Mission Statement of Those Opposing Censorship in the 1990's

By J. Edward Tremlett

The purpose of this article is to show how so-called "family values" are at the heart of all cultural censorship attempts, and to give some ideas on how we can effectively fight such nonsense and end the culture war.

First, a question: when did we, as a nation, get so uptight?

America was founded on a number of important principles, and chiefly among these was the idea of self-determination. The idea that one could go his or her own way, choose his or her own path, and live his or her life without undue interference from the Government.

Okay, so we didn't get it through our thick heads that women and non-whites deserved it too until just recently, but I'd like to think that Jefferson was watching the Civil Rights movement with a big smile on his face. I'd like to think that he, and the other Founding Fathers, foresaw a time when the rights they created for white, male property-holders would apply to EVERYONE. And I'd like to think that the Constitution would continue to adapt to changing times while still keeping the basic building block of our freedom--the First Amendment--intact.

I hope you can forgive my romanticism, but I grew up thinking of America as a very romantic place, a place where anything and everything can happen. A place whose people are free to dream and free to express those dreams. A place where all cultures, all ideas, and all beliefs can walk side by side and respect the other.

At least that's the myth we get taught in grade school. Once we get older and more knowledgeable, however, we learn that we gave smallpox to the Native Americans, discriminated against the Jews, incarcerated the Japanese, enslaved the blacks, and kept women "in their place" i.e. barefoot and pregnant, at home. And now that we can't do all that anymore -- though some of us still try -- we've found a new target: homosexuals.

And censorship? That's been here since day one, from the Alien and Sedition acts to Anthony Comstock up to Tipper Gore, C. Delores Tucker, Edwin Meese, Catharine MacKinnon, Don Wildmon, and Bill Bennett. Somewhere, out there, grubby little censors are resenting the fact that you're having more fun than they are, and will use whatever tools are at their disposal to remedy that situation.

And why do we do this, here in the land of the free and brave? Why do we ignore the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? Why do we conveniently forget that having a free society means having to hear opinions you don't agree with, religions you don't believe in, and people you just don't like.

The answer is two words: "Family Values." Family Values are why we bash queers. The answer is two words: 'Family Values." Family Values are why we segregate. Family Values are why we bash queers. Family Values are why we don't tolerate things that fall outside the narrow parameters of our minds. Family Values are the slogan on the walls of the retro-fifties "Leave It To Beaver" theme park that supposedly defined America at its best. In short, Family Values are the enemy.

And that's not to say that values, in and of themselves, are bad things. The danger comes from well meaning, but misguided people who decide that they know what is best for you and try to impose their values onto you. Whether it's keeping you from buying beer on Sunday, regulating your speech in public, or outlawing "sodomy," these "blue laws" are antithetical to the idea of self-determination, and really don't make much sense to begin with. Even a well-meaning intrusive law is still intrusive; a benevolent, Christian dictatorship is still a dictatorship.

Family Values are things you just don't question. "It's tradition, kid, we've always done it that way. Don't make trouble or you'll be ostracized. You'll be silenced. You'll go to Hell."

Other countries have family values too. Just ask the Islamic women who have their lips slashed with razorblades for wearing makeup in public. Ask the Jews and the Muslim in Israel. Ask the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland. Ask anyone in the former Yugoslavia. Why do they mistreat each other so? Why the war, why the bloodshed, why the abuse: "It's tradition": Family values as a legacy of brutality that no one questions for fear they will disappear.

Family values can be paradoxical sometimes. Free-market capitalism is a family value, until Time-Warner sells too much Gangsta Rap. Doing unto others is a family value, until tolerance for Gays, Pagans, and women who seek abortions becomes too intolerable. And free speech is a family value, until you question the Religious Right and their motives; then it becomes "anti-Christian bigotry."

Once again, family values are the enemy. Each generation has to find itself; striking out from the protective shell of the one that gave birth to it; finding its way in the world its parents leave for it; finding new solutions to old or new problems; progressing or regressing as it sees fit. But family values tell us that we can't be trusted to think for ourselves until we've knuckled under to the belief systems of our parents. Family values tell us "don't go too far, let our finger point the way." Strange how it's usually pointing straight down, or behind.

But this only really works if your children are on a tight leash and totally under your control. Children can't be exposed to ideas that might -- gasp -- make them doubt their ideals, doubt their leaders, or, worse, doubt their parents. Children shouldn't see life from both sides of the fence. And children shouldn't learn how to think until family values have taught them what to think.

So, it would seem that the only way to effectively control your children's input is through censorship. Every parent censors to a certain degree, and in a way that's okay. A parent is responsible for their children's rearing, and if they don't want them to grow up watching NYPD Blue or listening to the Butthole Surfers, that's their obligation.

The problem arises when a parent, sick of trying insulate their child from Gangsta Rap, industrial music, violent movies, or whatever, decides that the world would be better off without the offending product and tries to take it away from everyone. The problem worsens when those parents go to their elected representatives--or the parents ARE elected representatives (or married to them) --and work through political channels to suppress, repress, or blacklist the offending product. And the problem truly takes hold when companies, scared of government action or a consumer backlash, chicken out and give in to the censors' demands.

The results are frightening and every time the censors win they inspire more people to do the same. Tipper Gore's witchhunt made it politically viable for the federal government to publicly attack Rock and Rap music again. The Meese Commission on Pornography gave rise to a whole gaggle of anti-porn groups throughout the country. And Pepsi giving into Don Wildmon will keep the American Family Association going for years.

And if you still have any doubt that "Family Values" are the real culprit, think for a minute: when have you heard a cry for outright cultural censorship (or it's milder-sounding cousin "corporate responsibility") that DIDN'T mention something about children? PMRC, M-COP, the war on Gangsta Rap, and the endless parade of AFA boycotts were all flashed before our eyes by "concerned parents" in the name of "protecting children." When the Religious Right rails against the so-called "gay agenda" they always use the spectre of pedophiles using the classroom to prey on children. And, latest but not least, the Communications Decency Act is all about protecting those innocent little cyber-tots from the "dark" side of Cyberspace.

Now that we've illustrated that "Family Values" are at the root of all cultural censorship maneuvers, the question remains: how do we stop the culture war? The answers aren't all in, but here's a few that ought come in handy:

1: Let your representatives know that you didn't elect them for their taste in music or movies. They were elected to serve your needs and respond to ALL their constituents' concerns--even the ones who didn't vote for them. If they want to use their bully pulpit to act like bargain basement Siskel & Eberts they should resign and move to Los Angeles; if they insist on stumping for censorship you should help them do just that!

2: Get them to explain their views. So long as the Family Values buzzword is used as a political weapon, it will do untold damage to our rights. It's time we asked politicians to explain what they REALLY mean by family values. Are they just talking about mom-dad-apple pie, or is there a white hood in their closet? Are they just trying to keep up with the Conservatives, or are they overprotective twits like James Exon or Al Gore?

3: DESTROY GENERATION X -- NOW! This clever marketing ploy to make our generation feel worthless, stupid, and in need of an identity helps to keep us divided and tribal. We know for a fact that we're not as dumb as certain politicians think we are (thus reinforcing the "need" for family values) so let's show it by entering the arena and drawing blood. The time to take our country by storm is now, not later, and there's no way in Hell they can resist all of us.

4: Act human, not perfect: We're so uptight about not wanting to be too PC but not wanting to be a Neanderthal that we're running in circles like a dog on a short leash. Accept the fact that you were ingrained with a certain number of prejudices and work to overcome them, but don't condemn people for occasionally screwing up. So long as we're divided along color and ethnic lines against white society in general we're never going to get anywhere. Let's find out what we've got in common, not harp on how we're different.

5: DEMAND the end of record labeling. We've put up with this horseshit long enough and it's given the local censors all the ammo they need to justify outright prohibition of anything on the medium. I'm sure that almost everyone reading this either has or knows someone who has a horror story about being carded while buying music at the major chains. Those of us lucky enough to have independent music stores can bypass this, but not everyone is so fortunate. Now is the time to tell the major labels to end the blacklisting and take the labels off.

6: Finally, take the NO MORE approach to censorship: So much is happening so fast right now that it's almost impossible to keep up with, but we can't let that stop us. We have to oppose all cultural censorship everywhere, even in other countries. And, if bullshit "blue laws" happen to pass by Congress and the President, take a tip from Martin Luther King and passively resist every chance you get.

If they outlaw "desecration" of the flag, then torch old glory anonymously and send the ashes to the FBI..., C.O.D. If they pass the Communications Decency Act, then don't stop making "lewd" talk on the Internet, make more! Learn how to use anonymous remailers, or just print what you want like you normally do; there's too many us "dirty" people out there to bust, so they'll just go after the largest ones they can find. If they outlaw the sale of stickered music to minors, then set up a black market taping ring for your friends. And be sure to keep mailing all those cool zines (and don't forget to send them to me!)

This list could be added to, but by now I'm sure you've got the idea. If we stopped letting the spectre of "valuelessness" haunt us, and made our own values, and stuck by them, and didn't let career politicians divide us into camps or belittle us, then we could end this nonsense once and for all. After all, what have we become as a nation when we let someone like Bob Dole denounce movies he hasn't seen and music he hasn't listened to - - while reading a speech he didn't even write - - without a massive backlash? We all condemned Dan Quayle for his attack on Murphy Brown, but when key figures in the Clinton administration did the same thing, years later, no one said anything.

Don't just get mad, folks, get active. NOW!

Jim Tremlett is the President of the Friendly Anti-Censorship Task Force for Students
68 Mill St. #3, Athens, OH 45701
PH. 614-593-3656
e-mail: JT885291@oak.cat.ohio-u.edu

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