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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

  The Parent's Music Resource Center from information to censorship. 

Site Philagora, tous droits réservés ©



I now intend to outline the process through which a concern with information could lead to censorship. Four main phases can be observed. The first step was a series of attacks against individual artists, taking advantage of what existing legislation there was. The second involved initiatives by local authorities relying on the warning label as an indicator of what should be censored. This was followed by efforts at States level to pass legislation defining what could be sold and to whom, still on the basis of the warning label. The whole brouhaha eventually inspired record companies to exert more than caution regarding the nature
of their production.

The most spectacular attack on an individual artist came in 1986. It was directed at Jello Biafra, leader of the Dead Kennedys, who was indicted for having included in one of his records (Frankenchrist) a poster by Swiss artist Giger depicting sexual organs. The grounds upon which the charge was brought were 'infrigement of section 313.3 of the Californian Penal Code' (distribution of harmful material to minors). Though Jello Biafra was eventually discharged, the trial left him head over ears in debt, without a group and unable to record for years. The PMRC cannot deny having been directly involved in the case; during the trial, it released the following

The PMRC feels that the poster and the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist is a blatant example of pornography and failure to provide truth in packaging. The warning sticker which was placed on the shrink wrap, not on the album itself, claims that the poster is a work of art which some may find repulsive and offensive. This does not relay the explicit nature of the poster and does not adequately warn parents to the contents of the album. 
The right to consumer information prior to purchasing a product is the time honoured principle in this country. This is clearly a violation of that principle. (PMRC, 1986, p.28)

Admittedly, the PMRC did not call for the suppression of the album, merely for better 'truth in packaging', but its involvement in the trial weakens its claim of standing against any kind of censorship.

In the wake of this early trial, local authorities tried to make the most of existing legislation to increase their control over what was sold in their district, particularly to minors. Bills, 'informal' letters by local police officers, council ordinances, a dazzling array of (sometimes barely) legal weaponry was used to criminalize the sale of certain records. This time, the attacks no longer bore on specific individuals but on a whole range of music. Most of the time, the targets were selected on the basis of the warning label, though the labels had no legal standing regarding what could or could not be sold to minors. The most dramatic case concerned the rap group 2 Live Crew.

On February 6, 1990, following a prosecution on obscenity grounds by Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, Judge Grossman of the Boward County Circuit Court issued a 'probable case' ruling, stating that he had good reasons to think the album As Nasty As They Wanna Be was obscene and therefore illegal under Florida law. 
The order was simply photocopied and distributed to local record shop owners who were threatened with arrest if they failed to comply. Most retailers subsequently stopped selling the record, except 3 who were accordingly arrested.

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° Rubrique About The World