Back then, Gore and the PMRC -- which also included the wife of James Baker, attack man for Bush's presidential coup -- thought their children were being corrupted by naughty Prince lyrics and violent W.A.S.P. album covers. They asked a Senate subcommittee to bully the music industry into placing warning labels on all deserving records. Not surprisingly, the Senate leaders went for the idea whole hog, ignoring the impassioned pleas of Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver. Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) best expressed the congressional vibe when she said, "This is one senator who feels that there is no absolute right to free speech." Excuse me while I wipe my butt on the Bill of Rights.
In keeping with the revived PMRC spirit, the Federal Communications Commission and new director Michael Powell (spawn of Secretary of State Colin Powell) recently fined a Portland noncommercial radio station $7,000 for airing "Your Revolution," a collaboration between Russian electronica star DJ Vadim and African-American spoken-word artist Sarah Jones. According to the station, KBOO, the song (released on Vadim's 1999 album USSR: Life From the Other Side) is a feminist critique of the sexual exploitation of women in hip hop. The lyrics -- originally a poem by Jones -- use the blunt, macho words of well-known hip hop songs as weapons against their originators. Unsurprisingly, the FCC saw only the song's evocative language, not the cultural commentary behind it. In its defense, KBOO issued a statement to the FCC saying the number is "a feminist attack on male attempts to equate political "revolution' with promiscuous sex, and as such, is not indecent." The FCC disagreed, saying in its May 17 decision, "The sexual references appear to be designed to pander and shock, and are patently offensive." (The full report can be read at www.ninjatune.net.) The listener-supported station now has 30 days to pay an amount it can hardly afford.
Just what is the FCC objecting to? "Your Revolution" begins simply enough, with Jones stating, "Your revolution will not happen between these thighs." She then goes on to say where else it won't happen (the back of a Jeep, on "my triple dip of French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe," etc.) and to delineate how male rappers use sex as a weapon. Sure, there are a few nasty couplets in the song, but nothing that would make Lil' Kim blush. Most of the lyrics come from tunes already played incessantly on the air. And it's obvious that Jones doesn't mean to titillate; instead, she's attempting to inform and educate.
All of this brouhaha (or boo hoo hoo) wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for one offended listener. The FCC doesn't monitor stations on its own; it only responds to complaints, like the one registered over the KBOO broadcast of "Your Revolution" sometime between 7 and 9 p.m. on Oct. 20, 1999. That's right, the complaint was lodged a year and a half ago -- and no one responded until after Powell became director. Perhaps the big cheese has a problem with opinions that conflict with his agenda? You don't see him banning Creed for being utterly useless to society. Oh, wait, I forgot: Creed's Christian.
The ruling doesn't just affect KBOO; it sets a precedent for all stations. Lisa Yimm, program director for San Francisco's KUSF (90.3 FM), says the ruling "has made us a little bit more paranoid in terms of what we air." While Yimm hasn't banned the song from playlists, she says she doesn't have to. "The DJs aren't willing to take a chance, because that's a song that's been busted by the FCC. One little complaint, and we'd be off the air."
Between the KBOO case and the recent fine levied on Colorado station KKMG for playing the censored version of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady," Yimm and other station directors are rightfully nervous. "I definitely know it's made the hairs stand up on the backs of everybody's neck," she says. "If this is the shape of things to come, then that's really scary."
If you'd like to make your opinion known about the KBOO fine, you can contact Michael Powell directly at email@example.com or call (888) 225-5322. If you would like to sign the Your Revolution Will Not Happen on These Airwaves petition, go to www.PetitionOnline.com/Ninja.