- Display the Parental Advisory Label on the board:
2. Ask students if they recognize the parental advisory label and if they know what it signifies. (Note to instructor: The current Parental Advisory Label was introduced in the 1990s by the Recording Industry Association of America, which begin issuing similar warning labels about music content in 1985.) Briefly discuss:
- Do your parents or guardians pay attention to these advisories?
- How much of an influence has this advisory had on your ability to access music?
- Does labeling music in this manner and regulating who has the ability to purchase it amount to censorship? Why or why not?
1. Read the following quote aloud: “The Parents’ Music Resource Center [PMRC], a group led by a number of well-placed Washington spouses, contents that rock music has become offensively sexually explicit and that record companies must take steps to both caution consumers—through album warning labels—and reduce the frequency of such ‘offensive’ music” (“Zappa, Snider Take on Lyric Critics,” Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1985).
2. Display the “Filthy Fifteen,” a list of popular songs the PMRC found particularly unsuitable for young listeners. Inform students that the highlighted songs are from Heavy Metal groups.
- How many of these songs are from Heavy Metal groups?
- Based on what you know about Heavy Metal, why do you think such a high percentage of the songs on the list fall into this category?
- What conclusions can you draw about how some parents felt about their children listening to Heavy Metal from this chart? What does the chart indicate about the perception of Heavy Metal music in the mid-1980s?
- Could you conclude that the efforts of groups such as the PMRC to label and limit access to music was directed largely at Heavy Metal? Why or why not?
3. Play the video of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1985) and distribute lyrics to the song. Briefly discuss:
- What image do the performers in the video present?
- What is the overall message of the song and the video?
- Why do you think this song was included on the list of the “Filthy Fifteen?” What about it might be considered “offensive”? Why might parents not want their children to listen to or watch the video of this song?
4. Explain to students that in 1985, a committee of the United States Senate held a hearing on the issue of labeling “offensive” music, at which members of the PMRC and many others testified. Play students the clip of part of the testimony of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and discuss:
- How does the way Snider presents himself at the hearings differ from his appearance in the video?
- How does Snider describe himself?
- Do you agree that his video of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is consistent with the values he describes? Why or why not?
- What do you think Dee Snider meant by “lyrical interpretation and judgment”? Is it possible for one person to interpret the lyrics of a song one way, while another might argue that they mean something very different? (Note: the instructor may wish to inform students that later in his testimony, Snider argues that while the PMRC claimed his group’s song “Under the Blade” made references to sexual activities, as the composer of the song he intended it as a song about someone’s experience having painful surgery.)
- How would you define “offensive”? Who gets to decide what is “offensive” in music or art?
- Is there anything in the music that you listen to that might be considered “offensive”? By whom? Why?
- Who do you think should be responsible for deciding what music young people listen to? Their parents? The government? The recording industry? Or should they be able to decide for themselves?
5. Divide students into pairs. Explain that each pair will be responsible for preparing an opening statement for a debate on Heavy Metal and the regulation of popular music. Students will be given a series of documents to help them prepare their arguments.
6. Assign half of the groups to be in favor of the parental advisory system, and half the groups to be opposed. Explain that they will use the handouts to draft a two-paragraph statement regarding their position on whether or not parental advisory labels should be placed on musical recordings.
7. Distribute the Document Organizer, Statement Template, and Document Set. Allow students adequate time to read through the documents, take notes on the Document Organizer, and write their opening statements.
8. After each group has prepared its two-paragraph statement, create groups of four students, each consisting of one pair that supports the labeling system and one pair that opposes it.
9. Ask each pair to read its opening statement to the second pair in its group. Reverse the procedure, with the second pair reading its opening statement.
10. Ask each pair to respond to the opposing pair’s arguments. Allow groups sufficient time to discuss/debate the relative merits of each position.
Reconvene the class as a whole, and discuss:
- Overall, which side do you think presented the stronger arguments?
- What was the most compelling evidence in support of each position?
- In her statement, Tipper Gore argued that labeling is not censorship. Do you agree or disagree? What evidence can you offer to support your position? (Note: You may wish to ask students to consider Walmart’s policy of refusing to carry CDs marked with a parental advisory.)
- What do you think the labeling system achieves? Do you think an alternate system might be appropriate? Why or why not? What might such a system look like?
- If Heavy Metal had not achieved mainstream success, do you think there would have been a call for censorship? Why might a particular style of music’s popularity draw political concern or debate?
Ask students to expand their opening statement into a five-paragraph essay in which they make a more complete case for their position. They should be sure to use specific examples from the documents and their knowledge of popular music to support their arguments.
1. Depending on the maturity level of students, you may wish to explore some of the other songs included on the list of the “Filthy Fifteen” and their subject matter.
2. Students may also further explore the testimony at the 1985 Senate Hearings (available online). Please note that this testimony includes somewhat more detailed discussion of the specific material the PMRC found “offensive,” and is not suitable for all students.
3. With your guidance, have students explore multiple interpretations of the Motorhead song “Ace of Spades” (1980):
- Distribute the lyrics to the song. Ask students to read the lyrics in pairs and discuss the meaning of the song.
- Discuss the concept of lyrical interpretation, and ask students if there might be more than one possible meaning of the song.
- Have students write an interpretation of the song in their own words.
4. The PMRC’s efforts are not the first of this kind in the United States; many works of art, music, and literature have been labeled inappropriate or potentially corrupting by critics. Between 2000 and 2009, for example, there were efforts ban the Harry Potter series because critics thought that the witch and wizard characters promoted the occult. In other cases, the work of Dr. Seuss was subjected to disfavor, particularly because of its underlying political themes.
Have students research efforts to censor a book by Dr. Suess or J. K. Rowling, or, alternatively, a work of their own choosing (this could be a book, film, music, or piece of visual art–ideally one with which they are already familiar or can obtain from the school library. This list of banned books from the American Library Association may be a good starting point). Have students identify a time when someone recommended censoring or banning their chosen work, and ask them to write a short letter to the editor of a local newspaper about the issue. Students should clearly explain what the effects of banning the work would be, and make a strong argument for or against the censorship.