I would like, before venturing into the thorny terrain of censorship, to clear the field of some misunderstandings with those who might not approach this subject with my approach: I am not an anarchist of street riots, nor even in the philosophical sense, I am not attracted by contemporary musical fashions that attract many young people of my generation. I like to listen mainly to the kind of music commonly called 'classical', and my more 'pop' tastes are unknown to most young people, or only hinted at by hearsay; I am often teased sympathetically by my more fashionable friends as a sort of old conservative of our grandparents' generation. So all this is to make it clear that I have little, if anything, to do with the average music consumer. Lately I have been wondering about the borderline between the individual's self-determination and the possibility given to an external authority, from the family unit to the State, to influence his freedom of action and shape his intellectual formation; an undoubtedly complex issue that touches the most disparate fields of knowledge, among which also the set of laws and regulations that govern the possibility of musical fruition. The historical stages I would like to cover with my readers have certainly been among the most significant in terms of our ethical, moral and legislative approach to art. All of us, more or less, certainly feel more libertarian than the generations of our ancestors, formally we like to live in a world where freedom of expression and association is not violated in the slightest; Yet, when the trap songs of artists like Sfera Ebbasta collide not only with certain aesthetic tastes, but also with the ethics and morals common to a large and sometimes majority group of individuals (in Italy, or in general in advanced European countries and the United States, there is a disproportion between young people and adults in favour of the latter), suddenly the law is challenged in order to protect the welfare of the underage children of this particular group of people. individui (allego nelle fonti l’apertura dell’indagine per “istigazione all’uso di sostanze stupefacenti” nei confronti del noto trapper italiano “a seguito dell’esposto presentato” dai senatori Lucio Malan e Massimo Mallegni; secondo loro, nei testi di Sfera Ebbasta vi sono riferimenti a “frequenti oscenità” e “si riferiscono pressoché tutti all’uso di droghe e spesso al loro spaccio, senza mai accennare alla negatività di tale pratiche, anzi presentando tale stile di vita come simbolo di successo”). Senza entrare nel merito delle indagini, ripercorriamo la storia di alcune massicce operazioni di censura, più o meno legate, con i dovuti distinguo storici, alla volontà di proteggere non solo i giovani ma l’intera collettività dalle forme d’arte ritenute “degenerate”.
In 1984, rock guitarist Prince released the album Purple Rain. An American woman named Tipper Gore decides, perhaps reluctantly, to buy a copy of the album for her 11-year-old daughter. She was particularly shocked, as she wrote in her book 'Raising PG kids in an x-rated society', by the song 'Darling Nikki' and the references to autoeroticism, specifically to a 'sex demon masturbating with a magazine'. Tipper Gore is not a scandalised petit-bourgeois mother, nor is she a successful writer or journalist; her husband Al Gore is an influential Democratic Party senator (he would become Bill Clinton's vice-president a few years later), and she is certainly not the type to sit idly by while such obscenities proliferate in the form of 'rock' songs. Together with a group of senators' wives (later nicknamed 'The Washington Wives'), she founded the PMRC (see title above for acronym), whose aim was to establish a classification system for songs based on content: X for sexually explicit lyrics, O for references to occult doctrines (Satanism in particular), D/A for references to drugs and alcohol, V for violent content. In addition, the committee compiled a list of fifteen songs not to be broadcast on radio or television to be classified according to the system mentioned above. Initially, the PMRC, as a non-profit organisation, could only call on the PTA (Parents-Teacher Association) to support its battle. and teachers) to put pressure on record labels registered with the RIAA (Recording Industries Association of America) to apply the classification system that has long been used for film works. This is where our Senator Al Gore comes back into the picture, as he is working to pass HR2911, a bill that would impose a tax on private recordings (the revenue from which would end up in the pockets of the record labels), which would have made the record companies compliant with the PMRC's demands. In addition to Tipper Gore, the founding members of the PMRC included Susan Baker (wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker), Pam Howar (wife of Republican Party member Raymond Howar) and Sally Nevius (her husband John was appointed 'Washington City Council Chairman' by President Nixon). The response of part of public opinion was not long in coming, and soon committees and associations were set up to prevent the PMRC's initiatives. Frank Zappa, the Italian-American "rock" musician, needs no introduction, given his influence on the rock music scene and his experiments, which made him one of the most influential artists of the last century. His desecrating satire, the use of lyrics that were certainly considered 'vulgar' for a certain taste of the times (perhaps even for our millennium) and sex as a recurring theme certainly did not attract the sympathy of conservative public opinion in his country (e.g. songs like Black shoes don't make it, which has as its main theme the sexual perversions of a politician). Not even the liberal, anti-racist and progressive left (what are perhaps nowadays called liberals or political correctness) liked him. The song Jewish Princess, a parody on the stereotypes of American culture towards fellow Jews, is accused of using anti-Semitic references, or Bobby Brown goes down, in which the macism of the homosexual Bobby Brown horrifies both feminists and pro-gay activists. For these reasons, an uncomfortable and stinging artist such as he was could only defend the freedom of the artist, especially in satire, to say anything and in any linguistic medium. Zappa paid for his own Zappa paid for his publicity campaign out of his own pocket, without linking himself to any association, in line with his refusal to be included in any kind of cultural or ideological label. As a first step, he wrote an open letter accusing the founders of the PMRC of severely restricting the freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, putting their own whims ahead of the nation's best interests; he also attacked the RIAA record labels for bowing to the "Washington Housewives" in exchange for the financial benefit of the HR2911 law against musicians and composers:
"The P.M.R.C. makes no secret of the fact that it wants to use the special relationships it has to force the issue. During an interview on Albany radio, Ms. Howar referred to Mr. Fowler of the F.C.C. (Federal Communication Commission) suggesting that there might even be an intervention by that agency if their other fetid techniques fail. Maybe someone rewrote the F.C.C. statute while we were distracted? What the hell is going on? Is extortion still an illegal act? Is incitement to commit a crime of extortion just as illegal? And this story goes far beyond any possible First Amendment considerations. No person married or associated with government representatives should be allowed to waste the nation's time on bad-faith housewife projects like this.(...)A record company has the right to promote its own interests and make a profit, but not at the expense of the people who make the product possible. There is always someone who ultimately has to write and perform THE MUSIC. I don't deny anyone the right to have opinions on any subject, but when the opinions of certain people can affect my life and the lives of my children just because those people have privileged access to the legislative machine, I think a vital legal question is raised. (...)"
The source is a translation of Frank Zappa's letter published in the magazine 'Cashbox' which reiterates the same concepts. Shortly afterwards, Zappa wrote a letter to then-President Ronald Regan:
"Has he considered the basic issue of the propriety of a project conceived almost in jest, which could result in legislative action that would restrict trade and affect the lives of millions of Americans? And did you consider that such a project promoted by the bride of an elected representative was put on the Senate agenda with precedence over other national affairs that have since been left aside? Does it seem fair to you that people not lucky enough to have married a Capitol Hill superstar should keep their mouths shut while Washington wives fiddle with the legislative machine?”
President Reagan did not respond directly to the letter, but more or less openly reaffirmed his moral support for the cause of the P.M.R.C. According to various sources, the president would define as "pornographers" those who in their role were involved in the sale and promotion of rock music (attached at the bottom of the article). On September 19, 1985, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Technology and Transportation held a public hearing on the P.M.R.C. proposal (the video can be found in full or in excerpts on YouTube). Commission members had their wives in the P.M.R.C. and Frank Zappa did not fail to point this out. Representatives and consultants of the committee attend the hearing to support the "Washington Wives" initiative; some names: Millie Waterman, Joe Stussy, Paul King. As witnesses: Senator Al Gore (who seems as present in this story as Big Brother in G. Orwell's dystopian masterpiece "1984") Senator Pula Hawkins of the Republican Party. Against the committee's proposal: Frank Zappa, Dee Snider of the Twisted Sisters and John Denver (who did not hesitate to compare the PMRC's operation to the Nazi pyres, as we will see later, not entirely wrongly). At the beginning of his speech, Frank Zappa quotes the First Amendment of the American Constitution for the foreign press, but mainly to point out that any parent who doesn't appreciate their child listening to rock music at a particularly susceptible age is free to invest their money in any other way, thanks to the freedoms guaranteed by the Founding Fathers' Constitution. Allow me a little provocation, to those parents of mine who stigmatize Trap as degenerative music for their children, I have often noticed that many children have already in primary schools (around 10-11 years old more or less) a smartphone, tablet or any other touch device that they certainly did not buy with their salary, with the possibility of access to content far worse than Trap....is it not that the purchase of such devices was not at all necessary for the growth of your child? I quote below an excerpt from Frank Zappa's speech:
"As far as I have ever known in law, the First Amendment is given the least restrictive interpretation. In this context, the P.M.R.C. makes a proposal that is tantamount to treating dandruff with decapitation. No one forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to take home Prince or Sheena Easton. Thanks to the Constitution they are free to buy other kinds of music for their children. I get the impression that they insist on buying modern recordings to continue to delude themselves with certain aerobic sophistication.”
Zappa, in fact, is not at all a libertarian who adheres to certain positions out of fashion, he insists that it is the families who should take care of their children's education in all fields, including music. Here's another clip of the same speech:
"The parent can always suggest that that money be spent on a book. If the parent is afraid to let their child read a book, maybe they can invest the $8.98 in instrumental music. Why not bring home some jazz, or classical music instead of Blackie Lawless or Madonna? Great wordless music is available to anyone with enough sense to see past the platinum album fad in the past week.(..) If as a parent you believe they should be exposed to something better than "Sugar Walls" give your support to music curriculum programs in schools. The costs of music studies are very low compared to sports costs. Your children have the right to know that there is more to life than pop music. It is a pity that the P.M.R.C. prefers to dispense government-sterilised heavy metal instead of something more elevated. Is this perhaps a personal taste of the P.M.RC., or is this just another manifestation of the non-existent priority this administration has given to arts education in America?"
A second aspect touched on by Zappa is that of the total ignorance in the musical field of the promoters of the P.M.R.C., The targets of their campaigns are in fact the "rock" songs (or at most "porno rock" with great musicological authority) but the American musical panorama is vast and heterogeneous (the musicologist and former Italian guitarist Franco Fabbri recalls with great precision: Jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, country and western, rock and roll, etc.). There are many other musical genres whose lyrics contain texts that insult "decency" according to the criteria of the "Washington Wives", not even minimally considered by the P.M.R.C.
"The P.M.R.C. classification restricts trade in one specific field of music: rock. No classifications were requested for comedy or country records. Is there anyone in the P.M.R.C. who can establish an infallible difference between rock and country? Artists in both areas have stylistic elements that often converge, some artists use the comedy genre, and if a record is part country and part rock and part comedy, what kind of classification should it have? And while we're at it, ladies, why don't we warn the people that inside those country music records with the American flags, the big trucks, the super backcombing, there lurks a fascinating variety of songs about sex, violence, alcohol and the devil, recorded so that every word is understood, sung by people who have been in jail and are proud of it? If passed, the P.M.R.C. program would have the effect of a protectionist law for country music, giving more guarantees to cowboys than to children.”
In a further passage of his speech, Zappa explains the damage that the new system of censorship and classification could cause not only with individual stigmatisation but also the economic impact that would fall directly on musician-composers. When it is pointed out to him that the censorship system proposed by the P.M.R.C. is already in place in the film industry, Zappa points out two differences: first, all the workers involved in the making of a film (actors, extras, etc.) are paid to act or play whatever role they are given, whereas musicians (especially in fields like 'rock') are the composers as well as the performers of their art, so the stigma would fall directly on the whole group. Also from an economic point of view, the effects of the reduced circulation of the work made in the cinema fall on the producer, while the musicians are paid royalties which also serve to cover the advances incurred for the making of the records. Zappa therefore proposes an alternative, namely the insertion of a sheet of paper along with the disc or cassette which would allow the consumer to read the content of the lyrics directly, so that he could decide for himself whether or not to buy the disc or cassette for his youngest child. Here are Frank Zappa's direct words:
"The P.M.R.C. has demanded that the record companies calculate on a new basis the contracts of those groups who do things on stage that they find offensive. I would remind P.M.R.C. that groups are made up of individuals, and if one hips too much should the whole group be given an 'X'? If the group is dumped by the record company thanks to this new calculation, will the other members who didn't wiggle be able to sue him because he ruined their careers? And should we then classify the individual musicians individually? If so, who is qualified to say that the guitarist is 'X', the singer a 'D/A' and the drummer a 'V'? If the bassist, or his senator, belongs to a religious group that dances surrounded by poisonous snakes, will they give him a big "O"? And if he has a single earring, an Italian cornet around his neck and sings about his astrological sign, practices yoga, reads Kabbalah or has a rosary? Will its occult contents enter computerised archives and perhaps be used later as decisive evidence as to whether or not our guy is eligible for a home loan? But no, maybe they will tell you that all this is only necessary to protect the neighbours from the possibility of satanic texts sneaking through the walls. What dangers await the hapless salesman who accidentally sells an 'O' rated record to someone's little Johnny?(...) I would have no objection to having all the lyrics published on albums all the time.(...) That way you wouldn't have to enter any subjective judgements about the album (...)".
The event had an enormous media resonance and nothing more (thirty-five TV networks and fifty photographers followed the audition). The agreement between P.M.R.C. and R.I.A.A. provided for voluntary sanctions, but most of the "censored" artists released records on record labels that, not being part of R.I.A.A., were excluded from the agreement (Tipper Gore would admit that censorship would affect 5% of the records released in the US). Many of the songs disapproved by the P.M.R.C. because of their content took off in sales (the emblematic example is Prince's "infamous" Darling Nikki: 25 million copies sold worldwide, the respective album Purple Rain certified three times as a gold record and nine times as a platinum record).
"Bad situations create bad laws and people who create bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than authors who celebrate sexuality."
At this point I would like to return to the question posed in the title, namely: is censorship protection of the individual or an authoritarian turn? Surely it is not possible to give a meaningful answer without examining the historical experiences of the most studied and known totalitarianisms of recent history, especially their relationship with music and art in the broadest and most generic sense, in the aspects that are also more common than the instances of people who show more distrust towards (my) contemporary music. Without wanting to equate the concerns that some parents have for the growth of their children with totalitarian regimes, I cannot help but notice some common features. First of all, the relationship with the apparatus of legislative power that the 'Washington Wives' had (we have even seen how their requests were accepted and promoted by their respective husbands in both the democratic and republicanAt this point I would like to return to the question posed in the title, namely: is censorship protection of the individual or an authoritarian turn? Surely it is not possible to give a meaningful answer without examining the historical experiences of the most studied and known totalitarianisms of recent history, especially their relationship with music and art in the broadest and most generic sense, in the aspects that are also more common than the instances of people who show more distrust towards (my) contemporary music. Without wanting to equate the concerns that some parents have for the growth of their children with totalitarian regimes, I cannot help but notice some common features. First of all, the relationship with the apparatus of legislative power that the 'Washington Wives' had (we have even seen how their requests were accepted and promoted by their respective husbands in both the democratic and republican camps) and the parties in power in their respective totalitarian regimes (Hitler and Mussolini, in different ways, came to power through elections), which certainly put them in a dominant position with respect to artists and the whole economic ecosystem that revolved around them. The second common aspect was the profound aversion to certain musical genres: we have seen 'rock' music for the 'Washington Wives', in the case of Fascism it was the doggedness towards Jazz and Italian song. Jazz arrived in Italy (and Europe) during the First World War through American military bands and spread in the 1930s through film music. A particular type of Jazz, Ragtime, enjoyed great appreciation among the Italian youth, it was dance music, more or less socially comparable to the role of the music repertoire in modern discos. The EIAR was the regime's body in charge of music broadcasting via radio, and had different attitudes towards jazz between the late 1920s and the late 1930s: it was called 'negroid music' and 'Afro-demo-pluto-giudo-masso-epileptoid music'. In 1929, EIAR broadcast a programme called EIAR JAZZ (all these decisions, ironically enough, were taken by political offices), which was abolished as early as 1930, and until 1938, EIAR changed its attitude towards this music several times. The not-so-consistent behaviour of the EIAR was in line with the internal mood of the fascist party, between those who supported the public performance of jazz music and those who rejected "foreign" music and wanted to exalt the music of the "homeland" instead. Below is a quote from an article in the "Popolo d'Italia" of 30 March 1938:camps) and the parties in power in their respective totalitarian regimes (Hitler and Mussolini, in different ways, came to power through elections), which certainly put them in a dominant position with respect to artists and the whole economic ecosystem that revolved around them. The second common aspect was the profound aversion to certain musical genres: we have seen 'rock' music for the 'Washington Wives', in the case of Fascism it was the doggedness towards Jazz and Italian song. Jazz arrived in Italy (and Europe) during the First World War through American military bands and spread in the 1930s through film music. A particular type of Jazz, Ragtime, enjoyed great appreciation among the Italian youth, it was dance music, more or less socially comparable to the role of the music repertoire in modern discos. The EIAR was the regime's body in charge of music broadcasting via radio, and had different attitudes towards jazz between the late 1920s and the late 1930s: it was called 'negroid music' and 'Afro-demo-pluto-giudo-masso-epileptoid music'. In 1929, EIAR broadcast a programme called EIAR JAZZ (all these decisions, ironically enough, were taken by political offices), which was abolished as early as 1930, and until 1938, EIAR changed its attitude towards this music several times. The not-so-consistent behaviour of the EIAR was in line with the internal mood of the fascist party, between those who supported the public performance of jazz music and those who rejected "foreign" music and wanted to exalt the music of the "homeland" instead. Below is a quote from an article in the "Popolo d'Italia" of 30 March 1938:
"It is nefarious and insulting to tradition, and therefore to the lineage, to put violins, mandolins and guitars back in the attic to give breath to saxophones and beat timpani according to barbaric melodies that live only for the ephemera of fashion! It's stupid, it's ridiculous, it's anti-fascist to be tickled by the umbilical dances of a mulatto woman or to rush like suckers to every American show overseas!"
From 1938, at the same time as passing the Racial Laws, the regime sought to create an Italian 'gez', and then raged against any public performance of jazz music. In the same vein was the patriotic fanaticism of the German National Socialist regime, which the Fascists took as an example. Below is the text of the law of 31 May 1938 promoted by the Nazi regime:
"products of degenerate art secured in museums or collections accessible to the public before the entry into force of this law or declared to be products of degenerate art by one of the buildings designated by the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich, may be confiscated in favour of the Reich without compensation".
As for music censorship in Soviet Russia, in his speech of 9 February 1946, Stalin expressed his radical hostility to anything that 'reeked' of capitalist, cosmopolitan and pro-Western, ending the Jazz season even in that part of the world (the history of music teaches us that 'institutional' musicians such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev were not exempt from accusations of 'formalism' and other such nonsense dictated by the irrational madness and ignorance of the Soviet apparatus). I will not dwell on the consequences of the censorship system of totalitarian regimes on the individual lives of many artists, including those who went to jail, those who were killed, those who fled abroad and those who simply had to "close the shutter" with the related economic damage (many European composers migrated to the United States during the period when fascists and Nazis were in power). However, I must point out that, just like the 'Washington Wives' and even earlier the fiercely anti-communist policy of 'McCarthyism', totalitarian regimes based their musical 'purges' not on scientific and rational criteria but on cultural, ideological and racial prejudices, with the intention of 'protecting' the masses from 'evil' music influences according to the purely subjective criteria of the various legislative or ministerial offices, themselves manipulated or simply influenced by unscrupulous people who cared nothing about the material consequences that those affected by their laws would have to suffer. Another of the criticisms made by the Washington Wives, in some ways comparable to the case of Sfera Ebbasta and his trial for incitement to drug use, is the belief that continually exposing a child's mind to videos and songs about alcohol, drugs, sex and violence can lead them to behave in a deviant way. Ms Gore certainly set up the campaign in the wrong way, using words like 'oral sex' on television (in those days, not everyone used music products, but hardly a middle-class US citizen was without a television. Anyone who is an adult, but I think also a teenager, knows very well that if you put "beeps" on the words they are still understood) but the question is "Is listening to music lyrics and videos with sexual, violent, satanic etc. content directly linked to my psychological degeneration?" First of all, it should be made clear that 'sexualised' music videos are not pornography, it is however true that often the presence of 'sexy' men and women with cleavage or dressed provocatively is important for sales purposes. The accusation is quite slippery, the dissemination of such videos is so widespread and hammered that we should seriously think of having the streets full of young perverts and entire generations devastated for masturbating in front of Lady Gaga, Madonna or Prince videos, totally incapable of having a healthy emotional and sexual life. I don't think I live in such scenarios, maybe I'm wrong. If that were the case, we should absolutely put the historian Alessandro Barbero under arrest every time he cited medieval literary texts with explicitly sexual content in his lecture 'Sex in the Middle Ages'. Should we also arrest Roberto Saviano for his series 'Gomorra' every time someone cuts their hair like the criminals in the series? I think these arguments are fallacious, according to this theory a huge number of children may have started smoking as teenagers because they saw Peg Leg with a cigar in his mouth in the movie "A Christmas Carol of Mickey Mouse". Mickey's Christmas Carol" as a child. (A cigarette smoker has all the characteristics of an addict, only it's institutional. Isn't it true that you are dependent on something that has a devastating impact on your body and your health, and that in times long past, tobacco was sold illegally and of very poor quality? For the most attentive readers I would like to point out that I live in Italy and the legislation on drugs is different from other countries). In conclusion, I agree with Frank Zappa's emphasis on parental responsibility in the fight against P.M.R.C. I believe that the determining factor is not being exposed to certain content (I listen to Prince too. I have listened out of pure curiosity to some groups whose songs had satanic content, I know the song 'Sex and drugs and Rock and Roll' and since I was a child, like many of my peers, I have had to deal with violent video content, two examples at random: Lord of the Rings, Dragonball Z and video games of various kinds). I believe that the rational ability to understand that the behaviours you see or hear in some content are wrong and harmful has to be built step by step. When I was in primary school we all, unfortunately, watched wrestling, but we were also aware that the wrestlers we watched were faking it, so we knew that imitating them was a stupid and dangerous attitude. Perhaps if our parents or teachers hadn't told us this, we would all have become little Mike Tysons. Those who made it to the end of the article will have noticed that there is no definitive answer to the question that has been with us since the beginning of the article, "How can we protect susceptible-age individuals from dangerous and deviant content?" Well, a la Frank Zappa, I say: you decide.