The Rise of American Censorship




Apart from the occasional Christian opposition – writings against Rock, emphasising of Heavy Metal’s dangerous tendency towards the occult, prayers at concerts – heavy music had always been written and performed relatively freely, but this abruptly changed in America in 1985. Tipper Gore, wife of Senator Al Gore, and Treasury Secretary James Baker’s wife Susan Baker announced the founding of the Parents’ Music Resource Center, in short PMRC. Together with Pam Howar and Sally Nevius, these women were called the ‘Washington Wives’ due to their husbands’ influence in the American government.

Tipper Gore at the PMRC hearing, 1985

Tipper Gore at the PMRC hearing, 1985

The PMRC is a political lobby aiming to control children’s and adolescents’ access to and consumption of Rock and heavy music. Core of its foundation was the theory that the number of suicides as well as sexual intercourse among teenagers had increased because of the youngsters’ listening to Rock music. A list naming the ‘Filthy Fifteen’ included eight Heavy Metal bands, among them Judas Priest, Merciful Fate, Venom and Twisted Sister, but also Pop stars such as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Prince. Set on the list were those musicians who dared sing (or seemed to sing…) about occultism, sex, drugs or violence. Direct sanctions or bans were prohibited by the freedom of speech as anchored in the constitution. However, in September 1985 hearings with several of the accused were held, in order to discuss the classification and constriction of music. Among them were Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Twisted Sister’s notorious Dee Snider.

Dee Snider performing in Norway, 2010

Dee Snider performing in Norway, 2010

Snider, an impressive combination of violently blonde curls, tight trousers, leather and make-up, has been married since 1981 and is father to four children. At the hearing he appeared in his usual dress and read his speech from a paper. In an interview with Sam Dunn (“Metal: A Headbanger Journey”, 2005) Snider claimed: “They were, like everybody else, grossly underestimating me. I knew that they viewed me as just another dunderheaded Rocker, and they would bring me in, make me look like a fool, and help their cause.” But this was not the case. In his speech Snider managed to invalidate every single of the PMRC’s accusations, rendering the association rather speechless. He declared his Christian upbringing and adherence to religious principles. Not only did he explain and justify his lyrics (“Mrs. Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage, and she found it; and someone looking for surgical reference would have found it as well.”), but he also ended his statement by declaring that it was the parents’ duty to take care of what their children listen to and consume, not the state’s or the musicians’ themselves. You can watch the full senate hearing to convince yourself of the hilarity and simultaneous sincerity of this questioning:

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) later agreed to label audio recordings with the Parental Advisory Label. Record companies had to decide whether or not a record of their band included “strong language or depictions of violence, sex, or substance abuse to such an extent as to merit parental notification” (from the current Uniform Guidelines for Determining Whether a Sound Recording Should Use a PAL Notice, see RIAA website). Edited records were called ‘clean’, thus labelled music became ‘filthy’ and common American stores refused to sell these albums. This is how the first successful censoring of music in America came about. The tragedy, however, is that the American government decided to see the enemy and cause of societal upheaval in Rock and Heavy Metal music, instead of understanding that this music actually deals with problematic social issues.

Want some revolution spirit? Listen to the song the PMRC was so busy scrutinising: “We’re not gonna take it” (from “Stay Hungry”, 1984) by Twisted Sister was one of the first sucessful Heavy Metal music videos:

The strict American father features another video, this time embodying a hilariously dumb teacher. “I Wanna Rock” (from the same album):


More than once have musicians been accused of causing violence and self-destruction among young listeners. Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Suicide Solution” was condemned as having lured adolescents into suicide. Shock rocker Marylin Manson had to endure accusations of his music being an inspiration for the young running amok. Judas Priest’s songs played in reverse were said to have convinced two fans of the necessity to commit suicide together. None of these accusations could ever be supported with evidence or proof. And as to the rest of us fans: Metal seems to make most of us satisfied, happy, balanced and common human beings. Thus my advice is: buy these records, no matter what labels they sport – they might be just the right thing for you.


One thought on “The Rise of American Censorship

  1. Pingback: At a loss for something to say? Or: I’m against. | Heavy Metal Infection

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