February 1, 2012

80s Flashback: The PMRC

parental advisoryAtheists in the United States are often asked why we cannot just ignore the Christian majority that surrounds us. Why can't we simply let them go about their business and not pay any attention to them? In part, my answer is that they never seem content to stop trying to legislate their particular view of morality on the rest of us. It is not enough for them to live their lives as they see fit; they need to push it on the rest of us too.

In a recent post, I noted that I have seen the political influence of evangelical Christian fundamentalists wax and wane during the course of my lifetime. I wrote:
Again and again, we witness a rise to power, a series of overreaches that make most of the sane public quite nervous, and a loss of influence.
I was thinking more about one of these overreaches recently: the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). For those of you who are too young to remember, the PMRC was a group of influential women, referred to as the "Washington wives" because their husbands were prominent politicians and other D.C. elites, who came together in 1985 out of concern that the popular music of the time was harmful to children. They were the ones who would eventually be responsible for getting those silly parental advisory warning labels on album covers.

I'm not sure that it is fair to say that the PMRC was motivated primarily by fundamentalist Christianity. What I do remember about their efforts during the time was that they had considerable support among evangelical fundamentalist Christians.

Initially, the PMRC sought to push the music industry to develop a ratings system similar to that of used for films. This would have prevented people under a certain age from being able to buy albums the group deemed offensive. While this effort was not successful, the group did manage to pressure some stores into concealing album covers, removing some music videos from rotation, and the like. They even held hearings in the U.S. Senate.

During the 1980s, the efforts of the PMRC were largely interpreted as censorship by those of us who were fans of the music they were seeking to repress. Evangelicals gleefully burned many of the albums they identified as objectionable. I remember perceiving the PMRC as misguided crusaders who were determined to legislate their Christian morality by restricting our freedom to buy the music we wanted.

In the end, they got their absurd warning labels and were unsuccessful in banning much of anything. Tipper Gore, the group's leader, has since claimed that this is all she ever wanted in the first place. Bullshit! Those of us who remember the spectacle know that the group was after far more than warning labels. The PMRC was a classic example of an overreach by those determined to push their preferences on the rest of us.

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