Friday, December 13, 2013

The Phoenix Takes Over Tears of Crimson

I present to you a twisted tale, born of politics, sex and music in a time we like to call the nineties. It was early in that decade, with vigorous campaigning for the 1992 presidential election taking a special place in the media. Go ahead and get started.

MTV, the music television channel was still in the habit of playing music videos back then and was championing the cause of Miami bass group 2 Live Crew in the name of free speech. Because of the graphically explicit lyrics on the group’s “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” album, 2 Live Crew had been the target of an obscenity trial and the album became the first ever to be ruled legally obscene (although one would think “illegally obscene” would be the proper term). Under the spotlight of Tipper Gore’s Parents’ Music Resource Committee (PMRC) and the Broward County Sheriff, the Crew was subjected to album seizures and arrest after a live performance. MTV played their videos, gave their ongoing situation plenty of MTV News coverage and tied the whole thing into their “Rock the Vote” effort to get their viewers interested in voting. In addition to campaign coverage, music luminaries like Madonna participated in attention-grabbing public service spots prompting people to vote.

I know it may be hard to believe since recent political party activities have actually tried to discourage select demographics of potential voters, but the 1992 campaign had a special focus on trying to draw younger voters. George Bush was seen as having an unassailable position, largely because of older, conservative voters. Bill Clinton made his play for the younger, more liberal citizens. The day after he received the Democratic Party nomination, he appeared on Arsenio Hall’s late-night talk show and played “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone. His cool factor instantly skyrocketed. Clinton became a darling of both young and minority Americans and leapt ahead of Bush in the polls. That was June. “Rock the Vote” became even bigger and MTV kept shouting self-righteously about standing behind 2 Live Crew.

In October, things changed. The aforementioned Madonna released a book titled “Sex” in conjunction with her much anticipated “Erotica” album and the single “Justify My Love”. As usual, many loved it and some hated it. Leading the controversy, “Justify My Love” had a video that didn’t shy away from Madonna engaging in homoerotic activity. Pitchforks were taken up and torches were lit. Some critics said Madonna had killed her career. Naturally, no one remembers those critics because they’re irrelevant. Ted Koppel did a Nightline episode on the controversy, showed the video, then had an open talk about it. Something was missing, though…

Oh, right! MTV. If anybody was going to stand with Madonna, it should’ve been MTV. She was a music powerhouse. She was one of MTV’s key attractions. Siding with Madonna was a no-brainer, especially after all the First Amendment rants and 2 Live Crew support MTV had engaged in over the previous year. So, MTV mouthpieces quickly announced that MTV wasn’t going to run Madonna’s new video. Wait a minute! Was there a typo? Did someone misspeak?

MTV wasn’t going to run Madonna’s new video. Baffling. More than a little hypocritical. This made no sense.  So…without the convenience of the internet, (yes, welcome to the dark age of pre-worldwide web) I grabbed my land line phone and dove into the task of tracking down a phone number for MTV. Finding it, I called New York City and got as far as the MTV receptionist of whom I demanded to be connected with someone who could provide me with an explanation of their indefensible position. As it turned out, that person was the receptionist. Apparently, MTV had gotten a lot of phone calls from people demanding the same thing I was and so the execs prepared the poor woman with a single tool: the explanatory statement that “It’s just not for us.”

Seriously? That was it? I left her with a message for her employers: MTV is just not for me.
That ended our exchange with all the satisfaction it was going to bring. I turned MTV off my TV and didn’t look back. The folks at MTV had decided that they couldn’t predict which side of the issue was going to be the cool one nor, more importantly, which was going to be best for the bottom line, so the decision was to just stay out of it. That struck me as supremely uncool.

Free expression is important to me. When it comes to words, images and music, I continue to stand by the opinion that if you don’t like them, don’t look or listen. Not liking them, though doesn’t give you the right to suppress someone else’s expression. One of the things I don’t like at present is Amazon’s current book listing procedure that makes a writer’s work subject to special scrutiny by the company’s personnel. Much like the motion picture rating process, there are parts of the system that remain mysterious to those of us attempting to use it. In this case, it means creators must pass the scrutiny of unknown eyes that have the capacity to literally judge books by their covers and reclassify them based upon image or title no matter what the writer has to say about the content. It means that self-publishing writers are left without key controls over the marketing disposition of their own creations.

In theory, this seemingly subtle form of censorship can place a book on a virtual shelf where a writer never intended it to be. Having your deeply religious work end up labeled as philosophy or self-help and your scholarly documentary placed as a children’s book may not seem like much to someone who’s not a writer, but it’s a few exponential steps beyond any of those arguments you ever had with your parents those times when they were being arbitrarily unfair about anything you wanted to do. Fighting with Amazon personnel over it as an adult will leave you feeling about as impotent.

What seems to be the most extreme result of this is that Amazon has the power to relegate a book to the obscurity of a virtual pornography closet if it is deemed that any element of it is too dangerously adult unless it is changed. Again, to some it may not sound like much, but if you’ve been told by some government clerk that the carefully crafted name you’ve bestowed upon your love child (in honor of your beloved grandparents) has to be changed to something the clerk likes, you’re going to be upset. You could decide to stay with your original decision, but when it comes to a book that obscure placement can have a tremendous impact. Suppose that it had been decided that “Moby Dick” could only have been sold in adult bookstores because of its title because…come on, we know what that title means. No, it doesn’t matter what you say the story is about, just look at that title. Seriously? You want high school students reading porn? Now, imagine that “The Scarlet Letter” or “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” had been released under the name “Whore”. How many people would’ve found it on the shelf of the adult bookstores it was hidden in because they were the only places that could carry it? Should some disinterested functionary have had the power to change their titles to “A Small Town Scandal” because it sounded less offensive?

In realm of independent publishing supposedly governed by free expression, the correct answer is “No.”  If you’re writing, take heed, because the righteousness of your fight is going to matter less than you’d like. Unfortunately, the reality of it all comes down to this: whether you’re pouring your heart into a tragic chronicle of a prostitute’s life on the streets or a passionate virgin’s sexual awakening, don’t name it “Whore”. Sure, you know it’s a biography or a romance or a literary adventure or even a religious redemption, but you may not like how it ends.

Discover Phoenix Writing!

Phoenix Writing Blog  Twitter @BennuWright

What would it mean to your perception of self to not know key details of your own past? 

How does it affect your decision making when you learn that gods have taken interest in the things you do? 

Where do you place your loyalty when your own people will not stand with you in your most dire moments? 

Lar Kwa is the Lost Prince of Alban, absent from his frozen homeland of proud warriors for twenty years. Bearing Tshan’casai, the ancient sword of his fathers, he is determined to use its potent magics to become savior to his troubled people. From the Crimson Throne, with Princess Treutelaar, Light of the People, at his side and advanced technology at his command, he plans to accomplish nothing short of the reformation of the fragmented empire forged by his family in days long past. Many oppose Lar Kwa’s ambitions, content with maintaining the status quo, but the prince has opened himself to guidance by forces beyond mortal ken. Of what consequence then are the wishes of mankind, the power of dragons, the intervention of isolationist warlords or the concerns of neighboring nations to a monarch willing to plunge half the world into war in order to rule it? Can the disturbing visions of one young misfit be of significance as elements of strange prophecies continue to manifest? As truths struggle to find their way to light, they will threaten not only the sanity of those involved, but to unravel the very fabric of reality. Myth and magic born of ancient gods and lost cities continue to shape a world of science and ambitious mortals. 

Who will survive?

1 comment :

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