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Spin Magazine Fails Ralphs Checkout


There's always something new happening in rock 'n' roll--if it's not new-wave music, then it's the New Romantics or (for aging popsters) New Age music.

But how's this for a new trend? The New Censorship.

The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) did most of the ground breaking in this area, with its highly publicized campaign to label records with "explicit" rock lyrics.

Now Ralphs, a leading Southland supermarket chain, is getting into the act, according to Bob Guccione Jr., publisher of Spin magazine. Guccione said the new music magazine has been "banned" from all Ralphs stores because of "offensive language" in a recent issue of the magazine.

Guccione said a Ralphs representative singled out a headline in the March issue of the publication that contained a seven-letter obscenity. The word, which The Times will not print, was used in a description of a heavy-metal band parody by performance artist Ann Magnuson.

"I was shocked and outraged by what is clearly an act of censorship," Guccione said. "Our audience has heard these words many times before. I'm very concerned that we're living in a country that has become afraid of words, that is scared of its own shadow. Information is not dangerous--ignoring information is dangerous."

However, Al Marasca, Ralphs' executive vice president of marketing, insists the move was not an example of censorship. "It's really no big deal," he said. "This isn't a free-speech issue. We're just responding to our customers' needs. We had five or six complaints about the magazine, so we removed it from sale. It's not us that makes the decision, it's our customers."

Marasca said Ralphs may carry future issues of Spin after an investigation by store personnel, though he said the chain had no firm guidelines as to what constituted objectionable material.

"There's no permanent ban," he said. "But we're not going to expose our customers to anything that's questionable--we don't carry Playboy or Penthouse for the same reason. And there are times when we've pulled brand-name magazines because of complaints about a specific issue. It's no different than if we found dirt in a soap package. We just don't take chances with our customers."

Guccione claims the Ralphs move, coming just weeks after the 7-Eleven store chain asked its franchise stores to take all issues of Playboy, Penthouse and Forum magazines off the racks, is part of a troubling pattern of censorship. (In announcing the self-imposed ban, a spokesman for the Dallas-based Southland Corp., which operates 4,500 7-Eleven outlets nationwide, cited a growing public concern over a possible connection between adult magazines and crime.)

"The dilemma is a lot bigger than this Ralphs issue. It's as if this country is in a panic," Guccione said. "First we saw the PMRC chasing after rock 'n' roll, then we saw the (Rev. Jerry) Falwell-led pressure groups going after erotic magazines.

"You have to wonder where it's going to end. It's definitely indicative of the mood this country is in, that society seems more interested in conducting witch hunts than solving some very real problems, like drug abuse or the lack of gun control."

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