Religious lobby groups influence politicians and recording industry & the Marilyn Manson Saga
Speech by Ms. Nina Crowley, at the 1st Freemuse World conference in 1998
My name is Nina Crowley and I am the director of Mass Mic, a non-profit organization which works to promote and protect free expression in music.
Since the “birth of rock” in 1954 no less than 51 individual religiously based organizations have been documented as attacking popular music. These attacks had their effect. But in today’s America, as a result of the speed and breadth of internet communications and the American press’ fascination with scandalous controversy, the knee jerks of religious zealots are magnified ten times over what they were 40 years ago. Their effects are far reaching and long lasting.
As a case study of how the religious right can mount an attack on popular music I would like to focus on the “Marilyn Manson saga of 1996, 97, and 98”.
The band, Marilyn Manson, was formed in 1991. With the exception of one, all members of the band take their first names from pop culture icons and their surnames from serial killers hence: Marilyn Manson, Twiggy Ramirez, Madonna Wayne Gacy, and Ginger Fish. Their “shock rock” albums have contained songs entitled Cake and Sodomy, Smells Like Children and May Cause Discoloration of the Urine or Feces. In 1995 Manson himself was arrested twice in Florida for indecent exposure. Protests against MM shows in the past three years have forced a three-fold increase in police presence, no one in the band has been arrested since 1995.
From the latter part of 1996 through the fall of 1997, the band toured the US and was coming under attack at virtually every stop. Early in 1997, rumor had it that the religious right would try to make ‘an example’ out of Marilyn Manson. The rumor became truth.
Over the course of the tour there would be 145 articles in 45 newspapers in the US and Canada, countless tv and radio debates and discussions, many of which I participated in. Articles discussing the band’s live performances appeared in religious and secular magazines. From December 1996 to fall 1997 they were picketed in 22 cities. Protesters preceded and followed the band’s trek across the US, unrelenting when Manson joined Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ozzfest 1997′, and on to Canada during the summer of 1997. This is a story which has not ended.
Of the myriad religious right organizations operating in the United States today there are 4 who were instrumental in directing the faithful in this campaign.
The American Family Association (AFA) of Tupelo, Minnesota. Founded in 1977 by Donald Wildmon the AFA puts their membership at ½ million and circulation of the AFA journal also at ½ million. The AFA stands for traditional family values and focuses primarily on the influence of television and other media on society. They believe that the entertainment industry, through its various products, has played a major role in the decline of those values on which our country was founded and which keep a society and its families strong and healthy.
Focus on the Family (FotF) began in 1977 in response to Dr. James Dobson’s increasing concern for the American family. Dr. Dobson holds a Ph.D. in child development, worked 14 years as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics, 17 years on the staff of the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, and was advisor to President Ronald Reagan in the 80’s. Dr. Dobson and his organization command a great deal of power. When he calls upon his followers to support him by pressuring Washington, James Dobson has the ability too cause 500.000 to 1 million phone calls and letters to descend on Capitol Hill in a matter of hours.
FotF has more than 74 different ministries requiring nearly 1.300 employees. Their daily broadcast explores family issues on over 4.000 facilities worldwide. The organization produces six additional broadcasts, ten magazines sent to more than 2.3 million people a month, award-winng books, films, and videos. FotF also responds to as many as 55.000 letters a week, offers professional counseling and referrals to a network of 1.500 therapists, and addresses public policy and cultural issues. Dr. Dobson’s method attempts to “turn hearts toward home” by reasonable, biblical and empirical insights so people will be able “to discover the founder of homes and the creator of families – Jesus Christ”.
Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition (CC) in 1989 to give Christians a voice in government. They represent a growing group of nearly 2 million members and supporters who believe it’s time for people of faith to have a voice in the conversation we call democracy. The Coalition is driven by the belief that people of faith have a right and a responsibility to be involved in the world around them. That involvement includes community, social and political action. There are 2000 local chapters of the CC producing newsletters, voter guides and action alerts.
The Bob Larson Ministries (BLM) of Denver, Colorado has been actively fighting rock music since the 60’s. It founder Bob Larson likes to relate experiences from his previous career as a rock musician in which he reports being forced, by record company executives, to produce obscene songs. In 1967 this rocker turned fundamentalist published a book entitled “Rock and Roll: The Devil’s Diversion”. His book contains the “Anti-Rock Pledge”.Readers were urged to sign the pledge, include their name and address, and return it to Bob Larson directly. Bob Larson has long believed that capitalism is being undermined by subliminal messages in rock songs. Larson’s more recent book “In The Name of Satan” purports to tell parents how the forces of evil work and what they can do to defeat them.
It is also important to remember as the events of this tour unfold that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution states “government shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of or abridging the freedom of speech.” It has been upheld in the courts numerous times that this proscription also applies to state and local governments and their representatives. In a 1997 survey conducted by the Freedom Forum, a majority, 50% of American’s polled cited freedom of speech as the freedom they felt was most important. When asked if they would approve the First Amendment if asked to vote on it today, 93% stated they would approve it. In that same survey, 68% of those polled said that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, but the minority, at 31%, said musicians should not be allowed to sing songs with words that others might find offensive. Popular music, rock, rap, disco, hip-hop, r&b etc. have always existed as the bastard child of the arts. Seen as a less worthy art form by the artistic comunity at large and an expendable form of art by those outside the community. It is interesting to see these statistics played out by government officials and the public during the course of the Marilyn Manson tour.
The controversy surrounding the tour began in December of 1996 in Salt Lake City, Utah. On December 19., John Whitake, director of the publicly funded Fairpark Coliseum announced the cancellation of a January 11. Marilyn Manson concert stating “The Utah State Fairpark desires to maintain a reputation of standards in all phases of our business activities”. Nine Manson fans filed suit against the Coliseum on December 27. They sought a judgment prohibiting the Fairpark from discriminating against performers based on the content of their music, as well as an immediate order to allow the show there.
US District Court Judge David Winer refused to force Fairpark to stage the show because the promoter, Scott Arnold, now refused to assure him that the show would go on at the Coliseum. Arnold reportedly didn’t want to alienate Coliseum management as he hoped to be able to do business there in the future. A Salt Lake City newspaper praised Fairbank’s decision saying that “If groups are permitted to spew profanity and anti-establishment swill from the Coliseum’s stage – for a profit, yet – the state may be seen as endorsing their disgusting speech, possibly lowering community values and standards of conduct in the process.”
February 1997 brings the resurgence of the Bob Larson Ministries. Larson’s TBN TV program called Talk Back begins marketing a 30 min. video of Marilyn Manson for a 50$ pledge to the ministries. The video “Rock Music Madness”. -The latest of the worst in rock music including the group Marilyn Manson. The volume is described as a must-see for concerned parents.
A February concert in Las Cruses, New Mexico, is cancelled due to lack of security and February 4. sees a Lubbock, Texas show attended by 2.000 fans and 75 picketers. Rev. Dale Webster, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, looked on as the line of teens waited to enter and shook his head. “If this is what the fair promotes in the off-season, how can they expect us to support them as something good and positive for the community?” and protester Molly Fogel said she was “praying for the souls of the people going to the concert, and also for the members of the band – just that Christ will come over them and that he will send his Holy Spirit to the concert and that he might change lives there.”
“Oklahomans for Families and Children” have asked for cancellation of the February 5. Oklahoma City concert charging that Manson’s show may violate the state’s “harmful to minors” act. Gov. Frank Keating, Oklahoma, announced his support of a cancellation stating that “these people are peddling garbage. It’s further proof that society’s moral values continue to crumble.” Manson’s attorney, Paul Cambria met with Oklahoma City officials and had with him a copy of a lawsuit against them. The show is reinstated.
In February 7., The Elmbrook Middle School bans the Marilyn Manson “look” from the school. Including: black lipstick, fishnets, white face paint, pentagram jewelry, and band t-shirts. This incident marks the beginning of the “fallout” from the Marilyn Manson witch hunt. From this point on to today, schools across the country will institute clothing bans and expel students for “Manson attire”, “band t-shirts” or “disruptive attire”.
Also on February 7., Christian Coalition Chairman Pat Robertson on his TV program “The 700 Club” announces: “I think it’s time that people protest all over this nation. This thing is the most degrading … It incites people to murder, to rape … saying date rape is no big deal. In an era where we’re so concerned about sexual harassment … how harassing can it get?!”Robertson sided with OK Gov. Frank Keating who urged a boycott of a May 2. Oklahoma show.
Reporter Richard Hunt posts an article to “The 700 Club” web site dated 2/3/97, telling of a MM internet church with a “digital counter clicks away” from “the number of souls that have been damned as a result of sampling the web page”.
Omaha, Nebraska Mayor Hal Daub warns parents to keep their young ones at home with them on the night of the concert because “Marilyn Manson is a group that promotes themes such as Satanism, murder and date rape.”
A parochial school teacher and 8 of her students, from Fitchburg, Massachusets, supposedly stumble upon MM on the internet and file with the city council to cancel a scheduled February 21. MM show. Church leaders meet privately with the Mayor to discuss cancellation. There are tears, prayers, and hymns and a petition to stop the show is distributed. Church officials are asked to circulate the petition during local church services. The Mayor announces in the local paper that he believes the founding fathers did not have MM in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. Three weeks of picketing by religious organizations is followed by a heated city council meeting where two petitions are submitted to the council asking for a cancellation. A christian organization “Hope for America” is allowed to decorate the council chambers with their banner. The City Solicitor rules that the show cannot be cancelled. One counsellor accepts, at the meeting, a private check for $5.000 towards paying the band not to play and proposes that the council and Mayor raise other money. Council rejects this idea. I have distributed flyers from the picketers at the Fitchburg show. (“Please realize as you descend the stairs and rows to your seats, you are descending into great spiritual darkness”. “Counsellors will be available as you exit tonight’s event.” “You will be able to identify them by small ‘glow in the dark’ crosses taped to their jackets”.)
Area religious organizations call for “a code of ethics” to be formed for future concerts. More MM fallout – this instance is the first of what will be many calls for concert ratings and concert review boards. The idea of “concert ratings” will persist and grow into another major attack on the free expression of bands and music fans over the next two years.
Anchorage, Alaska, Normal, Illinois, and Biloxi, Miss. experience protests by religious groups. The Anchorage City Council passes a resolution that the band’s promoter be notified about the city’s obscenity laws prior to the performance and Anchorage Assembly member Cheryl Clementson says “There won’t be any eating little animals on the stage, or oral sex, or aything else that they have claimed to do.” Clementson and church leaders urge parents to buy up the tickets so kids can’t get them.
In April of 1998, the most effective strike in the MM war is directed by the American Family Association with the help of its regional chapter the Gulf Coast AFA. The Gulf Coast AFA launches an internet web site entitled “Christians opposed to Marilyn Manson Concerts In Their Town”. The web site was complete with information on the band and their schedule, directions on how to mount a protest, and “sworn” affidavits by teens attesting to “satanic church services”, “naked female guitar players”, drugs being “constantly passed out from the front to the back”, and “real and simulated sex” by band members. Print versions of the “sworn affidavits” begin to be circulated at MM shows.
On April 30. 1997 Manson’s attorney, Paul Cambria, sends a cease and desist order to the AFA in regards to “sworn affidavits” Cambria announces that they are preparing a lawsuit against the AFA, the parent group of the Gulf Coast AFA for defamation of character. All trace of the affidavits are instantly removed from the web site and no one seemed to be able to find them. Gulf Coast head David Rogers tells the New York Times in April that the affidavits removal had nothing to do with either their validity nor their graphic nature. He prefesses that the “affidavits” were taken down at the request of a mysterious, unnamed, Oklahoma organization who were allegedly conducting an obscenity investigation with the help of two unnamed government agencies. He declined to identify the group saying, “We were cautioned by someone who’s working with an investigative group that (the affidavits) should not have been made public, so we inadvertently got information out that shouldn’t have got out.”
The unsubstantiated and erroneous statements in the supposedly sworn affidavits will reappear in the hands of protesters for months to come.
On April 10.: Columbia, South Carolina concert scheduled for a state owned venue is cancelled and is not been reinstated. State Treasurer Richard Eckstrom after hearing of Manson’s Satanism at church writes to University of SC (venue) calling Manson “needlessly offensive and dehumanizing” and demanding immediate cancellation of the concert. SC State Representative Dan Tripp (R) introduces a referendum to the SC House of Rep. banning Manson from ever performing in SC on state property. The referendum passes. The state will also pay Manson $40.000 not to play.
The payment comes from prior concert proceeds at the venue. SC Govenor David Beasely’s office is “very pleased” the university cancelled the show. SC State Rep. tells me on CBS Radio during interview 4/16/98, says when it comes to state property he has to answer to a “higher power”.
State Senator Ron Farris of Miss., citing the Gulf Coast AFA web site writes to promotor asking that groups with “counter-cultural and/or radical messages” refrain from bringing their “spectacles” to Biloxi, MS, and 5.000 people contact the Jacksonville, FL Mayor’s office calling for cancellation of their April 17. show.
It should be noted here that in each case, despite protesters and their sympathetic city officials only two concerts have actually been cancelled permanently. The American Civil Liberties Union and Manson attorneys stepped in time to defend the rights of the band and its fans.Ultimately officials had to acknowledge the existence of American’s First Amendment right to free expression. In May of 1997, Mass Mic also facilitated a statement in support of MM’s free speech rights signed by 26 major US first amendment advocacy organizations. Mass Mic began circulating this statement to city officials in each town across the US where protests arose.
As the tour continues Manson “fallout” continues on April 17. – The Texas State Finance Committee approves a measure to ban Texas state entities from investing state monies, ie pension funds, in any company which holds 10% or more interest in companies which take part in the production, distribution etc. of music with offensive lyrics. This bill will eventually pass the house and senate and be signed into law by Texas gov. George Bush. Only after a court challange is the law overturned in 1998. – Later in 1997 – similar bills will be introduced and fought in California, and Maryland.
In Saginaw, MI. Reverend Dana Wilson collected 20.000 signatures asking for a cancellation of their April 25. MM show arguing that the Bill of Rights does not apply to people under the age of 18. The Reverend has asked the city to institute a ruling that minors could not get into the show without a parent. Rev. Wilson, “Someone somewhere has to draw a line and say what these concerts are exposing our youths to.” Reverend Wilson calls for a concert rating system so that future concerts such as this would receive an R rating.
On April 29., the Bill McGinnis Ministries issues an internet prayer to “bind” the evil spirits of Marilyn Manson.
In May of 1997 the Detroit News reports that the MI State Senate will urge concert halls to ban minors from performances by bands known for raunchy lyrics. The resolution, written by Senator Dale Shugars, passed on a voice vote. Shugars says his resolution is in response to a Marilyn Manson concert in Kalamazoo. He has reportedly received a 10.000 signature petition to stop Manson from the Kalamazoo Citizens for Children and Families.
Later in 1997, Senator Dale Shugars submits a formal bill which would ban attendance by any under 18 not accompanied by a parent at any concert which has received a harmful to minors rating. The bill calls for a citizen board to be formed which would make judgments about ratings for a band based on albums and past performances. Mass Mic and hundreds of activists in the music and free speech comunity fought this bill and its rewritten versions throughout 1998. This summer (1998) the 4th writing of the bill was sent back to committee for revision. It still sits in committee. Although support for the bill has waned and it is not expected to reappear this year. Senator Shugars swears that he will be back with a new bill next year and onward until he succeeds.
In May, the Rev. Shirley A. Jackson marches along the steps of the Richmond Coliseum site of an upcoming MM show praying aloud. “The Lord came to me”, she said, “and told me that for 13 days I had to come out here and pray.” “We believe we are casting out the devils”. Jackson was previously famous for her Median Strip Ministry where she and her two foster children would preach and sing daily along the media strip on Chamberlayne Ave., Richmond. Protests occur before concerts in Hamilton, Ontario, Utica, New York, and Washington D.C.
The Reverend Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association tells USA Today that Marilyn Manson is “blatantly anti-Christian in the songs they sing … what flows from it is Satanic messages.” Although he reports never having seen a show.
In the July and August 1997 “American Family Association Journals”, there are two anti-Manson articles. One of them which asks that: “God’s people should recognize what God has ordained song: A song is much more than sound and rhythm; a drama, more than players on a stage; …. these works are the deepest window into the soul of the artist”. Citing Manson’s statement that his band may, through song, be able to bring about the downfall of Christianity, they propose that “alternative” and “heavy metal” music are as less brazen, but still proselytize a bitter vision of a world gone hopelessly wrong. An that “rap”, “dance”, and contemporary “r&b” feature “illicit sex and vulgarity” as their dominant themes, and “Gangsta rap” mixes in violent motifs and has been linked to numerous real life crimes.”
The August articles author calls Manson the “most demented artists to hit the scene in the history of rock music.”
Richmond, Vancouver city officials cancel a May 10. show after City manager Robert Bobb states that MM “was not consistent with our community standard”. “Satan worship and animalistic type of programming is not consistent with the image we’re building for our community”. After American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) action the concert is rescheduled.
In June, responding to reports of puppy eating at concerts, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” organization writes to Manson’s management to make sure no animals are being injured during Manson shows.
US Senator Joe Lieberman in the press calls Manson “the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company”.
Concerts in Calgary, Winnepeg, and Edmonton, Canada come under heavy attack from religious groups.
As I mentioned earlier, it was fall out from this very campaign against the band which led to the violation of the rights of many students in the fall of 1997 and throughout 1998. The US Courts have previously found in that t-shirts, clothing, were a means of expression and were therefore protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The courts have ruled that school officials could not stop such actions unless they “substantially interfered with the school’s discipline and operation.”
On 9/30/97 – 18 students were stopped as they tried to walk out of South View High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Half of those students were suspended. The students were protesting a school ban on “disruptive” t-shirts. “Disruptive” t-shirts were defined as those of Marilyn Manson, “gangsta rap”, such as Wu-Tang Clan and Tupac Shakur. One student had been suspended the day before for a home made t-shirt which bore only the spray painted words “Tupac Shakur” and “Marilyn Manson” on the back and “First Amendments Rights R.I.P.” School principal Tony Parker told reporters that if he had his way offensive t-shirts would be banned nationwide and that too much freedom of expression can cause problems. “When it downgrades the moral fiber of our society, I do”, he said.
In December of 1997 – An 18 year old man is arrested in a New Braunfels, TX grocery store. He is charged with violating the city obscene display ordinance for wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt.
In January 1998, the ACLU of North Carolina announces that it will come to the defense of teenager from Cumberland County High School who were disciplined for wearing Marilyn Manson t-shirts.
And in April 1998 – a 20 year old woman is arrested in Tenn. At the Tater Days festival for wearing a MM t-shirt on the fair grounds. Authorities say she violated the state harassment statute.As we come into the fall of 1998, the band Marilyn Manson is again on tour. In October, the Charlotte, NC Coliseum Authority meets to discuss an upcoming MM concert scheduled for November 10. The band’s contract already includes a $10.000 fee if the band calls for fans to leave their reserved seats. Council member Nasif Majeed called the band “repulsive” and “sickening”. And mandates three times the usual number of security personnel in attendance (at the promoter’s expense). Authority members critized the band and said they would look into a ratings system for future Charlotte concerts.
And in Syracuse, New York – Mayor Roy Bernardi is joined by some Onondaga County legislators to pressure operators of Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre to cancel a show scheduled for November 19. 1998. County Legislators threaten to withhold $30.000 in state development funds to the theatre if they don’t cancel. The Mayor threatens to pull the theatre’s entertainment permit if the show goes on. Resultant Syracus Post-Standard editorial points out Mayor Bernard’s evangelical Christian bent and recent attendance at Promise Keepers rally.
In October of 1998, Houston, Texas reports that a teenage boy brutally stabs a teenage girl friend. The papers and police officials note that he and the girl were watching a Marilyn Manson video on the afternoon of the stabbing. On November 10. 1998, we learned that in Fort Worth, Texas, a non-profit organization called the Crime Prevention Resource Center (CPRC) is offering “Marilyn Manson Awareness Training” for educators. Although no fees will reportedly be collected for the seminars some State funding is allegedly used to support the CPRC (unconfirmed funding as of yet).Impetus for the sessions is Manson show in Dallas on November 5. and in Houston November 4. and the October stabbing.
By TX state law any group can be defined as a gang if there are 3 or more of them, they dress alike. The CPRC is recommending that Manson fans and fans of other goth-rock bands be considered gangs. Ramon Jacquez, program director states “a majority of them are taking drugs, do graffitti in their neighborhoods, on the school, on their books.” Such criminal activity puts them in the same category as Crips, Bloods, and Latin Kings. Mr. Jacques reportedly has no data to support his claims of criminal activity. Jacquez also believes a majority of goth-rock fans engage in ritual sacrifice. 3 sessions of MM training were held over the summer of 1998 and more are planned. The training includes: “Marilyn Manson and Other Cults: The Impact on Education”, a discussion of Manson’s biography with handouts of text segments, songs, viewing of MM “Dead to the World” home video, and reprints of fan and official web sites. Jacques stresses “no interest in censorship”. But says teens already “fragmented minds” may make them more susceptible to lyrics like “Kill your mother, Kill your father” – what will that do to that mind.” There is reported to be some inclusion of gangsta rap in this seminar but we have yet to secure those details.
A Chicago area Rock Island County Regional Education Office employee is reportedly participating in similar seminars. Delano Gilkey, authored a manual for a conference on Satanism and Satanic Youth – the conference was sponsored by the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education, RICROE of Illinois. Gilkey’s manual sites the Jewish Star of David and the Islamic Crescent and Star as symbols of the occult. Is has been reported that Gilkey may speak at a Texas “Manson” session.
In November of 1998, the AFA distributed a Marilyn Manson Action Alert regarding Marilyn Manson’s new tour. They now describe Manson as not satanistic, not hedonistic, but nihilistic – Manson’s message they say is shared with three devils of the twentieth century – Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. The article goes on to discuss this form of atheism, Nietzche, and nihilism complete with URLs for more info. This year their advise if Manson comes to your town – Educate yourself and others, work with city officials to organize a citizens commmittee to prescreen incoming bands before they are booked and insist that police and other officials strictly enforce local ordinances against drugs and nudity. They state “A strong argument can be made that if a concert will likely draw a crowd where illegal activities are inevitably going to take place at a level that police are overwhelmed and cannot enforce the law, the concert should not be allowed to happen.”
Mass Mic has to date received e-mails from young people regarding t-shirt bans in 16 high schools and Jr. high schools across the country and we are certain there are many, many more that we never hear about. We are still fighting Sen. Shugars concert rating bill and expect to fight it and other’s like it for years to come. In 1998 we fought bills in Georgia and Tennessee which would prohibit those under 18 from purchasing CDs of allegedly “obscene” music and we will surely have to fight more such bills next year. In every instance the band Marilyn Manson is cited as a kind of music which spurs the ban or the bill.
This struggle to either destroy or preserve free expression in music is far from over.