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Sticker Shock

The problem with Parental Advisory stickers is that they are issued according to one set of morals. It's mass parenting at its worst.

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And the scenario is irrelevant, too. Because since the late 1980s, parents haven't had to concern themselves with what their kids are listening to. They haven't had to decide if an album was consistent with the beliefs they were trying to instill in their children. That decision is made for them. Parental Advisory stickers have been slapped on any album that record companies decide kids shouldn't be allowed to buy.

This month, the stickers are getting more specific. Starting July 31, albums on BMG Music Group's BMG, RCA, J and Arista labels will include additional warnings about "strong language," "violent content" or "sexual content."

"You're taking a bad standard and making it worse," said Eric Nuzum, author of "Parental Advisory: Music Censorship In America."

The problem with Parental Advisory stickers is that they are issued according to one set of morals. It's mass parenting at its worst. And it's out of control.

First, everyone knows that these advisory stickers help record sales, not hurt them. Stickered albums are like cigarettes or sex: They are a symbol of something not allowed, making them appalling to parents and appealing to kids. Record companies know this. And they exploit it.

This doesn't mean that kids are stupid. It means that they are curious. And without printing song lyrics on album covers, there will always be a certain type of mystery that comes with parental advisories.

"BMG recognizes our dual responsibility to help parents make informed decisions about the entertainment their children consume and to protect the right of our artists to express themselves freely," said Rolf Schmidt-Holz, BMG Music Group chairman and CEO, in a released statement. "Our labeling initiative will offer parents additional tools to help them decide what is appropriate for them and their families."

Sounds simple enough.

But who decides what's violent or strong or sexual?

Let's be honest, Britney Spears arouses just about everybody. In "I'm a Slave 4 U," she sings: "I know I may be young, but I've got feelings too/ And I need to do what I feel like doing."

Every guy over the age of 7 has a pretty good idea of what she wants to do.

Then, when she pants and moans, "Get it, get it, get it, get it," we're all sure she wants to have sex with us.

But she gets no sticker.

Apparently, she's just talking about dancing.

Well, what about violence?

In Johnny Cash's "Delia's Gone," he sings: "I went up to Memphis and I met Delia there/ Found her in her parlor and I tied to her chair/ … First time I shot her I shot her in the side. Hard to watch her suffer, but with the second shot she died."

In the attempt to sticker every violent, misogynist rap artist, somebody forgot to warn the kids about mean ol' Johnny.

But the Parental Advisory people didn't forget about America's new scapegoat, Eminem. Critics went crazy over his "97 Bonnie and Clyde," in which he kills his wife, tosses her in the trunk of his car and takes her to the beach.

Disturbing as it is, "97 Bonnie and Clyde" conjures up lyrics from country-music favorite "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks, in which two friends kill an abusive husband.

The lyrics go: "They sell Tennessee ham and strawberry jam/ and they don't lose any sleep at night because Earl had to die/ Goodbye Earl/ We need a break/ Let's go out to the lake, Earl/ We'll pack a lunch and stuff you in the trunk, Earl/ Well is that all right? Good — let's go for a ride, Earl."

So, let me get this straight — it's OK to go to the lake, but not the beach?

The argument could be made that the fictional murder of Eminem's wife wasn't justified, while "Earl" should have died because he was mean.

Another argument could be made — that Eminem should get a reduced sentence because he was regretful and the Dixie Chicks should get life in prison because they were so happy about their murder that they made bumper stickers that read, "Earl's in the trunk."

But since none of this is real, it doesn't matter.

This is the bottom line: Art always has been and always will be inherently subjective. And why should you warn someone about something that may not even be offensive to them? As Nuzum points out, "Most of the themes exist in the mind of the listener."

Since no one can decide for another person what is violent or sexual or explicit, where will the stickers stop? How much will it take to satisfy everyone?

Maybe a 20-page essay should come with every CD, listing every possible thing that could offend anyone. The essay would explain that some people might be offended while others might not be. "And if we thought you would be offended, but you really weren't, then we are sorry if that offended you." There could also be a disclaimer on the cover of the essay that says, "If 20-page essays offend you, we sincerely apologize."

Think this might be getting out of hand?

You're right.

The only real way to determine what music you want your child to hear is to listen for yourself.

Imagine that. S



Taylor Loyal staff reporter for the Daily News in Bowling Green, Ky. and a free-lance writer who has written for Mother Jones magazine.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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