Isn't it wonderful news that the easy civil rights problems have been solved so that the tough ones can now be tackled? Resources that have been devoted to eliminating job discrimination, fully integrating the schools, providing equal access to housing and equal justice in the courts can now be shifted to a tough new problem: securing the right of every citizen to hear music in a public place that is selected according to the government's notion of what each race, religion, ethnic group, age and sex wants to hear.
Tuesday's edition of this paper let us in on the new cause. A Charlottesville nightclub is the first target. A former disc jockey there claims the management scheduled "music oriented to white listeners" in order to discourage black patronage. "It was a bit jarring,' claims the deejay, "to take off Prince" -- presumably music that appeals only to blacks -- "and put on Alabama. Even a lot of the whites in the club would complain." In response to these charges, some hapless lawyer in the Justice Department has been given the job of investigating the matter to determine whether the choice of records in a disco can constitute the kind of civil rights violation that calls for federal regulation.
Are we about to embark on a course of serious music monitoring? Can dance hall operators expect to receive notices of violation -- "You only played two sambas and a rhumba last night and at least 18 percent of the patrons were Hispanic" -- or be hauled into court by angry German Americans seeking a more favorable polka quota? Surely there will be opposition to this kind of government intervention -- recalcitrant blacks who want to hear more Italian opera, the WASP Reggae enthusiasts and the Asian Americans who favor bongos or Beethoven. And yes, there will be an occasional senior citizen who balks at Guy Lombardo 78s and the women who are not charmed by the revival of Phil Spitalny and his All Girl Band, featuring Evelyn and her Magic Violin. The public is in for a lot of reeducation.
Frankly, we're a bit confused by this new kind of complaint. All along we thought the civil rights law was needed to ensure a citizen's right to make his own choices, including where he wants to eat and what music he wants to pay for. If an Irish American prefers Italian food and Tina Turner's music, he can't be barred from places where they are available. But the law doesn't require the proprietor to offer a quota of Guinness stout and jigs and reels just to prove nondiscrimination. This kind of preposterous extension of civil rights issues reminds us of the stir that was created some years ago when some underling in the Department of Education declared that father-son school banquets were unfair and discriminatory. We hope the government will resist this latest temptation to analyze and regulate popular culture to death.