Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Hearings

In the wake of last December's school shooting, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) has proposed yet another congressional study on violent video games (he's joined in his effort by Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns). Such studies are typically accompanied by hearings where members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body get to lecture and threaten artists and businesspeople in a display of bipartisan backslapping, all for the benefit of national TV cameras that would normally not pay much interest to the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Blaming pop culture for America's societal ills has been a staple of hearings for decades, where the First Amendment is usually regarded as an archaic nuisance, parental responsibility is considered an impossible task, and everything from serial killers to suicide to deviant sex gets been blamed on artists whose work seems silly and campy with just a few years of hindsight.

On occasion, devil's advocates such as John Denver, Frank Zappa, and Dee Snider, have been invited to testify on free expression's behalf. They're commonly met with snide insults from lawmakers, who bristle at the mention of the word censorship.

As Congress gears up for another round of scare-mongering grandstanding, Reason TV presents "Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Censorship Hearings." 

In 2001 (2:27), the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's held a hearing on Children and Media Violence, where several representatives fretted over the music of Eminem, and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) offered up an absurd anecdote about how Popeye cartoons caused his young son to commit a wanton act of violence.

In 1997 (3:01), during a Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs hearing on the Social Impact of Media Violence, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and others spent a lot of time talking about Marilyn Manson, explicitly blaming the band's music for a teenager's suicide and declaring them (along with Tupac Shakur, Cannibal Corpse and Snoop Doggy Dogg) to be the musical equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theatre. For good measure, Lieberman also castigated Hilary Rosen, then-president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for failing to acknowledge in her testimony just "how terrible this music is." 

Also in 1997 (4:09), The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on the ineffectiveness of the TV ratings system they had recently imposed on the industry. Presented as evidence were clips of Friends and Beverly Hills, 90210, testimony from Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) on how a violent television show gave one of his sons nightmares, and the direct threat ("Don't force us to legislate!") from Lieberman to the TV industry. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), most recently seen defending unauthorized bombings of Libya and other foreign countries during his confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State, suggested a "pre-see," where the scripts of all television shows would be "printed in the papers" so people could judge the content of the show before they watched it.

In 1993 (5:34), Joe Lieberman and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs took on the scourge of ultra-realistic 16-bit video games and plastic toys. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and a Nintendo "Super Scope" were exhibited as evidence. A visibly distressed Lieberman said that the Nintendo game accessory "looks like an assault weapon."

Also in 1993 (6:05), Attorney General Janet Reno responded to mail from elementary school students begging her to end violent programming during the Senate Commerce Committee's hearing on Violence in Television Programming. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) lauded MTV's decision to move its hit show Beaver and Buffcoat (he meant Beavis and Butt-head) to a later time slot. Such action, said Hollings (who admitted he had never watched the cartoon), was evidence of the effectiveness of the hearings "we've been having for 40 years."

In 1985 (7:15), Tipper Gore, the wife of then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.), Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker, and several other well-connected "Washington wives," founded the Parents Music Research Council (PMRC). The PMRC used their husband's bully pulpits to hold hearings on the dangers of "Porn Rock."

This most famous of hearings led directly to the "Warning: Parental Advisory" labels affixed to album covers (remember those?) and also featured memorable confrontations between Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Sen. Gore, a passionate defense of the First Amendment by Frank Zappa, extended discussions about Satanism in heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons, and unintentionally hilarious recitations of lyrics from artists as diverse as Prince, KISS, and scat-rockers The Mentors.

About 10 minutes.

Written and Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

Music: "80’s interlude" by Fanas (

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  • Enough About Palin||


  • sarcasmic||

    It was worth it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Unbelievably? Who believes congressional hearings are anything but dumb? And wouldn't it be quicker to list the hearings that weren't dumb?

  • Sudden||

    Then there would be no video.

  • ||

    "It didn't look like a hand grenade, it looked like a CD. Unfortunately, it was a hand grenade."

    Fucking Liebermann. It's good to be reminded how awful he really is.

  • Tim||

    I think enduring public school with the last name of "Kuntz" was probably a factor.

  • ||

    "Why are people afraid of words."

  • Sailfree||

    Thank you, Frank Zappa! I had forgotten how great he was in those hearings. The contrast between his intelligence and the idiocy of our elected representatives comes across even in those short clips. Watching this provided a powerful but often overlooked reason for skepticism about government: the caliber of the people who seek to work in it.

  • Andrew S.||

    See, I always preferred John Denver's testimony, because of how well spoken and calm he was, and because he shocked the hell out of everyone conducting the hearings who were so sure he'd be on their side.

    IIRC, Frank Zappa was the one that made everyone think of Strom Thurmond and his wife and certain sexual activities; it's been nearly 30 years and the image still tortures me so.

  • Loki||


    I'm pretty sure they brought John Denver in specifically because they thought for sure he would be an actual recording artist who would be on their side. Apparently they forgot about the "drug reference" scandal surrounding his song Rocky Mountain High just a few years earlier.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Lieberman labeled the SNES SuperScope an "assault weapon". Thank goodness it was banned by the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, because that thing was a waste of batteries.

  • sarcasmic||

  • Loki||

    Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) lauded MTV's decision to move its hit show Beaver and Buffcoat (he meant Beavis and Butt-head)

    He probably was just confusing the porn parody with the actual show.

  • Frank_Carbonni||

    Actually the porno version is called "Beaver and Buttface" and it stars porn legend Buck Adams.

    Here is a humorous review:

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Penn and Teller parodied the calls for more "educational" video games by making a video game in which you drove from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time at a maximum speed of 45 mph.

  • Liberty||

    Reason mag is not libertarian. It is cosmotarian. What's anti-libertarian about saying that the media can affect behavior? Nothing. Cosmatarians see nothing wrong with our society, though. Any criticism is "censorship." I defend the first amendment. And I think that responsible parents shouldn't let their kids watch this crap.

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    I agree and I don't let my kids watch this crap. However, it's not the business of the wretched little pricks that make up our government, what I let my kids watch.

  • Andrew S.||

    You really, really need to improve your trolling skills. Either that or your reading and listening comprehension. Or, as is likely, all of the above.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    When I read "Reason is cosmotarian!", I'm not sure who is a troll and who is arguing in good faith.

  • CosmoBro||

    Oh, believe me, he/she (he) is shitting us not. He posts this paleo-pandering drivel on every article he finds to be even slightly antithetical to his draconian image of modern American society. He may sing the praises of limited government, but deep down, he's as collectivist as they come. Ain't that right, Liberty 'ole boy?

  • CosmoBro||


  • FucktheNannyState||

    Yeah, but my parents' generation had fuckin' Lenny Bruce ..

    my generation is a bunch of pussies who have nothing cool to hope for.

  • Lola||

    At 9:03, my mom (who was listening from the other room, unbeknownst to me) shouted that all the congressmen probably have a stiffy by this point.

  • Suellington||

    Watching Dee Snider tell Al Gore that Tipper must be into sadomasochism if she was reading that into one of his songs had to have been one of the best moments in any congressional hearing ever.

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