe music that promotes violence against women and swears a lot isn't appropriate for young children but what age do you start to look the other way? By the time, boys especially, get to Junior High and start playing sports and start to be in locker rooms, you know there is far worse going on in there than whats being sold on CD's. I look back and say the PMRC had the right beliefs but they didn't do well executing it. In the end, I think the stickers are good so parents know but you still shouldn't deny a sale to anyone over 14 or 15. At the end of the day, its the duty of us, the parent to say "whoa, we need to talk about this" and make them know whats being said isnt the best message. Makes for a great beat but not something you should practice.

Posted by: Darren at October 16, 2008 9:26 AM

TV shows are bad enough...let's talk about what happens when your kid sees the freaking NEWS these days! Our kids leave the house at 7:20 am....in those 20 minutes my children have leared about teen pregnancy, dead children, racism, violence and so much more. It always happens when I am just outside of the room and can't dive to the tv fast enough. I need a parental warning not to turn the damn thing on at this point!
As far as hot shit...I watched the VH1 80's video festival this summer. All those videos that were so "edgy" and hot? Made me laugh at how silly they really were and how tame they are by today standards. Even my ten year old was laughing...we were such a wild crew in the 80's. Happy Thursday Cactus!

Posted by: The Stiletto Mom at October 16, 2008 9:33 AM

now if Blackie Lawless could have written better lyrics, maybe this whole mess could have been avoided.

Posted by: madmom at October 16, 2008 9:41 AM

Sadly, I have to embarrass myself regarding my past musical tastes to post this, but on Warrant's album "Cherry Pie" there is an "Ode to Tipper Gore" that is just cuts of people saying fuck. It lasts for about 30 seconds or so if I remember correctly.

Even more frightening, is that I remember the album name without having to look it up.

Posted by: Amy at October 16, 2008 9:41 AM

Oh, and certain shows are not viewed while the kids are around. Specifically Law & Order: SVU. It's bad enough if I have to explain violence, it's another if I have to explain it when a child is the victim.

Posted by: Amy at October 16, 2008 9:44 AM

Dirty Dancing -- I had to SNEAK watching it because all parents thought it was too racy. Truth was, I was too young to understand all of it, I just really liked the dancing. And the 1/2 second of Patrick Swayze's naked ass. Sweet adolescence...

Posted by: Robyn at October 16, 2008 9:49 AM

I remember trying to explain to my friends why I approved of the labels on music, t.v., and films while abhorring censorship. It didn't fit my flaming liberal image.

It's a fine line but to me it was about information and helping parents who could then make their own, more informed, decisions. Yes, we're ultimately responsible for what our kids see and hear but I appreciated the help. It saved me from listening to music I hated. I couldn't understand most of the words anyhow.

On the other hand, if you want music that should carry a warning label, try grand opera, starting with Tosca. Executions, suicides, murders, extortion, betrayal, retribution. Everybody dies by the end - none of them of old age.

And, to answer your question, I don't understand why gruesome is okay while a glimpse of a nipple or an overheard f*** at a football game causes a nationwide uproar.

But then there are many things about the religious right I don't understand. How can anyone claim to represent a God of love and preach hate?

Posted by: Ann Adams at October 16, 2008 10:50 AM

I have memories of my best friend and I sitting in my basement listening to George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" and giggling. My mother would have had a conniption if she had known. Now? You can't go two seconds without hearing someone sing about lady lumps or supermanning. (Incidentally, I needed a kid to explain the supermanning thing to me. How sick is that?)

Posted by: GreenCanary at October 16, 2008 11:08 AM

I *highly* suggest you pick up "This Film Is Not Yet Rated". Totally address question #1.

As for #2, ear cartilage piercing. I was such a bad ass with the one extra whole. Now closed up because it's...well...lame. LOL. Oh, and also the cute cartoon tattoo. Bad ass then, now...if I had one, I would be regretting it.

Posted by: oakley at October 16, 2008 12:00 PM

I discovered heavy metal on the bus in high school. Our bus driver had a thing for it. I somewhat enjoyed it.

I feel like everything else, we can turn things off that we dislike. I don't feel anyone has the right to tell anyone what we can read, watch or listen too.

I feel that's what involved parents do without infringing on others.

I graduated in 1984. Rod Stewart and Madonna popped into my head.

Violence and stupidity disturb me the most. My son has taken to glancing at the newspaper on a regular basis. You wouldn't believe the nonsense that I have to explain to him and he always seem to notice the nasty stuff with child abuse and such.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at October 16, 2008 12:10 PM

I did a speech in junior collage against censorship, using the PMRC as an example. Used the Jane's Addiction album Ritual de lo Habitual as an example of censored covers - I had both covers. I had to show ID when I bought albums at the local record store too. Now, the Parental Advisory Stickers don't bother me but I'm a lot more aware of what's out there than my parents were.

P.S. - 80's/90's hair metal band Warrant did put a song on their Cherry Pie album called Ode to Tipper Gore. It was a 55 second cut and paste of the band saying Fuck over and over from different concerts.

Posted by: bea at October 16, 2008 12:21 PM

I'm unsure why there's that... double standard (for lack of a better term). It astounds me that you can see people stab each other to death, but sex is some sort of no-no. Not that I think one is better than the other, but I think if I had to have my kids see something I'd rather it be a little boob than a violent murder. Call me crazy, but.... *smile*

When I was in high school, Marilyn Manson was edgy to me. I was fascinated with him, his music, his life and also with the fact that it drove my father crazy that I listened to him.

Posted by: Kate at October 16, 2008 2:11 PM

As a librarian who gets challenged all the time on what people think should or should not be available at the public library, and who has spent some years keeping up with federal, state, and local laws around censorship, I am constantly still amazed at the the things that people are offended by, and the things that people are totally ok with. Sex is always freaking people out! It just is. I find it fascinating.

Posted by: Librarian Girl at October 16, 2008 2:33 PM

I didn't have time to read through all the comments so I don't know if anyone said this yet but...my aunt took me to see Flashdance way back in the day (I can't remember my exact age but I think I was barely into my teens) and I thought for sure I was seeing "PORN." I remember my aunt was absolutely horrified and kept telling me to "OMG close your eyes!" LOL

Posted by: Shannen at October 16, 2008 2:47 PM

I remember when Madonna was edgy. Sigh. I dont understand the violence thing. Id much rather my kids watched lots of sex and bad language than any kind of violence.

Posted by: That Girl at October 16, 2008 3:19 PM

I think my husband is still mad at the PMRC. Of course, we don't have kids yet.

Question #1: I have no idea

Question #2: I remember thinking Miami Vice was dark and edgy. Oh, and Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus, which I thought was the shit in high school, and now find incredibly cheesy.

Posted by: bad penguin at October 16, 2008 4:01 PM

I think ultimately, shielding kids from inappropriate music/movies/games is down to the parents. BUT... so many parents are doing such a crappy job, and the kids of those parents introduce it to MY kids, or the kids of those parents behave badly as a result of too much exposure to that crap which affects MY kids... and I don't know what to think anymore. Maybe they're should be stricter controls and ratings... but parents often ignore such things.

As for CSI, ugh. As a lawyer (in my pre-stay at home life), I see these shows as a HUGE problem for prosecutors... because jurors are (obviously) stupid and expect to see the same type of (nonexistent) tests and evidence. Grrrrr.

Posted by: ewe_are_here at October 16, 2008 4:35 PM

I don't know. In Canada you can see boob, and more, after 10. Every show, practically, has a warning message about content when it comes back from commercials. After that, it's the parents job. I love that. I love how much more relaxed they are. If Janet Jackson has accidentally flashed boob at a hockey game intermission show, I don't think they would have made such a big deal out of it.

Why are we so prudish about the body? It's ridiculous.

Posted by: Jodi at October 16, 2008 5:02 PM

In Australia, in 1989, the year I graduated, I wrote a final paper similar to that.

And in answer to your question: Why is violence on television okay but sex is not?, I say because you are in America. You are in a country that is so uptight about the human body yet carrying guns is considered a RIGHT.

That is too messed up for me to be able to parse any further.

Posted by: Jacqueline at October 17, 2008 12:01 AM

You should see Prime Time tv in Vancouver. It's pretty much porn.

Posted by: Mr Lady at October 17, 2008 12:51 AM

Tapes...I haven't seen one of those in a really long time.

I think neither are appropriate for tv as no matter how late they play a show kids can stumble upon it. I think that it should be less or altogether gone from tv.

Posted by: Adi at October 17, 2008 1:51 AM

Tapes...I haven't seen one of those in a really long time.

I think neither are appropriate for tv as no matter how late they play a show kids can stumble upon it. I think that it should be less or altogether gone from tv.

Posted by: Adi at October 17, 2008 1:51 AM

There is a fallacy early on in the statement "Have you ever wondered why small groups of people seem to think that they have the right to make decisions for us concerning our life? Shouldn't we be able to make our own choices about right and wrong?"

It's illustrated simply.

Point North.

Which way did you point. We didn't agree that North was one way or the other. North is north.


Is it wrong to kill? Yes

We agree again, or do we agree there IS a set of right and wrong rules of behavior?

Cafeteria morality is one step removed from Anarchy.

A "small group" doesn't decide for us. It's been decided.

Read "Right From Wrong" by McDowell

Posted by: Knot at October 17, 2008 10:16 AM

Oh, I could tell you stories about how sheltered I was that would make you laugh. In fact, I probably could write a whole post about it.

Suffice it to say that I was only allowed to watch Little House in the Prairie and G rated movies when I was 18. I missed the whole 80's rock era because I wasn't allowed to listen to any of them and was taught through church that they were evil, devil worshipping people who had Satanic messages in their music. (if you backmasked them! The horrors!)

My cool and edgy was listening to Prince at a friend's house, and watching "Nightmare on Elm Street" on HBO during my 16th birthday sleepover. My parents were asleep so we gathered round the TINY black and white and screamed and giggled through the whole thing. The next day my best friend (the preacher's daughter) ratted me out because it gave her nightmares.

As a parent now of a 12 year old, I can handle sex more on TV because like someone said, I can explain it. It's natural(this is excluding movies like 40 year old Virgin, etc-explicit crude sex/talk or weird stuff isn't something I think he needs to watch). Excessive, pointless violence and gore in a movie is something I don't like to watch and I don't think Jake needs to either. However, I can see how as he becomes more of a teen, the horror genre has a bit of a thrill to it and we'll deal with that when it happens. Some movies, like Alien or Jurassic Park have a lot of violence, but are good movies. Jake has no desire to see them at this point.

I am far less strict with Jake then my parents were with me-when he was 11, I gave him a KISS album for Christmas and he occasionally has watched 14A/Mature movies with us after we've pre-screened them. Some movies are rated high and have relatively little in them, like Erin Brokovich. We let Jake watch that with us because I think it's a fantastic story. Sure, the language was bad but he's in high school so it's not like he hasn't heard it before, you know?

From my own experience, the more a parent just puts a blanket "You can't watch/listen to that" on TV and music, the more the kid will just do it anyway when you aren't around and then you've closed the door for discussion on it. I'd rather watch the movie WITH Jake, and then discuss it. We still have limits, but he knows exactly what they are and why we object, and is okay with it.

My stance was different when Jake was little though, being more of a "the kids section is for kids" because he was so easily scared by movies that I only wanted him to see what he could handle.

LOL-didn't think the comment would end up being this long, but there ya go!

Posted by: Scattered Mom at October 18, 2008 1:17 PM

I was in middle school when the Parental Advisory stickers came out. My friend had the Warrant album and we played the "Ode" out the window of our student lounge (right next to the admin building) until we got unplugged.

Back then, kids, we had to tape the song onto a blank tape over and over to get the effect we wanted without getting in trouble. Well, the boom box got taken away for a week...

Posted by: alektra at October 19, 2008 5:36 PM