Beware of Warnings


The recording industry has lately been observing a strange variation of the Golden Rule: Do unto yourself what others would do unto you (only be gentler).

The industry recently applied this maxim to head off a host of state bills that would have required warning labels on objectionable music and imposed penalties on retailers who failed to comply. The legislative movement began in Missouri, where the proposed label would have read, "WARNING: May contain explicit lyrics descriptive of or advocating one or more of the following: nudity, satanism, suicide, sodomy, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, adultery, murder, morbid violence, or any deviate sexual conduct in a violent context, or the use of illegal drugs or alcohol. PARENTAL ADVISORY."

Similar bills were introduced in 17 other states, and one was approved by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Some of the measures would also have banned sales of nasty music to minors.

In the spring, after the major record producers agreed to a system of uniform labels reading, "Explicit Lyrics—Parental Advisory," the legislators who introduced the bills announced that they would drop them.

But government officials who are outraged by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, and Twisted Sister don't need new laws to fight the forces of darkness. In March, for example, police in Sarasota, Florida, arrested a record store employee for selling an 11-year-old the album As Nasty as They Wanna Be by the rap group The 2 Live Crew. The clerk was charged with selling harmful materials to a minor, a felony. The campaign against dirty lyrics has also given a new lease on life to state obscenity laws, which provide a pretext for an even broader assault. Several record-store chains have already announced that they will no longer sell controversial recordings.