KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Magazine.
It's happening again. After years of hiding just below the surface, the reckless and ignorant persecution of the unusual has again reared its ugly head. History books refer to this grasping at straws - notably in Puritan New England - as a witch hunt. Now we simply call it a hearing.
Such a hearing occurred recently in the small town of Westerly, Rhode Island, where the Department of Education pointed an accusatory finger at the art rock band White Zombie. Staring down from their self-righteous pulpits, the school department and their lawyers attacked the grammy-nominated band, calling their music "devil's fodder." Pawns of the devil luring the town's innocent children into horrible and dangerous satanic worship.
Doesn't this sound a little too familiar? Dress the town officials in black and buckles, and Westerly is instantly transformed into Salem at the time of the infamous witch trials. What's the town's next act? The tradition of old was to light the accused on fire. If the person escaped this fiery grave, they were guilty of witchcraft and put to death. If they were consumed by the flames, well, they died anyway. Today, this practice definitely goes against laws prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, but these hearings are still fueled by the same ungrounded hatred and overwhelming ignorance.
Don't think for a moment that this is a case isolated to a small town in the smallest state and by association is the effect of stereotypical Yankee conservatism. Truth be told, Rhode Island's political system is liberal and has been for years - with a Kennedy representing the state in Washington, you can't expect anything else. Secondly, musical prejudice occurs everywhere - remember the ridiculous 2 Live Crew trials in Florida several years ago.
The facts in Westerly are that a high school junior named Robert Parker wore a faded, black White Zombie T-shirt to class twice. Twice Parker was sent home. He now receives his education at a regional school. The story has spiraled out of control since then. The school's cult consultant was called in to study the band's music and lyrics. He concluded, ultimately, that the band plays music that encourages satanic activities, citing the album title La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 and the presence of a "devil-like creature" on the front of Parker's shirt.
"It is our position that the shirt, as it is connected to White Zombie music and lyrics and publications, intends to involve listeners in satanic activities," said Thomas Grady, the school department's lawyer.
Please. This school system must see their students - the future of America - as extraordinarily weak minded if they can be influenced so easily and completely by a simple piece of cotton. Tipper Gore, the misinformed and misguided activist behind the rap music persecution of 1992, must be thrilled that her ignorant cause is alive and well. She started her crusade because she found music with profane lyrics in her young daughters' room. Basically blaming society for her own parental short-comings. The Westerly school system is doing the exact same things.
Birds of a feather flock together. Ignorance loves company.
Parker's lawyers argue that while this should be just a dress code dispute, the administrators are "turning it into a violent cult crime case". They're right.
While I am not a White Zombie fan myself, I can see the music and show for what it is: an act. Ultimately that's all music was ever intended to be, just entertainment. No higher good, no ulterior motives, just entertainment. Rob Zombie and his band are in the business of keeping teens with short-attention spans entertained which is no easy task. He resorts to comic book images and dark brooding lyrics, which by no means force his audience into satanic worship any more than Dungeons and Dragons did in the 80's. Musicians as entertainers color outside the lines. Elvis caught flack for his improvised pelvic swiveling, which turned out to be much ado about nothing. Did his on-stage personality influence mass perversion by his audiences? No.
Rock and roll has been targeted since its inception as evil and fueled by the devil. Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and all of their contemporaries were labeled as blasphemous or worse. Now they are held up as great bands, musical genuises. The whole issue comes down to one simple fact. If someone doesn't understand something, they assume that it is wrong. The lawmakers don't understand heavy metal or rap so they attempt to cast it in a negative light. This ignorance is no excuse.
Their actions will ultimately have the opposite effect, as they did with 2 Live Crew, where kids will want the music even more just to be rebellious. 2 Live Crew sold millions of copies of an album that was dead in the water before Tipper started her crusade. Parental Advisory labels now serve as fantastic marketing tools. If I put out an album today, I want that sticker on it.
As is the norm today, musical persecution is nothing but armchair parenting. Turn your head and blame someone else, after all why should they be responsible for their own children's actions. These parents need to realize that the vast majority of kids are not going to convert to satanism because of some loud, colorful album art, just as they didn't turn to heroin use after watching Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction. A simple T-shirt isn't going to influence them either, just as the Bart Simpson underachiever shirt didn't cause kids to perform poorly in school. If a child engages in cult activities, his or her parents should look at where they went wrong. At what point did they lose their important influence over their child?
In regard to White Zombie, I have heard Rob Zombie interviewed on several occasions. He is well spoken and intelligent and I have never heard him promote or even mention devil worship. In fact, the Grammys - an extremely conservative organization - would never nominate an act for their prestigious award if there was any suspicion of deviant behavior. Remember, this is the group that gave Jethro Tull the heavy metal Grammy over Metallica a couple of years ago.
Let the witch hunt end. Rock music is about entertainment and kids realize that. It's the parents and administrators who need the education.
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GRAPHIC by Rob Zombie copyright ©1998 Geffen Records