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This whole monstruousity was originally conveived February through March 2001 by the members of The Big Note - a Frank Zappa YahooGroup. After an arduous gestation period, this site was birthed on April 11 2001. True to the essence of collaborative effort, these people are held responsible.
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A Study in Ethics as Applied to the First Amendment Rights of Artists
Freedom of speech became a part of the Constitution of the United States on December 15, 1791, when the First Amendment was ratified. This amendment, one of ten included in the Bill of Rights, states in part, that…”Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” Experience has taught us the importance of freedom of speech. Without it many new ideas would not be heard. If speech were not free we could have no democracy. Men could not criticize unjust laws and work to get them changed. There would be no use in holding elections if we could not hear the beliefs of all candidates. Freedom of Speech is a right which protects all other rights (Gelfand, 9).
Religious authorities and other conservative elements, however, often seek to silence those who disagree with them, through various forms of censorship, thereby abridging the First Amendment. Ad hoc censorship of records is a violation of the First Amendment as well as an infringement on the rights of the artist, and should not be allowed. In this paper I will discuss the ethics and value systems of the parties involved.
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon, Senator Strom Thurmond, the F.B.I., and the Immigration and Naturalization Service conspired to deport John Lennon because of the revolutionary politics espoused in his songs. Lennon believed in the sanctity of life, and wrote songs in an attempt to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon and the others found his lyrics to be “dangerous.” They did not want the war to end – war is good for the economy, that is, a drafted soldier is no longer unemployed, thus lowering unemployment rates, and many jobs are created, especially in the defense industry. It can be said then, that the Nixon administration believed that the economic benefits of the war were more valuable then the sanctity of human life. Christian groups also tried to censor Lennon in 1966, after he was misquoted as saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. What he had actually said was that “the world today is in such a state that more people would come to see the Beatles than an appearance of Jesus Christ.” Others were enraged by the cover of his 1968 album, Two Virgins, which showed him and Yoko Ono in the nude (Marsh, 45). Though nudity, long considered an art form, did not offend Lennon and Ono, it obviously offended the ethical code of the fundamentalists who sought successfully to have the cover banned in the United States.
An even more frightening censorship crusade appeared in 1985 when Tipper Gore, wife of then Democratic senator and current Vice President Albert Gore, launched an attack on rock music. Expressing outrage at the explicit sex, violence, and satanic cultism portrayed in some popular music, she organized the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) and campaigned for the labeling of rock music albums (Walker, 353). The frightening aspect of the PMRC was its proximity to the seat of power – it was comprised of the wives of 15 Senators, Congressmen and Cabinet officials and enjoyed tax-exempt status. Though the PMRC was not in itself a governmental body, these ladies certainly had influence on many top-level politicians. So much so, that their agenda eventually lead to Senate hearings – a blatant attempt to censor the artists’ First Amendment rights. Allegedly attacking only “irresponsible” rock music and lobbying only for “consumer information,” the PMRC, in fact, displayed a consistent Christian evangelical bias. For instance, they originally wanted record warning labels to bear and “O” for those with “Occult” material (an infringement of religious freedom). They virtually never spoke of the positive side of the music they attacked. Notoriously deceitful with the press, the PMRC frequently claimed allies it did not have (Bruce Springsteen, the American Pediatric Association), and continually denied ties with censors further right, such as the Reverend Donald Wildmon, and many other televangelists (Marsh, 67). The PMRC tried to impose their value system on musical artists, and by doing so, the rest of the country, who are the consumers of these recordings.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with record industry executive Danny Goldberg, responded by organizing the Musical Majority, enlisting the support of top recording stars such as Tina Turner, John Cougar Mellencamp, Prince (whose Purple Rain album had set Gore into action in the first place), and the Pointer Sisters. Ira Glasser, Director of the ACLU, denounced scheduled Senate hearings on the grounds that “the government has absolutely no business conducting an inquiry into the content of published materials.” A statement that obviously refers to the protections afforded artists under the First Amendment. Musician Frank Zappa emerged as Gore’s leading opponent in the media battle that ensued, testifying at the Senate hearings and making it his personal crusade over the next few years, eventually releasing an album chronicling the Senate hearings. Entitled Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (Zappa started his career with a group called the Mothers of Invention), the cover of the album carried the following self-imposed warning label:
WARNING/GUARANTEE This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. In some socially retarded areas, religious fanatics and Ultraconservative political organizations violate your First Amendment Rights by attempting to censor rock & roll albums. We feel that this is un-Constitutional and un-American.This statement, which Zappa composed, clearly illustrates the ethical dilemma of recording labeling. Zappa points out that censorship is not only illegal, but also unethical, a point of view diametrically opposed to that of the PMRC. It was Zappa's point of view that parents are responsible for the information that reaches their children, not the government or anyone else. The Senate hearings revealed the extent to which free speech principles had permeated society. Even Tipper Gore had disavowed outright censorship in favor of warning labels on albums. Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina denounced the 'outrageous filth' in 'porn rock' and declared that "if I could find some way constitutionally to do away with it, I would." When Gore said she did not seek federal legislation, Senator James J. Exon of Nebraska, a confessed Glenn Miller fan, asked, "What is the reason (then) for these hearings?" He accurately described them as a media event (Walker, 353).
To be continued