YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


September 29, 1985|Tom Shales | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Let's see, what's polluting the minds of our youth and corrupting their morals these days . . . Is it comic books? No. Is it horror movies? No. It's not even TV shows. The new culprit, actually a former culprit returning to the spotlight, is rock music.

Rock music is why Johnny can't read and why Janey is pregnant, or so it is being implied. The campaign against raunchy and irreligious rock music even made it recently to C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, when the Senate Commerce Committee found time for hearings on the subject.

Evidence, of a sort, presented at the hearing included music videos shown on a monitor right there in the committee room, perhaps the first time Ratt and Motley Crue have appeared on the channel usually devoted to proceedings of the House of Representatives.

After an admittedly audacious Van Halen video, "Hot for Teacher," was shown, some people in the room broke out in applause. Oops. Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) didn't like that. He gavelled the crowd into sober-faced silence.

The goals of the reformers in this area are somewhat confused. They seem to be denouncing music videos as pernicious influences on the young. But most of the specific songs they cite as chief offenders are, indeed, so dirty that music videos were never made of them or, if they were, the videos were either never shown on mainstream channels like MTV or shown in edited versions. MTV censors videos all the time. It censored mere worms and scorpions out of the video "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

At least Sen. Danforth's hearing made good TV. Where else could you find a cast that included Tipper Gore, wife of Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) and Dee Snider, the grungy male Medusa who does lead vocals for Twisted Sister?

Squeaky-clean John Denver spoke in opposition to censorship and so did '60s hippie Frank Zappa, founder of the Mothers of Invention. Everybody got hysterical, more or less, which is what rock music, and television, are all about.

It was stated repeatedly that the hearing was not convened to advocate legislation nor to formulate a governmental plan of action for dealing with the problem. Which is refreshing in a way--a Senate hearing that admits from the outset that absolutely nothing will come of it.

Those expressing outrage don't seem to realize they are compounding the problem. Mrs. Whosits says that such-and-such a tune is really all about sin, gin and lascivious carriage.

These bulletins must come as news to many of the kids who listen to the songs; can they really understand the words? Do they even listen to the words? They will now, now that they've been told those lyrics are naughty.

You have to wonder about crusaders who warn of the "content" of rock music. Most of it appears to have no content at all; hence its popularity. With all that noise going on, who can really make out what is being said, chanted or grunted?

There are still folks who don't know that Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," certainly not an offensive number, is really about fathering a child out of wedlock. With all that production going on, it's hard to understand the words, which are pretty vague even when you read them in the liner notes.

I have heard it repeatedly alleged that Cyndi Lauper's song "She-Bop" is about masturbation. You could have fooled me, and I've heard it over and over on MTV. If that's what "She-Bop" is about, good grief, what was "Sh-Boom" about?

Certainly most rock music is worthless, some disturbing. What much of it tries to be is patently offensive to mom and dad, all the better to appeal to their kids. The crusaders really are doing the rock music industry a big favor. They're telling kids that not only do their parents disapprove of rock, but so does the federal government. Nothing validates an impertinence like being condemned by fuddy-duddies.

It is unfortunate that the rock-video craze is moving into prime-time TV entertainment, not because it corrupts morals so much as it corrupts the narrative process. Soon, it could logically be feared, everything will have a "look" and nothing will have a heart.

The problem, and one that Senate hearings are not going to solve, is not that rock is evil but that so much of it is dumb. Johnny Carson told his audience recently that he'd noticed a warning label on a Prince album: "The surgeon general has determined that this record causes stupidity in laboratory mice."

Los Angeles Times Articles