It almost defies belief that we’re back here again. In the wake of recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, and those following countless others in the United States in recent years, politicians keen to deflect attention from the need for tighter control gun control if not (preferably) an outright ban have been attempting to place the blame on violent video games, TV shows, movies, and music.
It’s the oldest trick in the book: Talk about “desensitized” kids or copycat killers and people stop looking at the fact that shooters without guns can’t commit mass shootings. As comedian Eddie Izzard once said, without a gun they’re just standing there making a gun shape with their hands and shouting, “BANG, POW-POW,” and nobody gets hurt by that.
To this current point, Oliver Stone, when being criticized for glamorizing violence in the movie Natural Born Killers, said that art doesn’t create society, it reflects society. In other words, nobody who went into the theater to watch that film came out a killer if they didn’t go in a killer.
But, as is generally the case when these sort of demands are made, all Whitehouse actually achieved was to create an air of notoriety around films that might otherwise have been ignored. Some of the movies on the list, such as Snuff (not a snuff movie at all) and Love Camp 7, are downright awful—just objectively bad films—but because of Whitehouse they became collector’s items in the UK. Plus, of course, they were all just films and couldn’t actually harm anyone.
In this country, Tipper Gore tried a similar heavy-handed approach with music in the ’80s and she was equally misguided. Her group the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) tried slapping a “parental advisory” sticker on albums they felt were inappropriate for children. But much like Whitehouse’s “video nasties” campaign, it had the opposite effect to that which was desired. Teens spying the black and white sticker on records would veer towards it, when perhaps they might otherwise have spent their allowance on something else.
At a Senate hearing in 1985, the odd trio of John Denver, Frank Zappa, and Twisted Sister man Dee Snider had their say about the nonsense of the PMRC’s proposals to censor music. Snider surprised everyone with an articulate and sharp speech.
“The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experiences, and dreams into the words,” Snider said in his conclusion. “The examples I cited earlier showed clear evidence of Twisted Sister’s music being completely misinterpreted and unfairly judged by supposedly well-informed adults. We cannot allow this to continue. There is no authority who has the right or the necessary insight to make these judgments, not myself, not the Federal Government, not some recording industry committee, not the PTA, not the RIAA, and certainly not the PMRC.”
There were fifteen songs on a list compiled by the PMRC, dubbed “The Filthy 15.” Alongside the perhaps expected likes of Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, WASP, Twisted Sister and Venom were artists including Prince and Cyndi Lauper (because “Darling Nikki” and “She Bop” were about sex and masturbation), Madonna and Sheena Easton. John Denver certainly wasn’t on the list but he made a reasoned plea against censorship:
“That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting,” Denver said. “Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you.”
Meanwhile, Zappa said that, “the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretation and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal’s design.”
Judas Priest were in the spotlight again in 1990 after it was claimed that they had placed messages on a song that could only be heard when played backwards, such as “try suicide” and “do it.” The jury were almost convinced too, until frontman Rob Halford proved that, with a little bit of suggestion, you can believe you’re hearing anything in the white noise.
So here we are in 2019 and songwriters still employ naughty words, and sexual / violent imagery, in their lyrics. Meanwhile, special effects on TV shows such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are getting more realistic. So too are the graphics on violent video games. We’re a long way from Street Fighter.
But there are many other countries that have the same TV shows, same records, same movies and same games as we do, but they don’t have the same gun crime. All across Europe, people are engaging in the same activities with little-to-no censorship, without any mass shootings.
“I think they’re idiots,” he said. “I think those people subscribe to the ‘three Ds of politics,’ which is ‘deny, detract and deflect.’ And it’s exactly what it is. As soon as guns came into play again, the first thing that the GOP and the gun lobby did was find anything but the gun itself to deflect… It was the video games; it was the heavy metal music; it was the mental illness — it was all of these things. Now, never mind the fact that one of the first things that Trump did when he got into office was take away those prohibitions against people with mental illness, with a history of mental illness, being able to buy a firearm. But now suddenly that’s biting you in the ass. Well, now it’s the video games. There are video games all over the world; people don’t have that problem. Well, it’s the heavy metal music. Well, there’s heavy metal music all over the world as well, in a lot of countries, and a lot of them darker than ours is. They don’t have that problem.”