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Jewish World Review April 30, 2001/ 7 Iyar, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

If music be the food of hate -- sell it -- A LOT of our musicians and the men who promote them are indulged children with permissive parents. They want to see what they can get by with until Mommy and Daddy won't take it anymore.

The most permissive parents eventually run out of patience. The thugs of the music industry may have kicked some permissive senators once too often.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a report the other day that the peddlers of sexually violent music continue to market their vicious wares to kids, despite their many promises for "self-regulation.''

Promises. Promises. Senators left and right have finally had it with promises.

The music producers bought time after the last Senate hearings that examined the ways violent lyrics were sold to children. That was eight months ago. The producers asked for "patience,'' and said they would take "voluntary'' steps to help parents learn what lyrics little Johnny shouldn't listen to. That was a little like asking little Johnny what kind of candy he shouldn't have, but the senators were trusting, particularly in an election year when politicians particularly abhor controversy.

Surprise, surprise: The music producers didn't change anything. They continued to do what they do well -- targeting the young and most vulnerable, where they live and play. They placed advertisements with explicit lyrics on MTV and other programs popular with kids.

"They owe Congress an explanation and America's parents and apology,'' said Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which had held hearings on violence and the entertainment industry last year.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, sounding more like the conservative senator he was before he became Al Gore's running mate, is pushing legislation to punish record companies that market violent music to children. He would limit advertisements to young children and let FTC procedures apply "for regulating false and deceptive practices.''

There's always the risk that such legislation bumps up against the First Amendment. Sen. Brownback compares advertising limits on the industry to those imposed on alcohol and cigarette manufacturers: "It's not about what they say, but where they market a product and who they target.''

What makes the senators particularly angry is the hypocrisy of the advertisers. In the hearings last year, they made a strong, high-minded defense that parents ought to be the final arbiters of what their children buy and hear. They pledged to educate the parents so they could make informed judgments for their children.

So how did they go about keeping that pledge? If a parental advisory label was attached to an album, the FTC reports, "it frequently was so small that the words were illegible,'' leading officials to conclude that the music industry is "almost a complete failure'' in instituting any meaningful or positive reforms.

This report follows up an earlier one by the FTC commissioned by President Clinton after two teen-agers went on the killing spree at Columbine High. Since then, the FTC says, both film and electronic game industries improved their marketing practices (with some exceptions). But not the music pushers.

There's only anecdotal evidence of a direct connection between violent entertainment and violent children, but you would have to be a simpleton to think that youngsters aren't affected by repeated appeals to violence and that marketers aren't culpable.

Shelby Steele, a black scholar, goes farther, identifying how certain popular musicians push the message of violence not only in their lyrics but in their lives. "The rappers and promoters themselves are pressured toward a thug life, simply to stay credible,'' he writes in the Wall Street Journal. "A rap promoter without an arrest record can start to look a lot like Dick Clark.''

Only the other day, for example, rap star Eminem, who sings of raping women, of holding knives at the throats of gay men, of encouraging a group of friends to take his little sister's virginity, pleaded "no contest'' to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon and of brandishing a firearm in public. "Puffy'' Combs, a millionaire promoter of rap, beat gun charges in a celebrated trial, but his thuggish behavior is a walking advertisement to be bad.

Shelby Steele's point is that the Puffys and the Eminems of the music world don't market to an "indifferent'' youth, that they have something to say to the alienated and disaffected poised for violence and revenge, and it's destructive. What the FTC report makes clear is that they've also got lots of friends who know better, and who don't care, helping them.


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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS