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The PMRC "Filthy Fifteen"
January 3, 2009 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Some videos: In 1985, Tipper Gore's PMRC released a list they called the "Filthy Fifteen," detailing what they believed to be the fifteen most objectionable songs of the time, and the reason they felt each song should be censored...

1. Prince, "Darling Nikki" (sex)
[first link: concert footage from 1985; second link: the "backward" part at the end of the song, played forward]

2. Sheena Easton, "Sugar Walls" (sex)
[music video]

3. Judas Priest, "Eat Me Alive" (sex)
[album version]

4. Vanity, "Strap On Robbie Baby" (sex)
[lyrics]

5. Mötley Crüe, "Bastard" (violence)
[concert footage from 1983]

6. AC/DC, "Let Me Put My Love into You" (sex)
[music video]

7. Twisted Sister, "We're Not Gonna Take It" (violence)
[concert footage from 2008]

8. Madonna, "Dress You Up" (sex)
[concert footage from 1985]

9. W.A.S.P., "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" (sex/language)
[concert footage from 1984]

10. Def Leppard, "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)" (drug and alcohol use)
[music video]

11. Mercyful Fate, "Into the Coven" (satanism)
[parody video]

12. Black Sabbath, "Trashed" (drug and alcohol use)
[music video]

13. The Mary Jane Girls, "In My House" (sex)
[music video]

14. Venom, "Possessed" (satanism)
[album version]

15. Cindy Lauper, "She Bop" (masturbation)
[music video]
posted by the_bone (120 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, the good old days of the PMRC. The good part was that it let you feel like you were sticking it to the Man by buying a record. Now that PMRC has been replaced by DRM as the acronym du jour, buying a record pretty much means that the Man is sticking it to you.
posted by Forktine at 5:00 PM on January 3, 2009 [19 favorites]


Some non-Wikipedia background on the "Filthy Fifteen."

It's kind of funny (and kind of pathetic) that intelligent people like Tipper Gore wasted so much time plumbing the murky depths of AC/DC and Judas Priest songs. Unless it was political posturing, designed to shore up Gore's right flank in the culture wars of the past 30-40 years. In which case Gore's activities are petty and loathsome.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:00 PM on January 3, 2009


This is going to be a boring thread unless someone steps up to defend the goals of the PMRC.
posted by ryanrs at 5:01 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"the Man is sticking it to you"

I object to this filth.
posted by chrismear at 5:02 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"We're Not Gonna Take It?" Really? This was the height of objectionable songs in 1985?

How has Tipper not had an aneurysm in the years since? Because this list is pretty weak sauce as far as objectionable songs goes.
posted by Caduceus at 5:02 PM on January 3, 2009


OK, can someone explain why they thought masturbation was a problem? I understand there are religious nuts-- but other than that, why on earth would anyone care in the 80's?

Do they think that by abstaining from masturbation teens would be less likely to have sex? By what logic does this make any sense at all?

Also, has anyone in the history of the world ever listened to the lyrics of that song and if so, gone on and taken them as instructions?
posted by Maias at 5:04 PM on January 3, 2009


Folk rock musician John Denver stated he was "strongly opposed to censorship of any kind in our society or anywhere else in the world", and that in his experience censors often misinterpret music, as was the case with his song "Rocky Mountain High". In addition, Denver expressed his belief that censorship is counterproductive: "That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you." Incidentally, when John came up to give his speech, many on the PMRC board expected him to side with them, thinking he would be offended by the lyrics as well.

Here's a sentence that's never been used before: That was kind of badass of John Denver.
posted by EarBucket at 5:04 PM on January 3, 2009 [57 favorites]


You can always watch Frank Zappa on Crossfire for the pathetic arguments of the other side.

"You're frothing! I love it when you froth."
posted by Eekacat at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2009


well, it's a good thing bush got elected then - just think what would have happened to music
posted by pyramid termite at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2009


"We're Not Gonna Take It?" Really? This was the height of objectionable songs in 1985?

IIRC, it was actually "Under The Blade" that the PMRC objected to from the Sister (and the fact they encouraged female fans to doff their tops at shows(but so did most hard rock bands)) and that Dee Snider was vocally anti-censorship.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2009


I'm just amusing myself with the notion of Tipper Gore listening to Venom. That's priceless.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2009


Was just about to post on Denver... always admired him for that (and just feel pity for the idiots that censored something as downright nice as Rocky Mountain High as potentially corrupting)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:09 PM on January 3, 2009


And the 'Filthy Fifteen' makes an alright compilation album. Anyone ever release it?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:11 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The man" is denying me access to shite music.

Thank you, "the man."
posted by fire&wings at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, can someone explain why they thought masturbation was a problem? I understand there are religious nuts-- but other than that, why on earth would anyone care in the 80's?

Oops. They missed 'Relax' (1983) [the video filmed at "The Palms" nightclub] -- Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
posted by ericb at 5:16 PM on January 3, 2009


Cindy Lauper

Cyndi.

Cyndi Lauper.
posted by Johnny Porno at 5:17 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which song was it that landed Deathtöngue in front of Tipper and the PMRC, and so flustered Steve Dallas that he changed the band's name to The Boingers on the spot? Was it "Love Rhino"? ("Lemme graze into your veldt, lemme stomple your albino / Lemme nibble on your buds, I'm your... love rhino.")
posted by steef at 5:19 PM on January 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


I guess the Outhere Brothers hadn't cracked the top 40 yet.
posted by maxwelton at 5:19 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lauper? I hardly knew- oh nebbermind.
posted by hal9k at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, how I hated Tipper. She is the anti-free speech wench. Poor Al. He deserves someone hot, hot, hot, like Caroline Kennedy.
posted by caddis at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2009


Pass me her address, I'll mail her Peaches' entire catalog.
posted by mannequito at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


What, no "Snowblind" by Styx?
posted by crapmatic at 5:46 PM on January 3, 2009


Tipper's of a stranger sort than you'd initially think — her campaign was more "think of the children" (prevent them from purchasing it) than anti-free speech.

In the 1999 Spike Jonze documentary about their life during the campaign, she shows off a nude self-portrait she painted while pregnant.
posted by blasdelf at 5:46 PM on January 3, 2009


What? No Mentors?
posted by porn in the woods at 5:51 PM on January 3, 2009


Maias: "OK, can someone explain why they thought masturbation was a problem? I understand there are religious nuts-- but other than that, why on earth would anyone care in the 80's? "

As I recall, Tipper's daughter asked her what the line about masturbation meant. It was a conversation Tipper wasn't comfortable having. I don't think it was that masturbation itself was a problem; it was that she didn't want her daughter, at that age, to be listening to a song that mentioned it.

The labels were supposed to be warnings to parents that the contents might not be appropriate for their children, working along the same lines as movie ratings.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:54 PM on January 3, 2009


Wait, Judas Priest, "Eat Me Alive" was about sex?
posted by Sailormom at 5:58 PM on January 3, 2009


Wikipedia says the label was called a "Tipper sticker," but I've never heard it called that before -- and I used wore one on my T-shirt at the independent record store I worked at during this whole brouhaha. The owner had told us that we should go on selling the records and CDs just as usual, to anyone of any age.

I remember selling a high school student a 2 Live Crew CD and thinking "Jesus, am I going to go to jail for this crap?"
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:00 PM on January 3, 2009


Wow, what a tame list.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2009


This is going to be a boring thread unless someone steps up to defend the goals of the PMRC.

Wikipedia indicates that the primary goal of the PMRC was labeling of music in accordance with a rating system, and I don't (and didn't) have any problem with that. I don't have kids and don't plan to, but I think it's legitimate to give parents (and anyone else so inclined) a way to exercise their options (particularly in such a huge marketplace) on what kind of material they want to give kids at what age. I don't think it compromises my liberal values to say that some shit just ain't for kids. (And that's speaking as someone whose favorite movie at 13 was "Looking for Mr. Goodbar.")

I think that ratings systems can allow the emergence of legitimate and quality adult-only entertainment, as opposed to requiring that everything have some degree of kid-friendliness or else be considered simply 'dirty.' I think television in particular has shown some of the possibilities for solid adult-level material lately; how much more might we have--and how much more would it be developed by now--had we started out with solid ratings systems that embraced rather than marginalized adult-only content. When I see how much mature content is still locked in the realm of straight-adolescent-boy fantasy, I think it has been sad that we and the industry did not push for a stronger line between adult and kid content; merging the two into an "acceptable" mainstream has polluted them both.

There are other issues for which pro-ratings people get blamed--Walmart not selling certain albums, theater chains not carrying NC-17 movies--but those are caused less by the existence of ratings than by the failure of the industry to accommodate them (or their willingness to serve a smaller adult-only demographic).

I think it was unfortunate that PMRC went about it the way they did, in terms of promoting particular lyrics (not that I could identify another option, really). Especially with the songs listed here, viewing the lyrics as removed from the music and its culture can appear as nothing other than silly--in any context, not just the discussion of labeling or offensiveness. But this route didn't do any favors for the anti-labeling crowd, who looked just as ridiculous defending it as the parents' groups did reading it.
posted by troybob at 6:17 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Vaguely related: I love this She Bop cover by local rockabilly band Francine.
posted by Authorized User at 6:18 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


My parents actually took me to see that Purple Rain tour when I was 10 years old to make up for not taking me to see the Jacksons with them. One of them kept covering my eyes and the other kept covering my ears for pretty much the entire show.
posted by empath at 6:18 PM on January 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


They're just words.
posted by Eekacat at 6:19 PM on January 3, 2009


I miss Frank Zappa.
posted by Chuffy at 6:19 PM on January 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


The funny thing is that you could have picked just about any AC/DC song to represent them. I would have chosen "Given The Dog A Bone" myself.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:20 PM on January 3, 2009


I was watching the "We're not gonna take it" video the other day and chuckling at how people at the time thought it was so dangerous and subversive. I remember when MTV was introduced to our town my father threatened to go to the county board to have the local cable provider's business license revoked unless they yanked MTV off the channel lineup.

(it was all hot air, he never did anything, and in fact we were always allowed to watch it.)
posted by smoothvirus at 6:24 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I miss Frank Zappa.

I've never been able to listen to his music - despite several sincere attempts. But in retrospect, he was way ahead of his time in recognizing the looming Christofascist threat. Wherever he is, I hope he's enjoying a good "I told you so."
posted by Joe Beese at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2009


I miss the pre-Jehovah's-Witness Prince.
posted by availablelight at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2009 [12 favorites]


The PMRC clearly had a big chilling effect on GG Allin, who was hard at work on his hit album Eat My Fuck when this report was released.
posted by mullingitover at 6:35 PM on January 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think I owned 9 of "Filthy Fifteen", including the infamous "Animal". I wonder what Tipper found more offensive; the lyrics, the blood dripping saw blade codpiece on the single cover or the fact that she was really, really turned on by Blackie Lawless.
posted by MikeMc at 6:39 PM on January 3, 2009


Unless it was political posturing, designed to shore up Gore's right flank in the culture wars of the past 30-40 years.

Well, duh...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:51 PM on January 3, 2009


It amuses that me that the songs are either really tame or songs no one listens to at all now.
posted by orange swan at 6:55 PM on January 3, 2009


I have a serious, honest, genuine question:

Is the PMRC considered, mainly, to be liberal or conservative?

Reason I ask is, when all this was going on, I always felt it was the moral-majority/religious-right attitude driving this particular endeavor.

Years later, a friend of mine expressed his view that the PMRC was an example of "the liberals trying to control things." I was honestly flabbergasted, and the only thing I could think of to lead him to this conclusion was that Tipper was married to Al Gore.

So, what do y'all say? Am I deluded, or what?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2009


What no Jackson Browne "Rosie"? Wait, I guess that was a mite earlier.
posted by edgeways at 7:14 PM on January 3, 2009


I'm just gonna repeat what I heard on, I dunno spinnwebe or something

"People getting all upset and hot under the collar about the hotdog through the doughnut in Devo's video, didn't they know Brittney Spears was only 7 years away?!"
posted by The Whelk at 7:23 PM on January 3, 2009


Seriously, where's the compilation album? This is crying out for it.
posted by cavalier at 7:30 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sure, there are plenty of more offensive songs. But to think that the Congressional staffers who compiled the list didn't know that is to not give them enough credit. Naming the most offensive stuff being released in those days would result in a list of groups that very few people have ever heard of, saying things that can barely be paraphrased on the evening news. Moreover, it'd be a list of people that don't record for RIAA member labels.

Thanks for this post, the_bone. I think it's awesome.

Mister Moofoo: at the time, the PMRC PR folks generally presented themselves as a bipartisan group, where Tipper Gore and Susan Baker could work hand in hand. Please oh please won't somebody think of the children, so to speak.
posted by box at 7:31 PM on January 3, 2009


I'm pretty much with you Mister Moofoo. I think you're friend is a lot like the people who will argue that Schwarzenegger is some kind of ultra-liberal because A) He's married to Maria Shriver and B) He's unwilling to go out of his way to pee right in the electorate's Cheerios at Dick Cheney's whim.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:32 PM on January 3, 2009


I always thought the PMRC was kissing up to the religious right. Or congressional wives trying to score points with Nancy.
posted by pernoctalian at 7:35 PM on January 3, 2009


Charlemagne:
w/r/t B), I'd kinda like to see that, actually.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:35 PM on January 3, 2009


More the peeing in the Cheerios, than necessarily the electorate's Cheerios, that is. With Cheney cracking a whip over him, shouting, "Pee, Arnie, you Kraut bastard! Pee like the wind!"
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:38 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia indicates that the primary goal of the PMRC was labeling of music in accordance with a rating system, and I don't (and didn't) have any problem with that. I don't have kids and don't plan to, but I think it's legitimate to give parents (and anyone else so inclined) a way to exercise their options (particularly in such a huge marketplace) on what kind of material they want to give kids at what age. I don't think it compromises my liberal values to say that some shit just ain't for kids.

The problem is the way in which music is sold. In some places, particularly the small towns that conservatives never, ever tire of pretending make up the entire country except when they need the big cities that conservative politicians and pundits actually live in to lambaste and condemn, the only place to get music is Wal-Mart, who refuses to carry music that has a Tipper Sticker on it. (Imagine for a second if they refused to sell R-rated movies.) As such, you end up in a de facto censorship situation, where people can't get music that's been labeled with the Parental Warning sticker. This was especially bad back in the 1980's when this was going on, when there was no internet, no Amazon.com. If you didn't live near someplace large enough to support an independent record shop, you flat-out weren't going to be buying any albums which had been labeled. And this didn't just have an effect at the local label- the Beastie Boys were famously forced to change some of their lyrics by their label because of the storm caused by the PMRC. When somebody can force you to change your art or have it never see the light of day (let's not forget that in the record industry, it is the norm that artists own nothing whatsoever), that's censorship, and that's a real problem.

And you can say oh, but their intentions were good, and they were trying to protect the children. Problem is that there's no way to protect children from information that doesn't infringe on the rights of adults. Any time someone tries, they are actively attempting to infringe on you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:46 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


You mean they didn't even consider Blowfly?
posted by groovehouse at 7:48 PM on January 3, 2009


I think censorship was wrong and I think the PRMC was sort of silly and making a big deal about nothing. But I don't think it was a bad thing to do. Some music has things that many people aren't going to find appropriate for kids to listen to. If a mom didn't want her kids to listen to music with swear words, or overtly sexual, or pro-drug themes what would she do? How would she even know? I get that there's a downside to labeling for some kind of vaguely defined objectionable content. At the same time it's just giving people more information, imperfect information, but more information and I think it's hard to say that it's a bad thing.
posted by I Foody at 7:52 PM on January 3, 2009


I hated the PMRC. I think it's the parents job to police their kids, not some rule governing agency backing up the religous nutjobs.
posted by winks007 at 8:01 PM on January 3, 2009


Problem is that there's no way to protect children from information that doesn't infringe on the rights of adults.

I guess I would buy that it were some kind of infringement were it not for the fact that any product of artistic/editorial content has been adjusted, adapted, revised, filtered, and focus-grouped in any number of ways on the road from artist to audience. It seems silly to get upset that an album discussing masturbation is going to have a certain label on it and not get upset over every other artistic/economic/philosophical insult that work has suffered en route.
posted by troybob at 8:15 PM on January 3, 2009


"They're just words."

Every time someone make this claim, I die a little inside. Words are the way in which we organize our thoughts. They are literally vital to how we think and to what we think. "Just words," indeed. You may as well say "It's just our humanity."

Take away a man's ability to express thoughts, even to himself, and what is left?
posted by oddman at 8:18 PM on January 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I remember more than one person saying Tipper's PMRC adventures were among the things that tipped them towards Nader in 2000. That POV seemed lame at the time, slightly tragic now.

Even as a teen in the middle of 1985, the whole PMRC thing struck me as a tempest in a teapot. Stickers seemed like a reasonable solution. I know I was redfaced as I unfurled the Frankenchrist poster on the commuter rail back out of the city, after a hard Saturday of record shopping in Cambridge.

How did the Dead Kennedy's Frankenchrist poster fit into all this? I can't remember if it was a major issue outside of the fanzine scene.
posted by bendybendy at 8:28 PM on January 3, 2009


We were so innocent then. *sniff*. Warms my heart, really.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:43 PM on January 3, 2009


It amuses that me that the songs are either really tame or songs no one listens to at all now.

Members of Twisted Sister Now Willing to Take It
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:44 PM on January 3, 2009


Cool post, thanks.
posted by Wolof at 8:44 PM on January 3, 2009


I've had the theory that no matter what is going on in the outside world, people will be just as happy/sad/upset/horny/whatever. The only difference is whether there is target for that energy (as we've had over the last 8 years) or if it is dispersed on crap like this/warondrugs/settingfiretowoodstock/veryangrymusak.
posted by xorry at 8:50 PM on January 3, 2009


>How did the Dead Kennedy's Frankenchrist poster fit into all this?
Jello Biafra and Tipper Gore were on Oprah to discuss that very topic. All videos of the show seem to have been taken down but here is a transcript.
posted by Sailormom at 8:53 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is going to be a boring thread unless someone steps up to defend the goals of the PMRC.

Allow me to play the Devil's advocate...

We first hear of Satan by name in the Old Testament. He is actually only named three times in the Old Testament. The monotheistic Israelites began to realize one problem with a belief system where their one god was responsible for all things: God must be responsible for all evil in the world, too. They weren't too keen on that idea, so they began to attribute some of the less pleasant things in that were going on to an "angel of the Lord." This sounded good to them. It seemed to be more specific. But why stop there? Why not turn evildoer into another being? And so was born the idea of Satan. Satan first appears in the Old Testament by name when he wipes out a large amount of people to punish David for taking a census of the people (why do today's fundies not object to the taking of a census today, by the way?). Interestingly enough, that very deed was carried out by none other than God himself earlier in the Old Testament. By the time someone got around to talking about the same event in Chronicles, the writer is uncomfortable with God killing people because of a census. So the writer of Chronicles assigns that job to Satan.

The other two passages involving Satan present Satan in some sort of heavenly court. In Job specifically, God and Satan are having a discussion about how lacking in faith humans are. God tells Satan that Job is very faithful. Satan tells God that Job is only so faithful because he has been blessed with wealth, family, friends, and health. Take those things away from Job, Satan says, and you will see Job's true colors. So God agrees to Satan's wager and strips Job of everything. And guess what? Job curses God and curses the day he was born. Satan wins the bet. God is not happy with the outcome and restores all of Job's wealth.

So Satan is doing God's dirty work, playing by God's rules, and then he winds up getting cheated out of a bet. Who wouldn't be a little pissed at that? Then God sends Jesus down to earth for a bit. He has him go out in the desert for forty days. God then instructs Satan to go out into the desert and tempt Jesus. So he does. Why? Because Satan is obeying God.

And then God completely flips the script on Satan. How fair is that? In the Old Testament, Satan suddenly becomes the bad guy? It is the classic patsy situation. Satan was set up. Someone had to be the fall guy for all of the shit that had gone on in the world, so God decided on Satan. By the time Satan figured all of this out, it was too late. He had become the personification of evil in the minds of humanity. What is a guy to do?

So you will have to excuse Satan's behavior over the past couple of years. He may be acting out a bit. But he is really just fulfilling the role that God apparently chose for him. And at least Satan knows who was the one who kept his word back when they made a certain bet.

The devil is honest, he follows instructions, and he takes the fall for those who are above him. What more can we possibly ask of someone? I'll take him in my corner any day of the week.
posted by flarbuse at 8:59 PM on January 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


My favorite unintended consquence of the PMRC's actions:

They required their "Parental Advisory" sticker to be placed on the album "Ritual de lo Habitual" by Jane's Addiction.

This prompted Jane's Addiction to change the album's cover from this to this.
posted by Flunkie at 9:03 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"We're Not Gonna Take It?" Really? This was the height of objectionable songs in 1985?

I think that most of the outcry was about the cartoonish violence in the video.
posted by jonp72 at 9:19 PM on January 3, 2009


My first record was Twisted Sister. I woke up on christmas morning to a poster on my wall of Dee Snider in all his gear and a record to play on my new record player. I totally jammed out to We're Not Gonna Take It and their cover of Leader of the Pack.
I was 5 or 6.

My brothers are awesome.
posted by shmurley at 9:19 PM on January 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Like Tipper hasn't been tea bagged in her life. NIN's Closer? And don't get me started on Strip-Hop.
posted by Flex1970 at 9:21 PM on January 3, 2009


The best part of the entire affair was when Dee Snider - Mr. "Twisted Sister" himself - testified before the United States Senate committee: and patiently explained to our Solons that parenthood is difficult: that parents need to take an active role in raising their children, and you know, parents should not buy their children stuff without listening to it themselves and without talking to their children about it.

The looks of general incomprehension on the part of the Senators (almost) made the entire sad episode worth it.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:33 PM on January 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Amazing to think that Dee Snider was once considered so shocking, so threatening to the moral fibre of an entire country. Looking back on Twisted Sister, they are about as threatening as a pantomime horse. And equally cartoony.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:47 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember that this was totally Serious Business to me as an 11 year old metalhead.
posted by The Straightener at 9:55 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


As I recall, Tipper's daughter asked her what the line about masturbation meant. It was a conversation Tipper wasn't comfortable having.

Which is where I get lost every time: it went from "I didn't like explaining that" to "I didn't like explaining that, therefore I shouldn't have had to explain that, and furthermore the government should have helped me not to have to explain that," and the government and big business both said "oh--sure--sorry about that."
posted by johnofjack at 10:04 PM on January 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


oddman:
"They're just words."

Every time someone make this claim, I die a little inside. Words are the way in which we organize our thoughts. They are literally vital to how we think and to what we think. "Just words," indeed. You may as well say "It's just our humanity."

Take away a man's ability to express thoughts, even to himself, and what is left?


I don't think Eekacat was trying to defend censorship, but simply pointing out how much the PMRC and their ilk were railing against mere words. In the scope of the world's problems, lyrics on a 2 Live Crew record rank somewhere between mismatched socks and failing to rewind videos before returning them to the store.
posted by dr_dank at 10:05 PM on January 3, 2009


The one thing I've never understood about all of this is the idea that Walmart would use this rating system as an excuse to censor. At the time of these debates, Blockbuster was already censoring videos, often going beyond the self-regulated MPAA system (which then and now kept NC-17 movies from being made let alone released). My guess is that the cartelization of theaters and the near monopoly position of Blockbuster represented stronger market power in the distribution of movies than the power exerted by Walmart and other major record sellers in the distribution of music. Given that such a practice already existed, why did Walmart need an excuse? While it's cheaper to use a government-supplied heuristic, but there was no reason to expect they'd stock 2 Live Crew on day 0 and then suddenly pull them once they had a sticker on them. My guess is that much of the censorship was already occurring as artists such as 2 Live Crew weren't generally available. Perhaps the reason that this list seems tame is that much of the deed had already been done.

Private-sector censorship is often a bigger threat than is acknowledged and I'm glad to see people speaking about it-- but the idea that Walmart needed Tipper's help made no sense to me then or now. I think that wasn't the real threat here -- it was the idea that the government should ever be in the business of making content-based decisions, regardless of the impact it might have. Once the government starts deciding high or low art, the next step is less pretty (but perhaps more aesthetic in their eyes). This is something that Jesse Helms (and the Supreme Court) got horribly wrong with the NEA and this is what scared me the most about the PMRC.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:24 PM on January 3, 2009


OK, can someone explain why they thought masturbation was a problem?

People are crazy about that shit. I know someone who was circumcised at 5 or 6 because he'd started'playing with himself' and his parents decided to apply the Victorian 'fix' to the 'problem'.
posted by rodgerd at 10:36 PM on January 3, 2009


My heavy metal has turned millions into rock-a-holics... They've become zombies.
posted by citron at 11:21 PM on January 3, 2009


Did they discover rap music in 1986 or something?
posted by Artw at 11:24 PM on January 3, 2009


So, I'd never really listened to the verses in "We're Not Gonna Take It". So, when I saw it on that list, I was like, "Oh, sure, violence... okay... I'm sure they have something about shooting a cop or something."

And then I read the lyrics.

There's literally nothing violent in them whatsoever. Martin Luther King Jr. could have read that song as a speech. Gandhi could have, too. They both wrote better than Dee Snider, but that's not the point.

Seriously... violence? Or have I missed some sort of societal axiom that discontent is identical to violence.
posted by Netzapper at 11:40 PM on January 3, 2009


/drives a truck though the thread, with Jerry Lee Lewis on the back playing a piano. You are now all incurable reefer addicts through the power of devil music.
posted by Artw at 11:51 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Darling Nikki" (sex)

Redundant.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:12 AM on January 4, 2009


There are some situations when censorship of inappropriate music makes sense. For example, imagine going to get your driver's license renewed and the radio in the office was blasting a song urging immediate masturbation- nothing would get done... forms wouldn't be filled out etc. It would be a meltdown!

The only other reasonable objection that I see to music encouraging "bad things" is teenage pregnancy, which is only a problem if the teenagers are too immature to look after their kid- putting the education system at fault. Gosh!

Tipper Gore and others infuriate me because they make the world far more complicated than it actually is.
posted by niccolo at 12:37 AM on January 4, 2009


Children should be imprisoned at Disney World until they are 18. That way, they will never ever be exposed to sex, violence, alcohol or drugs. Then, on their 18th birthdays, they can all come out and discover "adulthood", and be easy prey.
posted by Goofyy at 12:51 AM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Eekacat: You can always watch Frank Zappa on Crossfire for the pathetic arguments of the other side.

Hey, great idea. Let's do that, shall we?

Frank Zappa on Crossfire, 1986.

Awesome stuff. He mentions the seven words, too, and from his argument it's pretty clear he's been talking to our other recently departed friend.

And, really, it's priceless if only for the part where he gets the conservative John Lofton to mutter under his breath "do you really think that's gonna give kids hope, tellin' them to go out and vote?" What a maroon.
posted by koeselitz at 1:14 AM on January 4, 2009


...and isn't it great that the music video that they use as an example of "shocking" and "bad taste" at the beginning is fucking Duran Duran!?
posted by koeselitz at 1:16 AM on January 4, 2009


...and isn't it great that the music video that they use as an example of "shocking" and "bad taste" at the beginning is fucking Duran Duran!?

Girls on Film actually has a pretty raunchy vid. And Wild Boys is downright homoerotic.

That said, it shows how ridiculous some people's hot buttons are. I'd be a lot less disturbed by my daughter wanting to listen to songs about masturbation and strap-ons[1] than I would be in her picking up, say, Twilight.

[1] Other than a normal, healthy, fatherly "Lalalalalalala not interested in the details of your fantasy life".
posted by rodgerd at 1:36 AM on January 4, 2009


And, hell, go the whole hog. Here's a great debate between Frank Zappa and one Candy Stroud on 10/25/1985: [1] [2] [3] [4] - skip 5 minutes into part one to ditch the newsy intro.

Thank god for Frank Zappa. Isn't it shocking in the highest degree what happens at the beginning of the second segment of this debate, after Candy (ugh, porn name, ironic, eh?) has repeatedly accused rock of encouraging masturbation, incest, and rape? Everyone is uncomfortable and sort of confused when Frank, straight-faced and audacious, says, plain as day:

What's the matter with masturbation?

There's a beat, Charlie Rose laughs it off and announces a cut to commercial, but the point remains. And nobody else in that theater or audience would've said it even though it needed saying desperately.
posted by koeselitz at 1:40 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess it's just a different world for us, impossible to understand and beyond comprehension, since everything changed when we were growing up and has been different since we've been adults. Eazy-E truly shifted the structure of the universe.
posted by koeselitz at 1:47 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


While we're at it, hell, everybody go watch Dee Snider at the PMRC hearing.
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager in the mid-1980s there were films I was not allowed to see because they contained songs that had lyrics that some busybody I'd never met in another state said that they'd heard from somebody that they were just awful. And that hearing these words just hearing them, just one time - would make me a bad person. At the time I was listening to Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse among others. So when I was turned away at the door to see Purple Rain... well, that certainly was a silly thing.

I went on to listen to more bad music and even watch some bad videos. Very bad. I grew up to be a social worker and work in public schools. I still get sick to the teeth thinking about the PMRC and those like them.

Frank Zappa was right. DEVO was right. And Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse were right. The PMRC was not.
posted by eccnineten at 2:04 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, I've nearly made this post a jillion times, but I always held back because I couldn't find the last few videos to round it out. Prince must have an absolute army combing the web for his videos, because they vaporize in minutes after they appear.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:46 AM on January 4, 2009


Thing I've never been able to figure out: What happened between 1985 and 1994 that made it possible for Trent Reznor to release "Closer"?


Aside: It's not just about labeling. Let's not forget that the call was for an MPAA-like ratings system. Per the MPAA, children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult to see an R-rated movie, and cannot be admitted to an NC-17 film under any circumstances. For me, that's the difference between helping parents make an educated decision, and arbitrarily making that decision for them.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:13 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


>How did the Dead Kennedy's Frankenchrist poster fit into all this?

Basically, the poster was the grounds cited by the SF prosecutor's office for charging Jello Biafra and a bunch of people who were related to the band and the production of the album with obscenity. The Kennedys weren't chosen at random; Tipper Gore bragged about the prosecution being a "cost-effective" means of sending a message to musicians that they'd have to fall in line. (Prosecuting a small, fringe-culture independent label is way cheaper than going after an RIAA label which can actually defend itself, after all.) You can hear Jello's side of the story (he's quite an entertaining speaker) on his spoken-word album High Priest of Harmful Matter, which also has some stuff about the degree to which American music censorship efforts have been deeply tied in with white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist groups. It's well worth a listen.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:13 AM on January 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, and years later, an NPR program got Jello Biafra and the prosecutor together on the phone. The prosecutor had chilled out considerably and the two apparently talked a few more times afterward.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:42 AM on January 4, 2009


From the transcript (thanks Sailormom) of the Oprah matchup between Jello Biafra and Tipper Gore.

---Jello Biafra: If a kid shoplifts or becomes involved in a gang, then, well, it must be
the music's fault.

---Tipper Gore: It is.

By this logic, all we have to do is stamp out ALL music and all the kids will grow up to be model citizens. All this makes me think back to the frothing hissy fit folks got into over the Beatles. Because of their hair.

Back in Stone Age times, I'll bet the tribal elders complained about young Snogg's experiment with the skin stretched over the hollow log and all the infernal pounding that ensued. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2009


Somebody should play Tipper the Anti Nowhere League - her head would explode So What?
posted by RegMcF at 7:46 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frank Zappa on Crossfire, 1986 .

Thanks for this, koeselitz. Although I followed Zappa's criticisms of the PMRC in the eighties, I had never seen this. John Lofton is a reminder of the comically naive holier-than-thou mindset of conservatives twenty-five years ago that led to spoofs like Dana Carvey's "Church Lady". For satirists, it was a target-rich environment.

Zappa: I didn't realize that incest in the United States was such a terrible problem that we suddenly needed government intervention to cure incest in America by keeping words off of records.

Lofton: Well, incest in America didn't USE to be such a problem, did it, Mr. Zappa? That's only come about in the last twenty years.


Say what you will about modern conservatives: at least Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity these days put a little slicker spin on things than Lofton was doing then.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:05 AM on January 4, 2009


I'm not sure precisely what is wrong with Tipper Gore. I'll bet her and Al have had some fascinating arguments, though.

The problem with the ratings system, and really any ratings system, designed to "protect the children" is that we never precisely know from what the parents would like to protect them. Certainly no rational basis is at work for most protection systems. As an example, any child can be plunked down in front of family TV and see many people commit murder (an act that vast majority of children will not be doing as adults and one we probably would wish to dissuade unless we had a war going on), but seeing two people have The Sex (an act that the vast majory of children will be doing as adults and something we probably want to happen) is totally verboten.

A simple blanket score does not serve as any guide, given that it's the highest of any number of chunks of reality parents would wish to hide from their children that I've heard:

* Teen pregnancy (because if they don't know they cannot become pregnant at fifteen, then the laws of physics disallow it to happen)
* Promotion of Christian themes
* Western imperialism (I guess they're okay with Eastern imperialism)
* Sex outside of the confines of marriage
* Gender dysphoria and that whole package (or lack thereof)
* Existence/use of birth control
* Guns
* Gay sex (uhh, that's deviant and kids shouldn't even know about it as an option)
* Promotion of non-Christian themes
* Meat-eating
* Childhood sexual abuse
* Smoking portrayed in a positive light
* Rape (is it violence? is it sex? should we just put it in both categories for funzies?)
* Homophobia
* Drugs (which further breaks down into things like alcohol, pot, and "harder" drugs, while ignoring, say, caffeine)
* Straight sex (don't give them ideas)

Many of the items on the list flatly contradict one another. Practically anything past The Backyardigans can have one or more items on the list, so of course people would select the category with the highest objection factor as the basis for a given item's rating. Hence, nearly anything is objectionable if you're thin-skinned enough and any potential value of the system vanishes.

The American Way is to be too afraid of what your child might think about reality after they're exposed to art, too lazy to investigate the art in question, and too smug to realize that other parents might have different priorities. So let's just have some government committee put "G," "PG," or "R" on something. That's a good use of taxpayer dollars.

About as far as I'd be willing to go would be to have printed lyrics available, which would go a long way to allowing parents to rapidly scan the content and decide for themselves. Maybe a text file on the disc. Also, entertainment in counting the usage of "baby" in a Britney Spears album.
posted by adipocere at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


INCEST IN AMERICA- MY NEW ZAPPA COVER BAND.
Man, I remember watching that Spike Jonze documentary and seeing Tipper Gore and just thinking, "What happened? I mean, you SEEM pretty cool now, what was that all about? Was it just supposed to be a letter writing campaign and then it snowballed and suddenly you were on talk shows being an asshole to Frank Zappa? Was it some sort of collective insanity?"
posted by 235w103 at 8:32 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, I'd never really listened to the verses in "We're Not Gonna Take It". So, when I saw it on that list, I was like, "Oh, sure, violence... okay... I'm sure they have something about shooting a cop or something."

And then I read the lyrics.


One of the curious side effects of the PMRC's crusade is that you can now find a transcription of those lyrics in any library that subscribes to the Congressional Record. You'll also find scans of several of the most offensive album covers, including WASP's infamous Fuck Like a Beast cover.

I wrote a paper on the PMRC and the music-censorship crusades of the '80s back in undergrad, and I remember sitting one grey evening paging through the Congressional Record and coming to the lyric page for "We're Not Gonna Take It" and thinking, Well, whatever else, Tipper's misguided witch hunt means that for as long as there are functioning libraries, it'll be no trouble to find the complete lyrics of "We're Not Gonna Take It" and a reproduction of WASP's album cover, both of which could've easily vanished forever into the pop-cultural ether. So, you know, nice work.
posted by gompa at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hm, for what it's worth, I didn't mean to link back to this post. Duh. I meant to link to the playlist I'd made.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2009


I've never been able to listen to [Frank Zappa's] music - despite several sincere attempts.

Some is terrible, some is subversive, some is awesome, some is a combination of any two (or all three!) so no surprise there.

Having said that...

By this logic, all we have to do is stamp out ALL music and all the kids will grow up to be model citizens.

That's the subject matter of Frank Zappa's "Joe's Garage", written intentionally as a bad high school musical (and recently performed that way with Gail Zappa's blessing by the Open Fist theater in Los Angeles) -- it's a great album to listen to, because you'll hear some of his best (Easter in Watermelon Hay), funniest (Little Green Rosetta, Why Does It Hurt When I pee) and subversive stuff, along with some awful stuff.
posted by davejay at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The awful stuff kind of makes it though.

(not so much Thing-Fish, the other rock opera thing of his I know of)
posted by Artw at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2009


I wonder how much the failure of the youth vote to turn out for al gore in 2000 can be laid at the feet of this crusade and if the election and world history might have been radically different if tipper gore had just lightened up in the 80's.
posted by empath at 10:14 AM on January 4, 2009


Much as I wholeheartedly disagree with the PMRC and censorship in general, I do remember as a kid wondering how exactly one "Fucked like a beast" and if that was indeed the zenith of fucking. I pretty much decided that it was.
posted by ob at 10:47 AM on January 4, 2009


Awesome. I was just reading about The Dead Kennedys and the PMRC in Iain Ellis' Rebels Wit Attitude. It reminds me how much we used to hate Tipper Gore. I agree with ob, I wonder if residual resentment toward the PMRC played a hand in dampening the turnout for Al Gore in 2000.
posted by Stephen Elliott at 12:38 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some music has things that many people aren't going to find appropriate for kids to listen to.

Some people need to take responsibility for themselves and their children without imposing the same restrictions on other adults. If you don't want your kid listening to certain music, YOU deal with it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2009


In the scope of the world's problems, lyrics on a 2 Live Crew record rank somewhere between mismatched socks and failing to rewind videos before returning them to the store.

Censorship isn't less important if it's not about a sentimental subject to you or me. It's about protecting the very right of speech, not the person nor the particular expression.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:58 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure precisely what is wrong with Tipper Gore. I'll bet her and Al have had some fascinating arguments, though.

They are both self-proclaimed Deadheads, too. I don't know if you've ever been to a Dead show, but it ain't a church service, or at least not a typical one. I think it's soccer-momism run amok. The suburbanite liberal housewife who dropped acid in the '60s was now trying to keep her kids from doing the same thing in the '80s. Well, there was that, and they honestly didn't know what to make with their kids' form of rebellion, just as their parents struggled with their own. So they tried to get the government to be mom and dad for the nation's children. Problem is, I don't want you telling me what music my kids should be listening to, and in the end that's how a lot of people felt, but the PMRC won the political battle and got the damn label anyway. But I bet you hard cash Al and Tipper during that time would sneak out to smoke a joint in their hybrid SUV parked in the garage and listen to China Cat > I Know You Rider off a '72 tape from Veneta, OR, and then come back in smelling of incense and breath mints, a little goofier than before.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:15 PM on January 4, 2009


hybrid SUV

Actually, I guess it would have been something like a Jeep Wagoneer.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:17 PM on January 4, 2009


(not so much Thing-Fish, the other rock opera thing of his I know of)

Ah, widely misunderstood and not well appreciated.

"I'm sucking the handle now, HARRY! Look! Mmmmmm! It tastes GOOD!"

Great stuff. Not as good as "Joe's Garage," but Dale Bozzio really makes "Thing Fish" for me.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2009


I was always concerned that the PMRC was ultimately going to try to legislate their stickers, making it illegal for (underage) people to purchase certain kinds of music.

When said laws started to come into existence that fear was turning into reality. I was in an affected state (WA) shortly after one of these laws was passed. Luckily these laws got thrown out by the courts, but I'm always concerned to see legislation that so clearly seems unconstitutional to be enacted.

Regarding labeling (supposedly the goal of the PMRC) - it seems like a good idea. Put lots of meta-data (tags) on content (video, print, music, etc). Not only can it help parents avoid media they don't feel is age appropriate for their kids, it will help the adults find content that specifically meets their criteria. Warning stickers seem inappropriate though, as was pointed out earlier; almost all content will be offensive to some.

Warning: content that is inoffensive to all will undoubtedly be boring as hell.
posted by el io at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2009


I wonder if residual resentment toward the PMRC played a hand in dampening the turnout for Al Gore in 2000.

Most likely. I mean, you've got a guy nomically running on what passes for liberal/left politics in the States, and he's jacked up a right-wing religious candidate as his choice of veep and makes all sorts of noise about "morality" to distance himself from his predecessor, and you've got Tipper. It didn't exactly work on playing up his differences from the right-wing candidates, does it?

I was always concerned that the PMRC was ultimately going to try to legislate their stickers, making it illegal for (underage) people to purchase certain kinds of music.

Nah. The Hayes, and then MPAA, ratings, the old comic book approvals, and the Tipper stickers are all based on the threat of legislation, but it's unlikely you'd get it past the Supreme Court in the US. It's censorship by chilling effect - convince an industry to label, stigmatise, and self-censor its own output to a far greater degree than the government would ever actually be allowed to.

That's why it's hilariously ignorant when people try to defend the net censorphip that comes from commercial entities refusing to show NC17 films (and hence them not being made), or refusing to stock Comics Code approved comics, or whatever, as a toxic but unintended side-effect of these campaigns; it isn't, it's the whole point of them.

Not only can it help parents avoid media they don't feel is age appropriate for their kids, it will help the adults find content that specifically meets their criteria.

Of course, it also makes it harder for kids to sneak cool stuff past their parents. Heaven forbid children develop an independent conciousness!

(But if we are going to do this, can we stick all that purple ballarina fairy princess shit that seems to be all over the place - "May cause your daughter to buy into shitty, bran-dead mysoginistic ideas of feminity"? "Ballet is bad for your body image, may lead to anorexia, bulemia, or other eating disorders"?)
posted by rodgerd at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2009


Stupid typo-creating fingers.
posted by rodgerd at 2:27 PM on January 4, 2009


I got into a lot of trouble at my third library job for peeling the parental advisory labels off all the music CDs. I just found it really offensive that some parents would let a sticker do their job.

I bet the PMRC really hated Madonna's "Justify My Love" video.
posted by QIbHom at 3:56 PM on January 4, 2009


I bet the PMRC would just love Afroman's Crazy Rap (so NSFW).
posted by caddis at 5:11 PM on January 4, 2009


oops, that version was cleansed by Tipper herself - this is the version that gives her palpitations.
posted by caddis at 5:16 PM on January 4, 2009


Thank god for Frank Zappa.

Who considered himself conservative. If only we could have more conservatives like him or G.K. Chesterton.
posted by ersatz at 5:52 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


madamjujujive made an awesome Frank post a little while ago. Some of the links are dead but there are new ones: 1 2 and 3.
posted by caddis at 6:25 PM on January 4, 2009


Wikipedia says the label was called a "Tipper sticker," but I've never heard it called that before

Seconded. Who says this?
posted by desuetude at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2009


Dee Snyder, according to google.
posted by Artw at 10:51 PM on January 4, 2009


QlbHom: I bet the PMRC really hated Madonna's "Justify My Love" video.

caddis: I bet the PMRC would just love Afroman's Crazy Rap (so NSFW).


Haw haw haw. Youz guys are hilarious.

No, no, you should know that the PMRC officially keeled over and died just after hearing Eazy-E's Merry Muthaphukken X-Mas. Possibly the most offensive (and hilarious) song ever recorded.

There's just something charmingly evil about rappers bragging about how they're going to tell little kids that Santa's not real.
posted by koeselitz at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2009


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