Chairman McCain, Senator Hollings, and Members of the Committee. I am pleased to have the opportunity to testify before you today.
I am the CEO and co-owner of Artemis Records a year old independently owned record company. Our current roster includes Rickie Lee Jones, Steve Earle, Warren Zevon, and the Baha Men. During the nineteen-nineties I was the President of three major record labels, Atlantic, Warner Bros, and Mercury.
I am speaking not only as a long time record executive, but also as a father of a ten year old girl and a six and a half year old boy. I do not believe either government or any entertainment industry committee has any business in telling me and my wife what entertainment our children should be exposed to.
The United States is a diverse country with hundreds of divergent religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, regional traditions, and opinions about art and entertainment. Unlike the visual media, the record business is being asked to categorize and label groups of words. For the same reason there is no ratings system for books, or for that matter Congressional testimony, with one narrow exception, it is virtually impossible to "rate" words.
For example, on the subject of violence, what kind of system can distinguish between the words "I want to kill you" said in an affectionate, sarcastic or ironic way from those same words being used literally? Song lyrics are by their nature impressionistic and are often used symbolically. No one really thought that the words to "killing me softly with his song" referred to murder.
The one exception are the so called seven dirty words and for fifteen years, record companies, including my independent company Artemis Records, have been placing "parental advisory" stickers on albums that have a lot of curse words. Please note Senators, distinguished from the movie business and contrary to the sloppy and inaccurate remarks of the President and Vice-President earlier this week, record companies have never suggested an age limit for albums with "parental advisory" stickers. We placed such a sticker on our current album Spit by the heavy metal band Kittie because the teenage girls in the band use several curse words over the course of the album. There is nothing illegal about this and I and critics across the country and the half a million people in the U.S. who have bought the album are morally comfortable with it as well. I know that there are many Americans who are offended by curse words and don't want children exposed to them. However, those people have no moral or legal right to impose such a standard on my family or the millions of other Americans who, like George Bush, are comfortable with cursing.
The parental advisory sticker informs retailers and parents that such words are on the album. Other than that there is no universal criteria for categorizing words in lyrics, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. There are, of course, subjective criteria. It is the function of critics to criticize, of preachers to preach and of people like myself to exercise personal moral judgments about what my company releases. However people of good will often have different opinions about entertainment. I respect the fact that many parents don't want their kids to watch R rated movies but I prefer a deeper analysis of each movie and I recently recommended the R rated Erin Brockovich to our ten year old daughter Katie who is a passionate feminist and environmentalist because I had seen the film and knew the rating was because of cursing. Others may disagree but this country will cease to be free the day that one group of parents can tell all other parents how to raise their children.
Song lyrics are not literal. Listening to the blues often makes people happy. Angry weird songs often make adolescents feel less lonely and more connected to other kids. Millions of these teens and young adults feel ostracized when politicians and academics who obviously have no real understanding of their culture make sweeping generalizations about their entertainment, conveniently overlooking the fact that literally every generation has embraced entertainment with sexual and violent themes. Gangsta rap is the direct descendent of the gangster movies of the thirties and forties, the TV westerns of the fifties, and critically acclaimed films like The Godfather.
Mr. Chairman, I don't like every record. Spike Lee criticizes much of the rap culture in his new movie Bamboozled. Criticism and immoral argument is appropriate and an integral part of the entertainment culture. In an internet world, there will be ever increasing ways for parents to find like minded groups who can advise them on entertainment through the prism of their own particular values. However so-called self-regulation achieved by political intimidation is the equivalent of censorship.
It has become commonplace to assert that popular culture is popular against the wishes and values of its fans. But popular culture gets that way precisely because the balance of consumers?not record makers, not rule makers, but everyday people?enjoy it.
Mr. Chairman, make no mistake, their tastes, their values, and their morality are under assault every bit as much as the entertainment executives who occupy the hot seat today.
Washington is a culture of legislation and policy. Asking the FTC or the Washington media or the Congress to analyze popular entertainment makes about as much sense as going to Hollywood to re-structure Medicare. From Ralph Nader to Pat Buchanan, Washington political leaders, who are out of touch with the real dynamic of the ways young people process entertainment, condemn youth culture. The only result of demonizing pop culture is to drive millions of young people away from politics. In the last Congressional election in 1998, less than 17% of 18-25 years olds voted, less than half the rest of the population. I believe that fifteen years of youth culture entertainment bashing in Washington has greatly contributed to alienation and apathy on the part of young people from politics.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, please help to stop this trend of pushing young people away from politics.
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