A group of Washington women, including the wives of some of the city's most powerful men, may be about to do for our children what we couldn't -- or wouldn't -- do for them ourselves. They're about to clean up their air.
The polluters these women have in mind are not the smokestack industry but the record industry. Like us, they are sick of the filth that passes for lyrics on some of the most popular records, tapes and videos. Unlike us, they are prepared to move -- have moved, in fact.
Mrs. Albert Gore Jr. (he's the Tennessee senator) and Mrs. James A. Baker III (he's the Treasury secretary) are no blue-nose record smashers. They are mothers who are distressed that their children are being exposed to a filth, violence, sado-masochism and explicit sex whenever they switch on their favorite radio station or watch televised videos. They aren't demanding censorship; they want a choice.
As a very minimum, they want the record industry to label their products after the style of the movie industry, so that at least they and their children know what they are buying. As it is now, you can't always tell.
Tipper Gore, mother of four, found out the hard way, when her 11-year- old daughter came home with Prince's "Purple Rain." "She bought it because she liked 'Let's Go Crazy,' but then I heard the words to 'Darling Nikki,' with its lyrics about a girl masturbating with a magazine, and I started paying attention.
"Then I happened to talk with Susan Baker, whom I had met through an international club we both belong to, and I found out she was going through the same thing with her children. We got together with Pam Howar (whose husband is a construction executive), Sally Nevius (her husband, Jack, is a former chairman of the D.C. City Council) and Ethelann Stuckey (wife of the former Florida congressman) and decided to try to do something about it.
They formed the Parents Music Resource Center (655 15th Street NW, Washington, 20005) and managed to swing enough clout to get Stan Gortikov, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, to come down from New York to meet with them. They also persuaded Edward Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, to ask 45 recording companies to supply written lyrics for their albums so that broadcasters can know what they are playing.
That may help, though surely the deejays must be aware that "Bitch, Be My Slave" is not exactly what parents want their pre-teens to listen to.
"The children really don't have a choice," Tipper Gore says. "They flip through the record bin and they see a cover with a nude woman gagged and chained to a motorcycle, or another one simulating masturbation with a light bulb. There's one record -- platinum, yet -- with a song called 'Eat Me Alive' that is about oral sex at gunpoint. Some of it I can't bring myself to talk about. It's simply gone too far, and it has to be stopped; at least we have a right to know what's on an album so we can exercise some control."
Much of the filth and depravity is, if the youngsters are to be believed, purely gratuitous. They say it is the melody and the beat that are the principal attractions, and that they would still choose many of the same records if the lyrics were far milder.
As things stand, the children have no realistic choice. It's impossible to listen to most of the rock stations, or watch the televised videos, without being exposed to kinky sex, torture and even killing.
Some of it, no doubt, is calculated to shock. But because we adults, in our pseudo-sophistication, refuse to acknowledge shock, the effect is to legitimize and popularize things that ought to have us screaming bloody murder.
Now, thanks to a handful of Washington women, maybe we'll take our heads out of the sand and start screaming.