Linked: 35 years ago ‘rock porn’ Senate hearings made a free-speech showdown

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Young people may not remember this, but I was 17-18 when this was happening, and I remember it well. And, mostly, I remember this lesson:

 

Diving into this 1985 time capsule is instructive in showing just how fevered arguments over the boundaries of free expression almost always are. These hearings also demonstrate how moral panics cause wild overreactions, ill-advised and damaging government action — always conducted with a sense of altruistic moral superiority.

Many of the arguments espoused by Tipper Gore, and others, are remarkably similar to arguments I see on social media every day.

“I’m not in favor of censorship, but….”
“We know hate speech when we see it”
“Children must be protected from these ideas/words”

Labeling music very much became one of the original “cancel cultures”. Explicit lyrics meant certain places wouldn’t sell your music anymore, and you’d be banned from performing in certain cities. People would show up and protest if anyone dared let you play in certain areas of the country, and it would all be because some group simply decided that what you said went too far and needed to be silenced.

Sure seems like a current day equivalent, no?

And yet, the lessons we should be taking from this article are the ones John Denver pointed out at the time, and Frank Zappa later taught us in the aftermath. Denver’s song was banned by people who had no idea what he was actually talking about, and Zappa put out an instrumental album that somehow got labeled for explicit lyrics in 1987. We also shouldn’t forget who felt the largest impact of this labeling, rap and hip-hop artists. The most vulnerable groups were the ones who bore the brunt of this, and at the end of the day, when you start talking about banning certain thoughts, and words, the people who get to decide what those are, always end up hurting the same vulnerable groups, not the already established voices.

Because in the end, the censors always, ALWAYS, go a lot further than we think they will. It’s, literally, the job, to grab more and more power. To decide what ideas, images, and words grown adults can share, and cannot share.

In 1985 it was parents who claimed their kids needed protecting, and they needed a rating system instead of, you know, actively being involved with their kids. In 2020 have we learned any lessons from this experience?

Other than the fact that if enough powerful people speak up, they can get whatever they want, regardless of the rights of others?

https://www.businessinsider.com/35-years-pmrc-rock-lyrics-senate-tipper-gore-frank-zappa-2020-9

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