Gore/Lieberman: ticket to hide for music industry

'Culture Wars' divide Democratic Party and entertainers.

Pop Music

August 13, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Music Critic

Cast your mind back a few years, to a Senate subcommittee hearing on vulgar lyrics and offensive messages in popular music.

One of the witnesses, in high dudgeon, describes at length and with horror the disturbing and disgusting things some pop groups sing about. Finally, the witness angrily tells the committee, "[these records are] telling our children it's the season of senseless violence, hopelessness and the most awful ill will toward each other ...

"This is extreme, awful, disgusting stuff kids are listening to."

What is this person's relation to presidential candidate Al Gore?

If you answered "his wife," you're wrong. In this case, the speaker isn't Al Gore's mate, but his running mate -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

Tipper Gore made headlines in 1985 when she and the "Washington Wives" of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) testified before a Senate subcommittee about the shocking content of pop music lyrics.

Back then, Lieberman was just a provincial Connecticut politician. But he has more than made up for lost time. Since being elected to the Senate in 1988, Lieberman as been in the front lines of the conservative-oriented "culture wars," often working with Reagan-era moralist William Bennett.

The quote in question comes from a dirty lyrics hearing in 1997. In addition to that testimony, Lieberman was a vocal part of the movement to "shame" Interscope Records into ending its association with gangsta rap label Death Row. Pop music isn't his only concern, though. Lieberman frequently speaks out against what he considers to be vulgar and vile TV programming and co-sponsored the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which made the V-chip (a device that allowed users to screen out certain types of "objectionable" programming) standard equipment in the United States.

Don't expect him to give up the fight now that he's a vice presidential candidate. As he said in a speech last week, a Gore administration would "help renew the moral center of this nation."

Such talk has many in the pop music business -- traditionally a target for those seeking to renew the moral center of things -- worried that Al Gore is heading a two-Tipper ticket.

"It is a little alarming to consider that the two people most in Al Gore's ear will be Tipper and Joe Lieberman," says Alan Light, editor of Spin magazine, who points out that culture war issues had not, to this point, been a major factor in the Gore campaign. "They've done a seemingly deliberate job of keeping Tipper away from talking about PMRC-related issues through this campaign," he says. "Obviously, this pushes those sort of issues to the fore."

Some of those issues are already staring us in the face. Last week's issue of Entertainment Weekly, for example, featured a photo of rapper Eminem with a cover-line blaring, "Are There No Limits?" The rapper makes an attractive target for cultural conservatives, as his multi-platinum "The Marshall Mathers LP" includes everything from homosexual slurs to a rap in which Eminem luridly imagines kidnapping and beating his own wife.

"The Marshall Mathers LP" is precisely the sort of edgy entertainment Lieberman considers his duty to denounce. He was, for instance, widely quoted when denouncing shock-rockers Marilyn Manson as being "the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company."

For most of the last decade, Lieberman -- a centrist Democrat and orthodox Jew -- has been an anomaly in the culture wars, a cause which is largely identified with conservative Republicans and the Christian Right. But as music critic Dave Marsh, author of the book "50 Ways to Fight Censorship," points out, Lieberman's distance from the Christian right is more a matter of theology than ideology.

"Joe Lieberman, if he were a Christian, would be in the Christian Coalition," says Marsh. "His politics in every way -- aside from the fact that he goes to church from Friday night to Saturday night, as opposed to on Sunday and Wednesday -- are the politics of the Christian conservatives."

It's worth noting that even though the "culture war" issue has been largely identified with conservative politicians such as Bennett, Reform candidate Pat Buchanan and former senator Bob Dole, there has long been a bi-partisan aspect to the battle. When Tipper Gore founded the PMRC, she made sure to include activists from both parties and shared its leadership with Susan Baker, wife of former Republican senator Howard Baker.

As instructive was the Sister Souljah incident in 1992. After President George Bush made political hay by attacking rapper Ice-T for the song "Cop Killer," then-candidate Bill Clinton used a meeting with Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition Leadership Summit to lambaste rapper Sister Souljah for saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"

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