Z-Pack - Letter to the President
BY FEDERAL EXPRESS
29 August 1985
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Even though I strongly disagree with many administration Policies, I have never doubted that your personal views on Basic Constitution are sincere.
I would like to know your opinion of the record censorship program sponsored by the PMRC, an organization involving the wives fo [sic] elected governmental officials. Do you asupport [sic] this effort? If so, have you considered the basic issue of fairness when a pet project, likely to result in legislative action that will restrain and affect the lives of millions of Americans, is promoted by the spouse of an elected official and rushed to a Senate hearing while important national business waits in the wings? Is it fair that people not fortunate enough to be married to a D.C. Superstar have to keep their mouths shut while 'THE WASHINGTON WIVES' diddle with the legislative machinery?
The PMRC is an unlicensed lobbying group, comporting itself outrageously. While threatening an entire industry with the wrath of their husbands' powerful commitees, they blithely spew frogwash and innuendo with the assistance of an utterly captivated media. When the PMRC's proposal leaps to a full commitee hearing September 19th, an unfortunate precedent will be set.
If you support the PMRC (or the NMRC or any other fundamental Pressure Groups) in their efforts to perpetuate the myth that SEX EQUALS SIN, you will help to intitutionalize the neurotic misconception that keeps pornographers in business.
By attempting to remove all references to sexuality from media consumed by young people, the PMRC contrary to its stated goals, will create an atmosphere that benefits the child molester, not the child.
In a nation where deranged pressure groups fight for the removal of sexual education from public schools, and parents know so little about sex that they have to call Dr. Ruth on TV for answers to rudimentary anatomical questions, it would seem infinitely more responsible for these esteemed wives and mothers to demand a full-scale Congressional demystification of the subject.
Are we headed toward a time when descriptions of sexual behaviour in entertainment media can be obtained only by employing a lawyer to petition under the Freedom Of Information Act? Must all sexual practices in the United States be tested and approved by The Moral Majority? When they test them, do we get to watch?
Assuming, for argument's sake, that the basic premise of the PMRC's effort is to shield people in a certain age bracket from exposure to various forms of UNDESIRABLE INFORMATION, the proposition is grossly inequitable since it singles out Rock Music as the villain.
Country Music contains references to sex, violence, alcohol and the devil, yet the PMRC is not requesting a warning label on THESE records. Could it be that a certain Senatorial husband and wife team from Tennessee has concocted this issue as an affirmative action program to benefit the suffering multitudes in Nashville? Surely there are other ways to protect this vital source of Tennessee state revenue.
Is there anyone in the PMRC who can differentiate infallibly between rock and country music? Artists in both fields have crossed stylistic lines, even within an individual album. If an album is part rock, part country, what sort of label does it get? Is this determination to be made according to the state in which the material was recorded?
The PMRC wants ratings to start as of the date of their enactment. What will be the status of those recordings remaining from the Golden Era prior to censorship? Do they become collector's items ... or will the government order them burned in a public ceremony, somewhere in Virginia?
Wagner's influence on Hitler is well documented. Shouldn't the PMRC consider a big red "M" for those classical works favored by Megalomaniacs? What if statistics become available showing a marked preference for Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow among convicted white-collar felons?
Fundamentalist Christianity is not a State Religion. The PMRC's request for labels regarding sexually explicit lyrics, violence, drugs, alcohol, and occult content reads like a catalog of phenomena abhorrent to practitioners of that faith. Is the PMRC aware of the Muslim affiliations of some black performers? If they should suddenly decide to record lyrics advocating the violent overthrow of America in the name of Allah, will the PMRC's labels deter a nation of semi-literates from learning an exciting new dance called 'The Funky Jihad'? Will the PMRC wish they had used the big red "M" to warn of Muslim Content?
The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, sets the stage for an endless series of 'control programs' based on 'Things Certain Christians Don't Like'. What if the next bunch of Washington Wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to 'concealed Zionist doctrine'? How long will it take till somebody else's wife demands that composers and performers wear a Special Arm Band at all times in public, reflecting the stigma of their category rating?
The PMRC has demanded that the record companies 'reassess' the contracts of those groups who do things on stage that they don't approve of. GROUPS are comprised of INDIVIDUALS. If one guy wiggles too much, does the whole band get an "X"? If the group gets dropped from the label because of the "X", do the other guys in the group who weren't wiggling get to sue the guy who wiggled because he ruined their careers?
Should the individual musicians be rated? If so, who is qualified to determine if the BASS PLAYER behaves like an "O", the GUITAR PLAYER behaves like an "X", the VOCALIST behaves like a "D/A", or the DRUMMER behaves like a "V"? Will unscrupulous performers voluntarily rate themselves "B/A" (Born Again), in order to protect their careers and differentiate themselves from the rest of the Stigmatized Scum when they shoot the next "Let's Go Pretend To Feed Somebody" video?
It was a sad day for composers, performers and record retailers when the major labels agreed to the first of PMRC's absurd demands.
Why did they agree? The record industry bills (H.R. 3163 and H.R. 2911) regarding tape royalties and piracy must pass through Senator Thurmond's Committee. With Mrs. Thurmond a member of PMRC, the industry was hardly in a position to express their true feelings on the matter. After broad hints of 'legislative strangulation', the major labels attempted a comprise. "Not GOOD enough!" said the Washington Wives, pressing for legislation to control "satanistic or occult content".
A composer or performer stigmatized by the "O" rating winds up on the Ultimate Blacklist. All it might take is a song with a reference to someone's astrological sign. What legal hazards lurk then for the unfortunate retailer who sells "O" rated records? If he sells one to somebody he's not supposed to, does he get the red-hot tweezers or what?
The PMRC's program protects country musicians, not children. It is mechanically unworkable from a listening/rating standpoint, considering the quantity of recorded material released each year. If enacted, American Musical Culture will become a hostage in the Beige Zone, somewhere between the Salem Witchcraft Trials and The McCarthy Era.
Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. The facts simply do not support the PMRC's outlandish claims. This is more than a First Amendment Issue. Freedom of religious thought (if this matter produces legislation determining what is 'occult'), the right to assemble (if these idiotic ratings extend to live concerts), and the right to due process for composers, performers and retailers (if the major labels proceed with 'album identification', in violation of existing contracts) are all jeopardized by PMRC's demands.
I submit that elected officials have a spiritual and fiduciary duty to their constituents that takes precedent over the whims of their spouses. How many other costly and ill-conceived governmental programs have been generated in this manner and dumped onto the shoulders of American Business?
Those involved in this sort of 'connubial insider trading', if not subject to prosecution under existing law, ought to be disciplined by their peers...or perhaps they should take their own medicine and VOLUNTARILY RATE THEMSELVES. It shouldn't be too hard to determine who deserves the Congressional "X", the Congressional "D/A", or the Congressional "V". It's hard to imagine a Congressional "O", but there must be a few on somebody's committee.
The PMRC loudly decries the label of censorship when it is applied to their plan. Jesse Jackson reminded Jerry Falwell in a recent CNN debate that "You do not judge a tree by the bark it wears, but by the fruit it bears..."
Mr. President, if you are not serious about getting government off our backs, could you at leas t do something about getting it out of our nostrils? There seems to be a lethal cloud of brimstone and mildewed bunting rising form the Senate floor.
I do not expect a reply to this letter, however, any public statement from you on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Frank Zappa (signed)