Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Battle of the Warning Labels Alerting Families to Explicit Lyrics - without Censorship - Has Been a Hotly Debated Process. POP MUSIC

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Battle of the Warning Labels Alerting Families to Explicit Lyrics - without Censorship - Has Been a Hotly Debated Process. POP MUSIC

Article excerpt

WHAT started out as a seemingly simple and innocent process of putting voluntary warning stickers on explicit record albums to inform parents and protect children has burgeoned into an ugly battle - with accusations of censorship, stifling of artistic freedom, and racism.

When the rap group 2 Live Crew was arrested in Florida in June for performing sexually explicit material from its album "Nasty as They Wanna Be" - which had been ruled obscene by a federal judge - cries went up not only of censorship, but of racism.

It's true that the issues have recently focused mostly on rap - a music that grew out of urban black culture - but the controversy has not been confined to that genre. Currently the all-white heavy metal band Judas Priest is on trial in Reno., Nev., facing a law suit brought by the parents of two youths who were allegedly coerced into committing suicide by listening to a Judas Priest tape.

So what does a parent do about a 2 Live Crew album, an album by Andrew Dice Clay (a foul-mouthed stand-up comic), or a heavy metal album that he or she feels might be harmful to children?

Opinions vary widely, but many suggest frank dialogue between parent and child, rather than rash prohibition which some evidence suggests tends to increase curiosity. As a matter of fact, the 2 Live Crew album "Nasty as They Wanna Be," released in 1989, did poorly in sales at first. Now it has sold in excess of 2 million copies.

"The album was dead before the whole controversy came up and shot new life into it," said V.O. Kyser, manager of Tower Records in Manhattan.

Urged on by groups like the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in Washington, some record companies in 1985 instituted voluntary warning stickers. More recently, most of the major companies agreed to use a standardized label, partly to avoid proposed legislation in several states that would make stickering mandatory.

Nevertheless, the state of Louisiana managed to push such a law through the legislature. Though subsequently vetoed on July 24, the bill would have required warning labels on recordings that promote deviant sex, violence, drug abuse, suicide, or child abuse. Anyone selling such albums to a minor would have been subject to jail terms and fines up to $5,000.

The artistic community reacted to the veto with both sighs of relief and renewed concern. At the New Music Seminar in July, during a panel on censorship, Los Angeles rapper Ice-T, who has included some sexually explicit materials on his albums, said, "Let's put it this way ... once they get 2 Live Crew and Judas Priest, (do you think) they're gonna stop? They're coming for you next."

Ice-T and fellow musician Vernon Reid of the rock group Living Colour both felt that the motives behind the proposed legislation and the original stickering policy instituted by PMRC were an attempt at flat-out censorship. …

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