THF Is Not Alone

Posted on 09/22/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

Media Smarts, Canada’s center for digital and media literacy, published an article that is consistent with the views of the Town Hall Foundation. Take a read and see if you agree.

Inappropriate Content in Music

Pushing the boundaries for artistic expression has always been a part of popular music. However, the drive for profits may also be pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. In this section we examine some of the issues in today's music.

Explicit Lyrics

Music hasn't changed since the days when the Beatles shocked the world. What has changed is that popular music lyrics have become much more explicit.

Hip hop and other genres have received criticism for lyrics with graphic references to drugs, sex, violence, and hate aimed at women, minorities, gays and lesbians. Pop stars such as Katy Perry may be marketed under a "girl power" guise—but what they are really selling to their mostly pre-pubescent audiences is adult sexuality.

To censor or not to censor? This is the thorny question many parents face when their children bring home music they find offensive. Where the line is drawn is largely dependent on family values and the maturity and temperament of the child. For families with both older and younger children, parents may want to designate the more explicit music their teens listen to as “iPod only”.

With so much of this music within listening – or downloading – range, discussions with children about explicit lyrics should start sooner, rather than later. It is important that adults talk with their kids about the types of lyrics they find offensive – and explain why. As children get older, encourage discussion and debate on these issues to provide them with opportunities to reflect not only on stereotyping and violence in music recordings and videos – but in other media as well.

In 1990, the U.S. recording industry introduced Parent Advisory Labels (PAL) to identify music containing explicit lyrics, including depictions of violence and sex. Parental Advisory labels are printed at the bottom right of a CD's cover; they are found in the same place in the album art included with digital downloads.

For consumers, the system has its drawbacks. Companies and artists voluntarily label their products, so customers can't automatically assume that music without a label will be appropriate for all ages.

The retail industry is also inconsistent in dealing with Parental Advisory labels. Some stores have policies forbidding the sale of labeled music to kids younger than 18. A few retail chains, such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart, will not carry stickered products, while others have no restrictions to stop children of any age from purchasing CDs with advisory labels. Digital downloads, of course, have no age restrictions, though some retailers such as iTunes offer "clean" versions of songs with explicit lyrics. Generally, parents should be especially mindful of the music their children are downloading.

Critics charge that although the music industry warns parents of inappropriate lyrics with labels, at the same time it's aggressively marketing explicit music to young people. In December 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report showing how media industries, including the music industry, aggressively market media meant for adults to young children. The report showed that albums containing explicit content were frequently advertised on TV shows and websites popular with youth.

Negative Effects of Music

For kids with a healthy self-image and varied interests, music probably has little or no influence on their values and lifestyle choices. However, violent, racist, homophobic or sexist lyrics in music may impact some youth: research shows possible correlations between a teenager’s preference for certain musical genres and risky behaviours.

There is evidence that listening to music with sexual content in the lyrics makes teenagers more likely to start having sex earlier than their peers.Music also contains a lot of commercial content, mostly in the form of product placement, much of which is for alcohol.While research hasn't yet shown consistent effects of lyrics or music on teens' personalities, one study found that listening to songs with "pro-social" lyrics made teens more likely to behave in helpful and compassionate ways."

That’s the message for today, more coming.