The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'moral panic'
Fifty years ago, the governor of Indiana received an obscenity complaint about the (all but incomprehensible) lyrics of a rock'n'roll song, “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, which he passed to the FBI. Before they could prosecute those involved, they were faced with the problem of determining what the lyrics (which had been derived from a calypso number from 1957, originally in a cod Caribbean patois, but rendered incomprehensible by the braces worn by the Kingsmen's lead singer) actually meant, and prove that it was actually obscene; and so began an exhaustive investigation, in which the valiant G-men strove, with McCarthyite zeal, to uncover the sinister plot against America's youth by deciphering exactly what kind of filth the lyrics might be:
The subsequent report on the song – unearthed in 1984 by video producer Eric Predoehl – runs for more than 140 pages. The records of the FBI's various attempts to work out the exact kind of obscenities that Louie Louie supposedly contained make for fantastic, demented reading. You can picture agents slowly going nuts as they desperately struggle to pin something, anything, dirty on the lyrics, regardless of whether or not that something makes any sense or actually features in the lyric. "Oh my bed and I lay her there, I meet a rose in her hair," suggested one interpretation. "We'll fuck your girl and by the way," offered another, failing to answer the fairly obvious question this provoked: what, exactly, is by the way? Some of the interpretations were quite lyrical – "Hey Señorita, I'm hot as hell" – although others were not: "Get that broad out of here!"One ad-hoc translator thought it was about masturbation: "Every night and day I play with my thing." Another particularly creative agent seemed to think it centered around the subject of performing cunnilingus on a woman who was menstruating – "She's got a rag on, I'll move above" – which, with the best will in the world, seems a spectacularly improbable topic for any rock band, no matter how raunchy, to be addressing in 1963. Another, more creative still, seems to have actually invented a perversion to fit the garbled vocals: "I felt my bone … ah … in her hair."
In fact, the bureau's persistence says less about the Kingsmen than the era in which it took place. Intriguingly, the concerned letters about Louie Louie and the start of the FBI's investigation coincide with the Beatles' arrival in the US: I Want To Hold Your Hand began its seven-week run at No 1 on 7 February, their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show – watched by 73 million people and considered a seismic event in US pop culture – came two days later. These days, we tend to think of the moptop-era Beatles as uncomplicated, unthreatening and universally adored, but to a certain kind of reactionary mind, the Beatles were anything but uncomplicated and unthreatening. Their very appearance marked them out as unfathomably strange and alien (in one extreme version of this response, far-right British politician John Tyndall, described the Beatles in 1963 as "effeminate oddities … looking for all the world like the members of some primitive African tribe", before accusing them of ushering an era of "weirdness in the male type"). Furthermore, after several years in which rock'n'roll appeared to have been entirely denuded of its provocative power – its initial rawness streamlined and diluted with parent-friendly intimations of pre-rock pop by Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell et al – you only had to look at the reaction the Beatles were getting to know that rock'n'roll was suddenly an incredibly potent force once more.The investigation failed to produce anything more than paranoid fancy, but did have the unintended consequence of transforming an incomprehensible, otherwise forgettable rock'n'roll ditty—one which would have almost certainly been swept from history by the tide of Beatlemania months later—into an anthem of pure rock'n'roll rebellion by fiat, a sort of Necronomicon of the moral panics that spanned the gap from the McCarthy Red Scare to the Satanic panic of the Reagan years, its very lack of definition allowing interpreters to read their own demonologies of choice into it. And many, amongst them Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and The Clash, did versions, filling in the blanks with mundane vulgarities of their own devising (and a few cribbed from the FBI report), to varying effects.
Let it not be said that the Catholic Church is out of touch with the pressing issues of today; a six-day conference in the Vatican this week discussed the alarming, internet-driven rise in Satanism that has been keeping the Vatican's exorcists flat out:
"The internet makes it much easier than in the past to find information about Satanism," said Carlo Climati, a member of the university who specialises in the dangers posed to young people by Satanism. "In just a few minutes you can contact Satanist groups and research occultism."It's good to see that the Vatican is concerned about protecting young people from danger.
An exorcist should be called when "the moral certainty has been reached that the person is possessed", said Father Nanni, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. That could be indicated by radical and disturbing changes in the person's behaviour and voice, or an ability to garble in foreign languages or nonsensical gibberish.
Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron, scream, dribble and slobber, utter blasphemies and have to be physically restrained."Amorth" is a great name for a priest specialising in Satanic possession; it even sounds like a Norwegian black-metal musician's stage name.
It's Paedogeddon: The FBI has released an alert, warning that a new Barbie doll with an embedded video camera could be used to make child pornography; the terror level has been raised to pink. There haven't actually been any recorded incidents of the Barbie Video Girl dolls having been used by paedoterrorists, but there have been incidents of paedophiles using dolls (not containing cameras) and hidden cameras (not embedded in dolls). Nonetheless, the alert has prompted several more suggestible parents to express concern about the irresponsibility of Mattel marketing such a dangerous "toy".
The Daily Mail Song, an exposé of the venomously right-wing, outrage-mongering British tabloid delivered in the form of a Subterranean Homesick Blues-style folk song. Brilliant and spot-on.
The virus has increased fourfold in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside, the areas of Britain where Facebook is most popular, because it has given people a new way to meet multiple partners for casual sexual encounters.
Weaponizing Mozart, an article on how classical music is being used in Britain's war on its own youth:
The weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re so desperate to control youth—but from a distance, without actually having to engage with them—that they will film their every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights in their eyes, and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities, in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The dangerous message being sent to young people is clear: 1) you are scum; 2) classical music is not a wonder of the human world, it’s a repellent against mildly anti-social behavior.
Tabloids and Tory politicians have been claiming that Britain is a "broken society"; The Economist looks at the figures and shows that, actually, that's a load of rubbish; while Britain does have its share of social problems, it had much worse before:
As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages. A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations, but he is also a lot less likely to beat her. In homing in on the cosier parts of the Britain of yesteryear, it is easy to ignore the horrors that have gone. Straight white men are especially vulnerable to this sort of amnesia.The perpetuators of the myth of "broken Britain", a society in violent decay, are building a narrative that strengthens kneejerk culture-war reactions, such as the Tories' tax breaks for married couples (read: "sin taxes" on the unmarried), whilst ignoring the cause of Britain's social problems: too little spent on education:
The waning of the manufacturing jobs that used to be the mainstay of the working class has created a generation of young males, in particular, who don’t know what to do with themselves. Britons have been boozers and scrappers for centuries, but self-destructive behaviour today in part reflects the perception that their lives are not worth much. As for children bearing children, there is evidence elsewhere that if girls are given better education—not just about sex, but also in areas likely to improve their job prospects—they are less likely to get pregnant at 16. Yet for all the official talk at home about ever-improving exam results, Britain is beginning to slide down the international league table of educational attainment.
(via David Gerard)
Weren't the 1950s awesome? Exhibit (a): an American high-school marriage-education textbook (from 1962, though culturally part of the conservative 1950s, before the Communists successfully fluoridated the water supply and brought about what is commonly known as The Nineteen-Sixties):
Exhibit (b): a letter written in 1956 to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover by the editor of a Catholic newspaper, concerning the moral threat posed to America's youth by a young singer named Elvis Presley:
But eyewitnesses have told me that Presley's actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. One eye-witness described his actions as “sexual self-gratification on the stage," — another as “a striptease with clothes on." Although police and auxiliaries were there, the show went on. Perhaps the hardened police did not get the import of his motions and gestures, like those of masturbation or riding a microphone.
I do not report idly to the FBI. My last official report to an FBI agent in New York before I entered the U.S. Army resulted in arrest of a saboteur (who committed suicide before his trial). I believe the Presley matter is as serious to U.S. security. I am convinced that juvenile crimes of lust and perversion will follow his show here in La Crosse.
As politicians and wowsers decry the evil, corrupting influence of video games, Tom Standage (author of The Victorian Internet) looks at the moral panics created by previous new technologies and media:
"The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?"
- Reverend Enos Hitchcock, Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, 1790
"Many adults think that the crimes described in comic books are so far removed from the child's life that for children they are merely something imaginative or fantastic. But we have found this to be a great error. Comic books and life are connected. A bank robbery is easily translated into the rifling of a candy store. Delinquencies formerly restricted to adults are increasingly committed by young people and children ... All child drug addicts, and all children drawn into the narcotics traffic as messengers, with whom we have had contact, were inveterate comic-book readers This kind of thing is not good mental nourishment for children!"
- Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, 1954
"The effect of rock and roll on young people, is to turn them into devil worshippers; to stimulate self-expression through sex; to provoke lawlessness; impair nervous stability and destroy the sanctity of marriage. It is an evil influence on the youth of our country."
- Minister Albert Carter, 1956
(via Boing Boing)
Humorless animal-rights activists have succeeded in getting sweets shaped like roadkill withdrawn from sale, on the grounds that it could make children believe that cruelty to animals is delicious. (via bOING bOING)
at the risk of sounding like the Daily Mail or someone, this sounds like an instance of political correctness run amok. Are children really sufficiently susceptible to influence that a piece of macabre candy can instill sadistic tendencies in them? I guess that explains why the baby boomers who grew up in the 1950s, the golden age of ghoulicious children's entertainment, all turned out to be murderous psychopaths.
Or, to quote The Parking Lot Is Full:
The US state of Kansas is taking on the goth problem in schools:
"Last week, a parent told me her two kids were talking about this at dinner," Crain said. "And one of them said 'I'm so glad Ms. Crain did this, because a Goth sat behind me last year and every single day he'd hiss at me like a snake.' And that impeded his learning."
"There's always been a policy in our dress code against gang or group-related clothing," Principal Cherie Crain said. "Because there's power in numbers. When a group looks alike, they terrorize other kids or intimidate them. Sixth graders in particular were very intimidated by the cultist look. "
Jocks and preppies, of course, are exempted from these regulations because they look normal.
(Aside: a friend of mine went to the US a while ago and bought in a thrift shop a T-shirt apparently made for wearing by school staff, which had the school logo, as well as words like "DRUGS", "GANGS" and "TARDIES", crossed out. Could the word "GOTHS" be soon joining these on such shirts?)
It appears that the recent panic about cameraphones happened 116 years earlier, when Kodak released the first portable camera:
The appearance of Eastman's cameras was so sudden and so pervasive that the reaction in some quarters was fear. A figure called the "camera fiend" began to appear at beach resorts, prowling the premises until he could catch female bathers unawares. One resort felt the trend so heavily that it posted a notice: "PEOPLE ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE THEIR KODAKS ON THE BEACH." Other locations were no safer. For a time, Kodak cameras were banned from the Washington Monument. The "Hartford Courant" sounded the alarm as well, declaring that "the sedate citizen can't indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children."
Given the recent prohibitions on photography at railway stations from the New York Subway to the City Loop in Melbourne (undoubtedly to make people feel that something's being done to fight terrorism or somesuch), it appears that the "camera fiend" never really left the public demonology.
Authorities across the Middle East are cracking down on music subcultures: form heavy-metal fans in Morocco to gay disco-dancing "Satanists" in Lebanon to anything to do with Michael Jackson in Saudi Arabia.
Among the objects exhibited in court as being contrary to good morals was a black T-shirt with heavy metal symbols on it. This prompted the judge to comment that "normal people go to concerts in a suit and tie".
Lebanese devil worshippers are easily recognised. According to one security official, they are young men with long hair and beards who "listen to hard rock music, drink mind-altering alcoholic cocktails and take off their black shirts, dancing bare-chested".
What is probably the most bizarre heavy-metal-and-satanism case occurred in Egypt in 1997 when state security police, armed with machine guns and satanically clad in masks and black uniforms, dragged about 70 youngsters - some as young as 16 - from their beds in a series of dawn raids. They took away posters from bedroom walls, CDs and tapes ranging from Guns 'n' Roses to Beethoven's fifth symphony and, in one household, a black t-shirt with a Bugs Bunny design.
"In the 1980s," Mohammed continued, "Saudis started dressing like [Michael Jackson], copying his hairstyle and doing moonwalks on the roundabouts. This is the reason most people give me about why his stuff is not allowed here.
Fun facts about Australia: Did you know that in Australia importing guitars incurs a 5% duty; other instruments are duty free. Could it be one of Bob Menzies' attempts to protect Australia's youth from the harmful influence of Rock'n'Roll?
(I once heard it claimed that the importation of electric guitars was prohibited during the 1950s, presumably because of moral panics about American-style teenage rebellion infecting our youth. I haven't seen any documentation on this though. Can anybody confirm or refute this?) (ta, Graham)
An interesting (if perhaps somewhat too sympathetic) look at Goth culture in the US Midwest, where a $273,000 grant was recently awarded to a youth outreach unit to
combat study "goth culture" and the leaders preying on our children.
(via Rebecca's Pocket)
As she sits still, her pale back exposed to him like a canvas, he pulls out an X-Acto knife. He leans in and carefully scratches the razor across her back in short strokes. Thin lines of blood appear in an abstract design. Not once does she wince.
Draven says he's a vampire, that he drinks blood, believes in werewolves and smokes weed. "It's a religion," he says, though he can't name any rituals beyond drinking his friends' blood and partying. He says he likes that people seem afraid of him, but he also thinks people should accept him like anyone else. Then he walks off.
(Heh; I've met goths like that...)
(I say too sympathetic, because it completely glosses over what petty-minded, bitchy tossers most goths are; and how, for all the noise they make about being "creative" and "original", they are one of the most uncreative and slavishly derivative youth subcultures around. But I digress.)
This is not the Onion: The Islamic theocracy of Iran is ahead of the U.S. in sex education. Mostly because of the U.S.'s federally-mandated "abstinence-only" sex education and panic about regarding under-18s as sexual beings. (For example, the Missouri legislature, presumably taking a break from the War On Goths, recently voted to cut $100,000 from a University's budget to punish a professor who claimed that the 'moral panic' over paedophilia is exaggerated.)
Update: An AlterNet story about the issue, and about a controversial book criticising the whole notion of protecting minors from the very knowledge of sex.
(via Unknown News, The Fix)
Missouri vs. the Mascaraed Menace: A wide-eyedly earnest response to Missouri's goth-eradication campaign, in what appears to be the Goth equivalent of one of those britneyblogs which goes on about how N'Sync are really talented artists and people who say they aren't are just mean. Meanwhile, some advice on what to spend the goth-eradication fund on. They range from MKULTRA-style provocation to start clique wars to paying Britney Spears to do a Bauhaus cover. (via deadlybloodyserious.com.)
In the US the Bible-belt state of Missouri has allocated US$273,000 to stamp out "Goth culture" among its youth. Which is a laudable goal, though probably not for the reasons they had in mind. (via rotten.com)