Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Hearings


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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 (http://localrec.ro/fanas)

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