Same old song

February 22, 2011

I watched an old VH1 documentary recently focusing on Tipper Gore’s fight to put warning labels on music CD’s, and how she founded the Parents’ Music Resource Center to inform parents about what their kids are listening to.

After it ended, a little Internet research revealed what I had expected all along; controversy has always hovered over the music industry.

In the 1700’s, for example, Beethoven had locals whispering about his drug addiction and troubled personal life. In the 1800’s, fans found German composer Richard Wagner unethical because of his politics, beliefs and unorthodox lifestyle. Flash forward to 20th century, and consider the scandal that ensued when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin in the 1950s.

Through the years, little has changed. Musical tastes are as varied as the people who embrace them. Some fans can look past the faults of artists and simply enjoy the music, while others ban artists completely if they disagree with their morals or politics.

Artists should feel free to express themselves creatively. While that creativity may seem distasteful to some, those who find it offensive can tune it out.

On the other hand, artists should understand that expression comes with a price. They may run the risk of limiting audiences and the money they make if they do something that offends even a small group of people. And record stores, iTunes, radio stations, etc. have the right to place a label on the music if they find the lyrics too racy.

Although many recording artists view labeling to be a form of censorship and are against it, I don’t have a problem with it because as a parent I want to know what my kids are listening to. Perhaps adopting a rating system like the film industry would help, making sales to minors illegal without a parent or guardian. This goes a step further than simply adding a warning, but it does not jeopardize first amendment rights because the music is still available for adults who wish to purchase it for themselves or their kids.

As much as I love music, I would never relish the role of music czar that Gore took on in the 1980s. But now that I’m a little older and a little wiser, I do applaud her efforts. At least it is a good way to open the dialogue between parents and kids about what is appropriate and what is not.

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