The music police are at it again, trying to save the world from the perils of "explicit" music. This time around, however, they have a new strategy.
They're trying to paint the major record labels as musical versions of crack dealers, hanging around a schoolyard giving away free samples. The campaign is shameless because it's untrue. But Sen. Joe Lieberman and his allies know that manufacturing a plot against kids is the only way they can exploit parents terrified by school violence to achieve their real goal — censorship.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a report this week criticizing the music industry for continuing to market violent CDs to children. Within hours of its release, the Democratic Party's favorite censor, Lieberman, announced plans to introduce legislation that would punish record labels for such campaigns.
If we don't take the time to examine what's going on very carefully, it might seem that he has a point. But if one simply takes a moment to look at the information included in that report, and the information that is left out, the latest attack on media violence will be revealed as what it really is: an attempted end-run around the Constitution masquerading as righteous indignation over marketing practices.
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Last year the FTC accused the film, video game and music industries of intentionally targeting children in ad campaigns for products that they themselves have said, through ratings or warning stickers, are unfit for children. This week's report found that while the movie and video game industries had made some steps in the right direction, the recording industry has done virtually nothing.
Now I'm not a parent, and I am a fan of a lot of music that many people consider offensive. So if I ever have children, I think I'd take a pretty active role in raising them and would be willing to put in a little effort to learn about the music they were listening to and whether it was appropriate. Until then, I'd appreciate it if all parents did the same, rather than pass laws that make it tougher for controversial artists to make a living.
Despite that bias, when I first heard about the FTC report, I was a bit concerned. I thought that it was talking about things like advertising Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP during Barney and Pokémon. Were that the case, I might be inclined to agree that the labels should be ashamed of themselves. Parenting's a tough enough job without some record exec hard-selling your 8-year-old on gangsta rap. And while I love music, I'm going to have to ride the subway with that kid in six years, so I'd prefer he not be strapped.
Such a scenario, however, is far from the reality of the situation. After I took the time to read the reports, it became obvious to me that the major labels are certainly not trying to devise ways to sell violent and sexually explicit music to kids. What they are doing is mounting legitimate advertising campaigns for some offensive artists that will, unavoidably, be seen or heard by kids. That's an unfortunate fact of life in a free society, and it simply means parents are going to have to take more responsibility for what their kids watch and listen to. But it's a far cry from record companies actively trying to sell violent records to children.
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