Thursday, 14 November 2013

PMRC: Pre-Miley 'Robin' Cyrus


The year is 1988. Billy Bragg is singing: "It may have been Camelot, for Jack and Jacqueline," the opening lyrics to Billy Bragg's career defining song "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward" from his fifth album Workers Playtime. It's a direct reference to the title and a call to arms for the left-wing followers willing to "be active with the activists." We are still waiting for that leap out of the 80s, as Jacqueline Kennedy so profoundly said in the 60s - "There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot." She started a legend that likened JFK to the symbolic King Arthur. Turn the clock back to 2004 and George W. Bush is being likened to a puppet attached to strings controlled by the greater beings on the one dollar bill; while today's "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward" has satirical altered lyrics to the present: "It may have been Camelot, for Clegg and Cameron." As Halpert and Scott started to co-manage Britain, there was an apology from the unfulfilled liberal, then a much needed student protest with faint Bragg cries of: "Things have not been this bad, since the days of Margaret Thatcher." It makes it almost understanding how Jacqueline can liken JFK to Camelot, when Lyndon B. Johnson escalated USA's involvement in the Vietnam War, producing countless protest songs - ending that great period when USA were actually leaping forwards.

History tells us about the great revolutionaries like Che Guevara, the Cuban Marxist guerrilla leader. His name is a symbol of rebellion, one which has been replicated in popular culture, cue Bragg: "The revolution is just a t-shirt away." The closing lyrics to “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” strike a chord with the listener. This rebellion, this Marxism, this Camelot figure; it’s all integral to society and the fight against exploitation, not just in politics, but in music, Mr Bragg says: "Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is, I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses."

Back in 1988, something is happening - a once synthpop trio are acting out against their label. It was sadcore's cardinal Talk Talk and their genre (post-rock) defining Spirit of Eden that rattled EMI's cage. After rejecting the initial listen by EMI executives, they asked Talk Talk to re-record parts of Spirit of Eden (a drastic change to which EMI believed to be commercially unfeasible.) This act of rebellion still brings critics to a stand still even today. Vocalist / guitarist Mark Hollis rejected EMI's proposition of re-recording, and later took EMI to court over a contract dispute. Spirit of Eden came out in its original form because Talk Talk (working under an open budget) left it late for EMI to turn down the master recordings. In fear of an unfinanced follow-up album, Talk Talk wanted out. They were relieved of their contract burden in the Court of Appeals - later signing to Polydor for their follow-up Laughing Stock.

There was a battle between Frank Zappa and Tipper Gore three years prior to Sprit of Eden and "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward". Zappa's appearance at the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre) Senate Hearing in 1985 was a defence for the artist, not for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), as some presume. His back and forth suggestions with Senator Al Gore on the issues of sex and violence in lyrics were something out of a VCPR discussion on morality. Not to mention the Gore team's personal reasons behind PMRC - Al’s rise to become Vice President. The question was on the first amendment to the United States Constitution, in particular freedom of speech. Today more than ever freedom of speech is being stretched. Edward Snowden is in exile after revealing government wrongdoings that on paper are not covered by freedom of speech, because it's a matter of national security. And we must not forget about Bradley Manning, who's currently serving a 35 year sentence for revealing war crimes. Wikileaks' Julian Assange isn't the Draco Malfoy antagonist he's made out to be, just like how Manning is perceived to be a villainous hero by society. Freedom of speech still exists, although the 1985 outcome of the PMRC changed the way we listen to, and think of music.

This is really a topic of censorship - Parental Advisory Explicit Content. These four words were made in to a logo and slapped on thousands of album covers since Banned in the U.S.A. by Luke featuring the 2 Live Crew in 1990 (a sticker was used prior to this.) 2 Live Crew's previous album was also made illegal in certain areas of Florida - breaking that freedom of speech barrier meaning 2 Live were objectively obscene, so they lose their right to expression? - “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” ~Voltaire. It was very much a follow-up to Tipper Gore's PMRC pressure on the music industry. Her ideology of protecting the eyes and ears of children was a failure right from the start, but something was needed to protect the world from the damaging imagery the PMRC set out to extinguish. Gore and her Washington wives expected the future to be like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor dystopian world. In some ways, they were right; just look at what the internet has done to us - "We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine." While we're on the topic of Marxism - what an iconic protest it was for Rage Against the Machine standing bollock naked (bar mouth tapes) in front of the Lollapalooza festivalgoers 20 years ago. The PMRC were creating a backlash, and my god did they get it hard by the music industry post-1985 - Bragg: "If you've got a blacklist, I want to be on it."

Here's a small list of artists who have protested in some way against the PMRC. The main flaw of the censorship logo was rebellion. The first album I owned was Gorillaz - Gorillaz, with the Parental Advisory Explicit Content censor attached. I never understood the logo as a young teenager; it made no effect on my parents purchasing the album, or me listening to it. Sure it had a few curses, but no themes of sexual content, violence, or art; so why the sticker? Part of me believes the sticker to be an honest indicator of the content for parents to decide whether they should let their kids have it (which is an article in itself). Another part of me believes it to be purely for album sales. I can't think of many people I know that haven’t bought an album with the Parental Advisory logo on it. Some people buy albums with the logo just for the sake of it. Example, when I was in New York City last year, I went in to a record shop in the East Village, as you do. After looking through the $1 section, I found an album called We Care by Whale - a Swedish alternative / pop group. Instead of putting it down as I probably would have done if it were a different album, I noticed the Parental Advisory sticker - telling me there’s something here, like a shark smelling blood. The tenth track on We Care was called "Young, Dumb, N' Full of Cum", so obviously I bought it. There’s no other reason to get this album from an unknown perspective, and I’m sure some of you have done something similar based on the rebelling attitude towards the attempted censorship warning and restriction. 

The PMRC promoted albums by labelling them and singling them out for their supposed explicit content. It still has a major effect on popular music - more so today. Naming and shaming the obvious suspects of controversy in 2013 seems almost predictable - so something has gone wrong with the Parental Advisory warning, but what are they going to do about it? Some believe in a rating system like with films, but confining music to one’s age rather than their level of maturity seems arrogant. Just as audiences tend to view 18+ films regardless of its content and their age - audiences will no doubt flock to buy the new Bieber record if it's 18+, even if his target audience is 16. Could self-expression and art be a real defence? Sky Ferreira's album cover features her left breast and tit, but it has a censored version, so does that make it okay? Perhaps kids need to be exposed to the subjective 'bad' in order to make their way in life. It's better to tell them Santa isn't real at age eight than let them be embarrassed at 14. Are we to let the youth of Earth be exposed to pornography in music videos as these two followers of the machine so blindly adhere to? Surely something needs to be done, but not another PMRC.  Like with 18+ films and the Parental Advisory logo, a rating system on music and more importantly music videos will only increase speculation and grow artists' reputations. Are we seriously saying Lady Gaga isn't morally worse than Wendy O. Williams? Or if Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" promotes violence more so than Thicke's sexually charged "Blurred Lines"? Is it morally good to strip naked in a music video aimed at 14 year old girls? The two most controversial music videos of 2013 account to over half a billion views on YouTube. According to figures, that's a quarter of internet users who have seen this sexism, pornography, and misogyny - meanwhile Halpert and Scott are trying to block porn by default. NOW is the time to start talking about what needs to be done to protect young children from turning out like the Cyrus' and Thicke's of the world. Internet censorship has never seemed justifiable with music, but with the growing internet phenomenons and the change in youth lifestyle, perhaps it's time. 

The fight against music censorship will continue, but the fight against the demeanours will only advance. Before we know it, MTV will actually be showing music videos and there will be a PMRC-esque situation on parent’s hands once again. We don't want that to happen, and we don't want recorded music to be censored at all. The illegal 2 Live Crew album, the filthy 15, the entire adult perception of metal, and now sex craving 'artistic directors' - what will it be next? Lily Allen's attempt at a moral culture parody has in itself become the subject of morality... If the protestors, the rebels, and the parody song-writers can't get to a level of acceptance, then how are we to leap forward out of this mess dating back to the PMRC? We return to the cockney one last time: "You can be active with the activists, or sleep in with the sleepers." Whatever happens, our rights as humans need to be respected, and for Americans – freedom of speech needs to be upheld.
~Eddie Gibson

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