Filthy Music: It Is Time For the Public to Speak Out

By Thomas L. Jipping, J.D., Director, Free Congress Center for Law & Democracy

We all know about the filth in porn shops, movie theaters, television, radio, and the magazine rack. Some of the most indecent and even dangerous material, however, is in the music that teenagers listen to. You won't hear most of it on the radio, because FCC regulations don't allow it. Many parents remain ignorant of what heavy metal and rap stars are preaching to their children.

Rock music has changed. The consensual fornication of a generation ago has been replaced by forcing oral sex at gunpoint ("Eat Me Alive" by Judas Priest), masturbation ("1 F--- Like a Beast" by W.A.S.P., i.e., We Are Sexual Perverts), and rebellion ("We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, and "F - the Police" by N.W.A., i.e. Niggers With Attitude).

Prince says that "incest is everything it's said to be" in his song "Sister" and rap groups like Ice-T ("Sex") and 2 Live Crew ("Me So Horny") promote anal sex. Slayer lauds sex with the dead in "Necrophiliac" and the Mentors sing about human excrement in "Golden Showers." Today's heavy metal stars promote sadomasochism ("Leatherbound" by Bitch, "Dungeon of Pleasure" by Nasty Savage, "She Likes It Rough" by Thrasher), prostitution ("The Trash Queen" by Wrath Child), and lesbianism ("Ball Crusher" by W.A.S.P.).

Perhaps even more dangerous than these deviant sexual themes are Satanism ("Altar of Sacrifice" by Slayer, "Possessed" by Venom, "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden, "Disciples of Hell" by Malsteen, "Burn in Hell" by Twisted Sister), murder ("1 Kill Children" by The Dead Kennedys, "Bodily Dismemberment" by Rigor Mortis, "Kill for Pleasure" by Blood Feast), and suicide (Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, "Suicide's An Alternative" by Suicidal Tendencies, "Killing Yourself to Live" by Black Sabbath, "Fly to the Rainbow" by the Scorpions, "Fade to Black" by Metallica). The examples are only the tip of the iceberg.

The average teenager listens to rock music as much as five hours every day. Prof. Hannelore Wass at the University of Florida recently found that 90% of young heavy metal fans know most or all of the words of their favorite song and 60% agree often or always with those words. Prof. Paul King of the University of Tennessee has found that 80% of the teenage patients he treats for drug and alcohol abuse at Charter Lakeside Hospital in Memphis listened to heavy metal music several hours a day. Facilities such as Pine Rest Christian Hospital in Grand Rapids have banned this music from their premises.

The industry has failed to live up to its nice-sounding promises.

Clearly, something must be done. Heavy metal and rap stars are preaching death, deviance, and hatred to America's youth and those youth are responding. The National Education Association links many of the 6,000 annual teen suicides to depression fueled by fatalistic lyrics. Time magazine reported in June 1989 that most Americans blame lyrics glorifying sex and violence for increasing teen violence, and two-thirds want more regulation of those lyrics. At least 75% of Americans want a rating system for recordings like that currently applied to movies.

The National PTA called on the music industry in 1984 to voluntarily label recordings containing "profanity, sex, violence, or vulgarity." The industry refused. Grassroots pressure promoted the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to agree in 1985 to encourage its member companies to label recordings with explicit sex, violence, or substance abuse.

Many would prefer a non-governmental approach. But this agreement had no enforcement, no way of measuring compliance, and only covered RIAA members. Many companies producing the worst music do not belong and, therefore, were not covered. The criteria for labeling was entirely in each company's hands.

Predictably, the industry has failed to live up to its nice-sounding promises. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), formed in 1985 to raise public awareness about rock music and a party to the 1985 agreement, reported in 1986 that many companies were "blatantly ignoring, sidestepping or mocking" the agreement. They reported in 1988 that less than half of the recordings needing labels had them. In March 1990, the PMRC again reported that only 40% of the worst recordings had labels of any kind. Many of these were "hard to find, easily removed, incorrectly worded, displaced, or too small to read."

Heavy metal and rap stars are preaching death deviance and hatred to America's youth, and those youth are responding.

Since the music industry has failed twice to respond to this crisis, legislators in a dozen states have introduced bills requiring labeling before this music can be sold. Hearings have been held in Missouri (February 28), Maryland (March 8), Tennessee (March 20), Arizona (March 21), and Florida (April 1). The recording industry is pulling out the stops to defeat these bills and has called on the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way for help.

Whether any of these bills will pass remains to be seen. A clear victory, however, is a new voluntary labeling agreement between RIAA and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers at the NARM convention in Los Angeles in March. No one disputes that the real threat of legislation, and the uncompromising persistence of pro-family state legislators and private organizations, is responsible for this new agreement. This is, of course, the third try at getting the industry to take responsibility for its actions and this agreement suffers from the same defects as its predecessor. In fact, it may be worse because the industry is talking about a label only the size of a postage stamp placed next to the barcode, making it difficult to spot.

Concerned citizens in the states mentioned above, and in Iowa, Kansas, Delaware, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, should contact their legislators about the bills introduced there. Citizens in other states should contact their legislators about introducing legislation. Because liberal interest groups are so concerned about this issue, only widespread grassroots pressure will make this effort succeed. While the Parents Music Resource Center (703-527-9466) prefers the voluntary approach over legislation, they are a valuable source of information about the dangers posed by rock music today.

The message must be that the recording industry cannot exercise rights without accepting responsibility and that parents have a right to know what is in the music their children may want to listen to. The industry wants ignorant parents so it can make megabucks from selling Megadeath. Government must not allow this situation to continue.

AFA Journal, May 1990