LIVING WITH TIPPER

By: Jim Tremlett


In what can only be described as a landslide, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton unseated George Bush from the President's chair on November 3rd. This hails the end to twelve years of Reagan-Bush foreign policy blunders, drug war hype, and wars for profit. Clinton brings with him a fresh, new perspective on domestic and foreign policy, as well as a new era of diversity, tolerance, and freedom for all Americans.

Unfortunately, that's not the only thing he's bringing along with him. Also included in the package is a woman who has done more to damage our First Amendment rights and freedoms than anyone in recent history. We are, of course, talking about Tipper Gore.

In 1985 Tipper Gore, along with Pam Hower, Sally Nevius, and Susan Baker (wife of our now ex-Secretary of State, James Baker) formed the PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER, the PMRC, in response to raw record lyrics. Tipper got the impetus to do this after listening to the album "Purple Rain" by Prince, in which one of the songs "Darling Nikki," made a brief reference to masturbation. Enraged that her daughter had brought this into their home without her knowledge, Tipper and her friends decided it was time to clean up the music industry.

What followed from that point on is a matter of record. Everyone remembers the McCarthyist "porn-rock" hearings the PMRC and their husbands held in Congress. Frank Zappa, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and John Denver came in and testified against the PMRC, casting a critical light on their "evidence."

In the end, though, the PMRC got their way. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who at first rejected the PMRC's demands that they sticker albums, were worried that non-compliance with those demands would jeopardize RIAA-friendly legislation: condemning their anti-piracy efforts. For example, the Home Audio Recording Act, which was designed to regain some of the money lost to home taping, was still under scrutiny, and might have been discarded outright if the RIAA didn't play along since its co-sponsor was married to a PMRC founder.

In other words, the primary reason that albums have stickers today has nothing to do with the "validity" of the PMRC's claims. The RIAA was afraid to put up a fight, lest their number-one priority (making more money) be threatened. Although the recording industry was quick to combat the mandatory stickering laws that were pending in 20 states last year, and placed a bland "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" sticker on instead of the rating system the PMRC originally wanted, the fact is that had they chosen to fight the PMRC's threats of legislation upon noncompliance, they would have eventually won. But, since they were afraid of losing their profit increases and Congressional backers, they knuckled under.

The PMRC's claims are fallacious to say the least. Despite the fact that no study has ever proven that art causes significant behavioral changes they still advocate that listening to violent music will cause violence, much as pornography is purported to cause rape. Much of their material is under-researched and out of date, and is so heavily editorialized and politicized that they state more opinions than they do facts.

Also disturbing are their connections with the Religious Right and other blatantly pro-censorship forces. For example, Susan Baker has said that "God calls me to be his instrument," and frequently arranges prayer meetings for the Washington power elite, commenting that her goal in life is to "live out the gospel." She also sits on the board of James Dobson's Focus On The Family, which openly favors censorship, going so far as to denounce Calvin Klein ads as "explicit and deviant."

It's also come out that Tipper Gore has, on at least one occasion, been invited to speak at an Eagle Forum dinner. The Eagle Forum, created by Phyllis Schlafly, is one of the largest anti-feminist, pro-life, anti-gay and ultimately anti-free speech organizations in America, which makes one wonder about Tipper's portrayal as a progressive, pro-choice feminist.

One fallacy that the press continues to perpetuate is the PMRC's decline in activity. Danny "we smell a rat" Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Atlantic Records and chairman of the Southern California ACLU, has gone on record as saying that the PMRC is no longer a threat: "I have not heard of them doing anything the last couple of years." A quick check with Suzi Talaant, the new Executive Director (and former Reagan administration staffer) of the PMRC, however, quickly puts the lie to rest. She says that the decline in public visibility is due to the loss of media interest, but that their chief mission, education (so to speak...) is unchanged and still ongoing. Sales of their videotape have gone up 400%, and their newsletter, THE RECORD, has just increased its circulation from quarterly to bimonthly.

Ever since Al Gore was announced as Bill Clinton's running partner, Tipper has tried to downplay her role with the PMRC. However, Talaant says that Tipper is as involved as ever. "We only see the Board of Directors once a year at the annual meeting, but Tipper is an executive member, and we see her more often," she says. "Our operations are overseen by...the executive members, and we are constantly in touch with Tipper, sharing information with her and discussing operations and strategy."

So, what does all this mean? First, it means that Tipper Gore will NOT be giving up her position in the PMRC during her four years as 2nd "lady." It means that she will be using (or misusing) her new, improved clout and connections to gather new support for the PMRC and their witchhunts. And it means that the ever-xenophobic Religious Right will still have a sympathetic ear in the executive office, even if it is only "fourth banana."

Now that the "gag rule" has been overturned, the most we in the anti-censorship movement have to gain from Clinton's elections is the depolitization of the National Endowment for the Arts. The 1992 Democratic platform says that "we believe in public support for the arts, including an NEA that is free from political manipulation and firmly rooted in the First Amendment's freedom of expression guarantee. But, when you have someone in the inner circle actively telling us that certain types of art, namely lyrical and audiovisual (rock videos) are "harmful," then how good is that promise? Keep in mind that one of the PMRC's early targets was homoeroticism: anyone remember Mapplethorpe?

So now that the election hype has died down, and the Clinton/Gore placards are put away, we must remember that, barring some unforeseen accident, we're stuck with President Clinton and 2nd "lady" Gore for at least four years. What happens during that time is up to us. We don't have to sit on our behinds and let D.C. take care of itself: in fact, we SHOULDN'T. Now is the time to let Bill and Al know in no uncertain terms we will not allow the PMRC to become a third force in the White House. This goes double for those of you who voted for them: after all, you voted for CHANGE, but Tipper and the PMRC are BUSINESS AS USUAL.

Keep an eye out for what Tipper does: the first time she starts using her connections, or starts canvassing with "concerned parents" or blatantly pro-censorship forces, get together with your friends and start joining grassroots opposition groups like R.O.C. or FACTS (or start your own in your home area) to stop her.

And finally, don't depend on the media to expose her for what she is: they nailed Dan Quayle over Murphy Brown, yes, but they always had it in for Dan; Tipper is much more telegenic anyway. But they'll be watching her, nonetheless, and duly reporting every quote and action. If they won't make the necessary connections and sound the alarm, we must do it ourselves, and sound it we will. But now we can only watch and wait.

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