First of all: This is one of the best album covers. Ever. Partly because of how absurd it is, but more so because of how cool 2 Live Crew thinks they are in it.
Second of all: Remember when butts and naughty words in music were fought in court because it would hurt young, impressionable minds? Well, now it’s video games that are bad for us…
Third: I totally saw these guy perform in a strip club in SC, circa 2003.
I am bringing back this essay I wrote because, sadly, it seems that the ‘values’ brigade is in full swing…again (though, did they ever really stop?). If you didn’t know, currently the Supreme Court is hearing a case against the creation and availability of violent video games. What constitutes as ‘too violent’ and for whom? And where is Tipper Gore and her lunatic-uppity-moral-fringe when you need it?!
Lots of talk about whether certain material should be in video games is being argued: too much violence? what kind of violence (maiming, dismemberment, sexual violence, etc) and what kind of language is ‘appropriate’ for what age groups (or anyone at all)? Jesus, haven’t we been here before? yes. And didn’t we decide that music (and here, video games) are not going to destroy our youth? And outside of court cases – did any of us really turn into degenerates because we listened to Marilyn Manson? Or Twisted Sister? Or because we played Doom? And is it really the job of our government to police who watches or plays what and whether or not they are mentally sound to begin with?
The full transcript of the first day at trial is here , and I am happy to report that our Supreme Court is asking tough questions about independent groups who are trying to justify limiting free speech. Some excellent questions asked were:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What’s the difference? mean, if you are supposing a category of violent materials dangerous to children, then how do you cut it off at video games? What about films? What about comic books? Grimm’s fairy tales?
Why are video games special? Or does your principle extend to all deviant, violent material in whatever form?
and apparently our Justices are former Mortal Combat players:
Justice Kagan: You think Mortal Kombat is prohibited by this statute?…a reasonable jury could find that Mortal Kombat, which is an iconic game, which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spend considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing.
and Justice Sotomayor brings up the issue of whether or not non-human violence counts under the proposed law – and whether or not that makes any goddamned sense in a sweet-ass finishing move (finish him!):
Justice Sotomayor: So what happens when the character gets maimed, head chopped off and immediately after it happens they spring back to life and they continue their battle. Is that covered by your act? Because they haven’t been maimed and killed forever. Just temporarily.
the answer to that question, by the way, was: I would think so. The intent of the law is to limit minors’ access to those games.
To which my friend Ed adds: How about enacting a law that makes kids today play the games that we grew up with? Then they would be outside all day, playing and doing kid stuff.
For a really thorough breakdown of the hearing, head to Kotaku.
So that’s why I am digging this fella’ out of the woodwork – my thoughts on censorship, moral authority and amazingly dated music videos.
Let’s start with what brought about the controversy to begin with:
The men of 2 Live Crew had the odds stacked against them to begin with. Firstly, they are a trio of minorities talking about their sexual escapades over hip-hop beats and samples from Full Metal Jacket. With the late 80’s, early 90’s ushering in a new era of hip-hop and rap, combined with the moral high-ground many American religious groups, particularly those with pull in the government, 2 Live Crew came into the public light with an explicit, uncensored, BANG. Lyrics suggesting sexual intercourse, and detailed descriptions of genitals, among other things, led to the American Family Association to take notice, and ultimately forge a moral war on the artists and ‘obscene’ music in general, as they certainly hoped, in my opinion, to set a precedent by banning this music.
This whole situation, of course, is so ridiculous it is almost hard to believe that it really happened. The lyrics were absolutely crude, and they were also funny, satirical, and metaphorical and reflected an important subculture in America at the time, not to mention were fully within 2 Live Crew’s rights to write, sing and produce. The limiting of that expression through censorship is, and remains, against the law. Hence, the Luke Skywalker Record v. Navarro lawsuit 2 Live Crew filed for “unlawful deprivations of federal rights including those liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution”.
Judge Gonzalez, who was presiding over the case, decided he would take it upon himself to determine if the album was ‘obscene’ by using ‘community standards’. Not surprisingly, the Judge decided without any expert testimony heard on either side, that the music was legally obscene (which, if you weren’t sure, obscenity is not protected under the First Amendment) and to sell, distribute or perform the music would be illegal. Also not surprisingly, 2 Live Crew performed many of the songs on the album in question, Bad As I Wanna Be, shortly after the Judge’s decision. And they were arrested.
The artists stood trial for their arrests, but this time the trial was executed the way it should have been the first time. Gonzales took the case: appropriately hearing both sides of the story along with expert testimony to attest to the albums artistic relevance. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say the men of 2 Live Crew are “literary geniuses” as Henry Louis Gates, Jr does (yes, that Henry Louis Gates), it is obvious with the multiple testimonies of scholars and music producers alike that this music should not, and constitutionally cannot be, banned.
The artists were ultimately found not guilty at this trial, and subsequently their original case Luke Skywalker Records v Navarro, was decided in favor of the artists, 2 years later. 2 Live Crew released another single called Banned in the USA where they sing “you can’t stand to see a brother get as rich as you”. Well isn’t that the subtext of it all? I think it’s pretty clear that much of the hoopla about this music came from deeply rooted, thinly veiled racism. But what doesn’t stem from homophobia, racism, bigotry and general inconsideration of others these days?!
Im happy to report that I got a taste of the vulgarity during a trip to a strip joint in South Carolina when I was in college. The moment Jordi found out that they would be playing, we hopped in the car and drove the 30min across the border from GA to spend the afternoon feeding dollar bills to young women who needed to pay the billz. I was too poor to ‘make it rain’, but Biz Markie did his best to make up for it! After singing along to Hoochie Mama, I can safely say that breasts and ass were no longer perceived as sexual characteristics, but rather benign objects that no longer had any significance other than to prove the existence of gravity.
It was at once bizarre and magical, offensive and hilarious, and dare I say, some of what the ladies and gents on stage were doing was…obscene. Good thing the moral brigade wasn’t there to judge. We would have missed out on a cherish memory…well, the parts we didn’t want to forget that is.
Point is, just because I may not have liked what I was seeing, or what I see kids playing, or hear what other people listen to, doesn’t mean I have the fucking right to tell other people what to do/play with/listen to/ in their free time. And neither does the government. And neither do you, or anyone. And you know what else? Don’t want your kids playing violent video games? Then stop buying them. Or turn off the tv. Or actually have a conversation with your kids about right and wrong, reality and fiction. Kids are pretty smart, and a lot smarted than adults give them credit for.
As for my dalliance with 2 Live Crew in a strip joint…well, my parents wouldn’t be proud, but I’ll leave that decision up to youthful indiscretion. ;)