Here We Are Now, Scrutinize Us

The Entertainment Monitor sticks its nose in the music business

In 1968, Johnny Cash's Live At San Quentin cut "A Boy Named Sue" became the first song in Top 40 history to have a cuss word (bitch) bleeped out on the air. Fair enough--while bad words go over big with shackled audiences, no one expected the Man in Black to turn AM airwaves blue. But who'd have thought that A Boy Named Goo would suffer even worse censorship woes just for spilling blackberry juice all over himself?

Last month, that recent platinum album by the Goo Goo Dolls was pulled off all Wal-Mart store shelves for its "offensive cover." A Wal-Mart spokesperson told USA Today that the retailer dumped the record because some customers complained "the baby was covered with blood, symbolizing child abuse."

Didn't those chuckleheads read the album title? What are we, a nation of sheltered veal? A bunch of wankers that needs an escort to take a piss? If you don't believe we're backslidin' into Victorian times, think again. Imagine Herb Alpert's infamous 1965 album Whipped Cream and Other Delights coming out in such a climate. What would that album cover's seminude, semicreamed model be accused of advocating--cannibalism?

Maybe if Time Warner had stood up to censorship advocates like Empower America the first time around, another Warner Bros. album wouldn't be in hot water now. In the face of a threatened boycott over Dog Food, the controversial album by Tha Dogg Pound, that giant entertainment conglomerate buckled. It stopped distributing Interscope Records, giving the watch-Dogg yahoos a sense of accomplishment. And thanks to the ensuing publicity, Tha Dogg Pound had no problem finding another distributor.

When I first glanced through the Entertainment Monitor, a magazine fresh outta Beverly Hills that aims to spell out the pertinent information kids are absorbing from Top 40 music, I believed its publisher Charlie Gilreath to be only the latest in a long line of nervous Nellies. But in conversation, he doesn't come off much like an alarmist Reverend Donald Wildmon entertainment vigilante type, out to exorcise the world of White Zombie.

"The truth is that I listen to a lot of the records that would not be suitable for kids--Alice in Chains, Goldfinger, Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson is pretty over-the-top for a teen or preteen. That's my opinion, but my opinion doesn't appear in the magazine. It doesn't need to. The bottom line is if we write in Entertainment Monitor that Marilyn Manson goes onstage with dildos and engages in sex--it's fact. You don't need to editorialize any further."

Gilreath, a 35-year-old stepfather of two children ages 6 and 12, came into parenthood rather suddenly, so perhaps he's less a bundle of nerves around new music than many parents of the "loin of my loins" variety might be. Still, he was a bit unnerved to hear his own daughter mouthing that infamous "is she perverted like me" line.

"My 12-year-old is a fantastic kid, but when I come home and she's singing 'You Oughta Know' and that Gillette song that goes 'You gotta lick it before you kick it,' you get a little sensitive and say maybe this isn't the record I want to buy for them.

"There's a whole other world out there that you and I never knew existed," he continues. "I get calls across the nation from parents who are freaked that their child has run off with the Marilyn Manson band and carved the group's name across her chest. True story."

Last year, Gilreath launched the Music Monitor to help inform parents on the content of their kids' music. The latest version of the bimonthly has expanded coverage that includes other entertainment forms, but music is still Entertainment Monitor's main focus. Compare the 70 pages it regularly devotes to music reviews to the five dedicated to the Internet, and four each for movies and television.

"The impression people get when they view the magazine initially is that it gives parents this information so that they may avoid certain records and films," he says. "I don't believe parents avoid them because of the information. I think they just want to buy it with both eyes open."

If you'll recall, it was a both-eyes-closed Tipper Gore, co-founder of the Parents Music Resource Center, who bought her kid a copy of Prince's Purple Rain album and tried punishing the whole music industry for her own ignorance.

A criticism Gilreath often hears is that his magazine's method of running reviews with symbols underneath, denoting either sexual content (S), violence (V), "potentially offensive language" (L), "potentially offensive slang" (SL) and drugs (D) smacks of the record rating system PMRC once advocated. Yet even though PMRC is a strong supporter of the Monitor, Gilreath disavows any connection with that organization's record-rating intentions.

"I think ratings and warning stickers are a waste of time. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has proven they're ineffectual. A rating puts in perspective one record or work in relation to another. Ratings also imply a scale of judgment, better or worse, good or bad. We're merely identifying content. We joke that if we had the Bible in the magazine we'd give it an 'S' and a 'V.' That doesn't rate it, it clarifies the content.

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