June 2002

Michael Schaub


Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society By Tipper Gore

Have you ever met a teenager who needed to beencouraged to think about sex? Me neither. But Tipper Gore seems pretty convinced that without pervasive sex in the media, kids' thoughts would turn to such wholesome activities as softball and square
dancing. Enter -Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society-, an odd little '80s relic that served as Gore's record-labeling apologia, and a statement of purpose for her now-defunct organization, the Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC).

On the cover of Gore's largely forgotten 1987 manifesto, there's a picture of a young teenage couple with their arms around draped awkwardly around each other. With their Reagan-era clothes and adorably puffy hair, this could be the cover photo for one of those gently moralizing books on dealing with adolescence and its concomitant bodily changes (and it sort of is). Except that in this picture, the kids are standing in front of a poster for a porn movie that I think somehow involves robots (the title is
obscured, but the tagline is "Energize me!"). The boy is listening to (undoubtedly naughty) music on headphones and subtly leering at his girlfriend.

Yeah, no doubt about it: These kids, inspired by adult cinema and rock music with explicit lyrics, are going to fuck. What can decent citizens like us do to stop it?

Gore, a psychologist by training, has a few token suggestions, but her book is infinitely more entertaining as a compendium of offensive, largely poorly written rock lyrics. There are chapters on sex, violence, suicide, drugs and alcohol, and that old '80s bete noire, satanism.

For my money, the satanism chapter ("Playing with Fire") is the best. Where else, outside of a Poppy Z. Brite novel, could you read lyrics like this deathless verse by Slayer: "I feel the urge, / The growing need / To fuck this sinful corpse; / My task's complete, / The bitch's soul / Lies raped in demonic lust." I, for one, am shocked -- shocked that Slayer know how to
use a semicolon. As for the content, it's pretty awful, but it's something that only the most slackjawed, illiterate, easily-influenced kid would possibly take seriously. The only person I ever knew who claimed to be a satanist didn't even listen to Slayer, and was much more interested in smoking pot than ritual necrophilia. (But aren't we all?)

Hey, no one wants their kids listening to pro-corpse-sex songs. But the First Amendment is a pretty straightforward little paragraph, albeit one Gore conveniently sidesteps with assertions like this one: "We have every right to decide what is and is
not acceptable for the public environment in which we and our children must live." What the hell is this about "our children"? I don't remember reproducing. Gore assumes (probably correctly) that her book's audience is made up entirely of Christians with kids. (The book's publisher, Abingdon Press, seems to be a house organ of the United Methodist Church.) So where does that leave the rest of us?

But the point may be moot, because Gore makes no effort to prove that there actually is a link between rock lyrics and teen violence, sex and substance abuse. She mentions briefly a 1986 study by two Cal State professors who concluded that rock doesn't negatively influence kids, then dismisses it with one sentence: "However, common sense and virtually every other study on the topic suggest otherwise." If you're interested in reading those other studies, good luck -- she doesn't cite any of them. Her only academic source seems to be one Joseph Stuessy, a music professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

And Stuessy's got his own problems. He's able to make huge leaps in logic, never more so than when he discusses rock's alleged equation of sex with violence: "But what if I were an impressionable fifteen-year-old boy today? My rock heroes have told me that sex on a date is expected and that it is a violent act. My penis is a knife, a gun, a rod of steel. Intercourse involves thrusting, plunging, screaming and pain...I don't want my date, who, for all I know, is 'experienced,' to think I'm a wimp! I
will nail her to the bed and make her scream in pain! Boy, this sex stuff is great!!" (extraneous double exclamation point in original).

Uh, yeah, Dr. Stuessy, it's like you read my teenage mind. You might be interested to know that Stuessy got all this out of a list of lyrics that includes "Slide down my knees, taste my sword" (Motley Crue) and "My love will cut you like a knife" (from the
utterly innocuous Who song "You Better You Bet").

It's pretty clear that Stuessy, like Gore, might have issues with interpretation. Gore even recycles the "Suicide Solution" chestnut, which was old news even in 1987. The Ozzy Osbourne song was pretty clearly about AC/DC singer Bon Scott's death from alcoholism, but Gore joins the chorus of voices blaming it for pretty much every suicide in the world after its release. Gore makes no distinction between -singing- about suicide, violence and drugs and -encouraging- suicide, violence and
drugs. That's one of the many reasons this book fails, as social criticism, as cultural comment, even as propaganda.

Fifteen years later, though, it succeeds as a piece of pop culture ephemera. If Gore's 25-plus references to Motley Crue don't sway you, you're bound to be thrilled by her cogent, complex takes on television (Starsky and Hutch will make you stab your aunt to death), role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons will make you commit suicide), and cinema (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will make you slice people up with power tools, while Splatter University "needs no further explanation").

Also, you can play great party games with this book, like "Find The Most Hilarious Sentence." My entry would be: "It is a quantum leap from the Beatles' 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' to Prince singing: 'If you get tired of masturbating... / If you like, I'll jack you off.'" You could take a shot of liquor whenever Gore makes a dubious assertion -- like when she praises the Romantics for their "pro-social" themes. (Yeah, they're the "What I Like About You" guys.)

-Raising PG Kids- is finally hilarious in its naivete. It's hard to blame Gore for being shocked by lyrics that are designed to shock -- but fifteen years on, despite Slayer and AC/DC and the Crue, the kids are, for the most part, all right. Now we can put this record-labeling nonsense behind us. At least until Joe Lieberman runs for president.

Nashville: Abingdon, 1987. Out of print.