Why doesn't Congress give the public what it truly needs: a Senate Committee for Raging and Awful Problems. SCRAP would be convened for the benefit of politicians and citizens who discover a problem and go into unflinching rages over its awfulness. The committee seal, to adorn the wall behind the chairman's seat, would feature the motto "We Focus Attention." In the center of the seal would be the American eagle focusing its binoculars with one claw and putting a bullhorn to its beak with the other -- to be sure the attention of everyone else was also focused.
At the SCRAP hearings, frowns of outrage would corrugate the foreheads of senators. Celebrities' testimony would be whirs of concern. The media, swinish as usual in taking up seats that the horde of roped-off taxpayers in the corridors is entitled to, would be grateful for the delivery of a New National Crisis. Last week's has already been forgotten.
SCRAP was needed earlier this month when a group of attention-focusers came to Congress for help in protecting children from songs about drugs, violence and sex. The Senate Commerce Committee opened its room -- and arms -- to the Parents Music Resource Center, a group that is asking the music industry to regulate itself. It was supported by the national PTA, whose official said: "There are many songs which include lyrics that may not be appropriate for young children of that send messages that may be dangerous to individuals or society."
Sen John Danforth (R-Mo.) presided at the hearing by saying its purpose was "to provide a forum so that the whole issue can be brought to the attention of the American public." Had this been a SCRAP hearing, the eagle on the committee seal would have blared in agreement with Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who, after watching some video rock-'n'-retch, declared it "outrageous filth."
Befitting a style of dander that would give him rank on the Senate Committee for Raging and Awful Problems, Hollings said "we've got to do something" about the music. The senator would have been the willing doer, except, as he acknowledged, he couldn't find a way to eliminate the filth "constitutionally."
No one else could either, least of all the American Civil Liberties Union. On the idea of Congress' involving itself, the ACLU said, "The government has absolutely no business conducting an inquiry into the content of published materials. Any legislation that would impose a consumer rating on records would be swiftly struck down as unconstitutional."
At the hearing, someone who looked willing and wildly able to do the striking was Dee Snider, the lead singer for Twisted Sister. With a maelstrom of yellow and black locks that spread profusely over his tattooed bare shoulders, Snider's presence combined the best of politics and show business: He spoke softly but carried a big shtick. He said his critics, who included every senator at the hearings, pegged him wrong. He's just a clean-living Christian lad whose video "We're Not Going to Take It" was a benign takeoff on kiddy cartoons. It wasn't about violence. The fed-up teen-ager who pillages his house and hurls Dad out the second-story window is as fun-loving as Saturday morning's Road Runner or Wile E. Coyote.
Except for the amusement of the theatrics of the hearing, nothing came of it. The senators, as pained as they were by the sight of Snider, also took pains to explain that no legislation was planned. That's how it is with raging and awful problems. Legislation is impossible because, after all the outrage has been vented, the problem is seen to be minor. Of the 25,000 songs marked annually by the music industry, is is agreed that only about 20 -- fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent -- contain "outrageous filth."
Tipper Gore of the Parents Music Resource Center agrees that the number is small, but says many of the offensive songs are best sellers. Her concerns are well founded. For her trouble, she suffered a personal attack at the hearings by Frank Zappa, a musician who mocked what he thought was Gore's Tennessee accent. In fact, she is native to Washington, D.C.
If PMRC wants to set itself apart from being just one more group of alarmed attention-focusers, it ought to be willing to assume the more difficult job of rating music products. Other groups, offended by one menace or another, have gone into the rating business. Americans for Democratic Action and the American Conservative Congress rate Congress. Consumers Union judges everything from toasters to cars. A Catholic group rates films.
These organizationas have appreciative audiences. To date, PMRC has done well to get out the word. The industry wants no part of self-imposed ratings. That leaves it to PMRC. If it doesn't want to take on the arduous follow-up work, then the organization will soon end up atop the scrap heap. As in SCRAP.