Sep 20, 2010

Frank Zappa Day

Yesterday they celebrated Frank Zappa Day in Baltimore, MD. It celebrates the anniversary of his testimony before congress against censorship. As a consumer, a librarian, a mother, and a citizen of the United States, censorship is something that I feel very strongly about so I feel that the occasion is worth noting.

On September 19, 1985 Frank Zappa spoke to congress at a hearing on Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records (S Hrg 99-529) . The hearings were prompted by Tipper Gore and the other "Washington Wives" who founded their Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) to express their concern over "the growing trend in music toward lyrics that are sexually explicit, excessively violent, or glorify the use of drugs and alcohol." They sought warning labels and ratings on records and the removal of offensive material from the television and radio.

Zappa said in part "The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation."

Later he made the slippery slope argument saying "What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?"

His statement was very colorful but he was right. Who decides what is offensive? Where does it stop?


John Denver also spoke out in opposition to the PMRC citing his fears that the censorship is subjective and often censors misunderstand or misconstrue the what they're listening to saying
"My song "Rocky Mountain High" was banned from many radio stations as a drug-related song. This was obviously done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains and also had never experienced the elation, celebration of life, or the joy in living that one feels when he observes something as wondrous as the Perseides meteor shower on a moonless, cloudless night, when there are so many stars that you have a shadow from the starlight, and you are out camping with your friends, your best friends, and introducing them to one of nature's most spectacular light shows for the very first time."

He has a point.

One of the results of the PMRC campaign was the addition of the advisory labels on some of the cd cases in the picture above. They all belong to Stinkerbelle, by the way. I bought them, in all their uncensored glory, for my girl and we listen to them together. I do not buy censored music. If I like a song then I buy it as the artist intended. To do otherwise would be like putting pants on Michelangelo's David. If it's offensive then I exercise my right to turn it off.

There is music out there on both ends of the spectrum that I think is just awful - too sappy or too violent. It is my choice not to listen to that stuff and I'm pleased that my girls agree with me for the most part because I listen to much of it with them. We talk about it. We talk about the themes and what is and is not appropriate.

I never in a million years would imagine that I'd be quoting John Denver but I think that his statement was right. He said that "that which is denied becomes that which is most interesting. That which is hidden -- excuse me. 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. Our children, our people, our society and the world cannot afford this waste." He went on to say that the music that our children listen to can give un insight into what they're thinking and feeling.

I find it a little sad that this is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Censorship is alive and well.

Happy Frank Zappa day. I hope that you spent it listening to something good - whatever that may be.

1 comment:

Carole Knits said...

This is a great post, Hillary! Down with censorship!