Radio Can’t Even Play My Jam
Eminem is a man of many guises, but is he ready to be the new Mapplethorpe? On June 1, the FCC fined Colorado radio station KKMG $7000 for playing the “clean” version of Em’s “The Real Slim Shady,” the same one played thousands of times last summer by pop, rock, and r&b stations around the country—maybe the first time all those formats agreed on a No. 1. The commission—now chaired by Colin Powell’s son Michael—found that the song contains “sexual references in conjunction with sexual expletives that appear intended to pander and shock,” a description the artist could hardly dispute; in fact, the indecency standard is practically the subject of the song.
“Sometimes I want to get on TV and just let loose, but can’t/But it’s cool for Tom Green to hump a dead moose,” reads the transcript of the offending track in the FCC’s decision. “My bum is on your lips . . . /And if I’m lucky you might just give it a little kiss/And that’s the message we deliver to little kids/And expect them not to know what a woman’s BLEEP is?”
“I think all of America should feel threatened,” says Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, who will lead a “hip-hop summit” this week at the Hilton. Last week Simmons received a Father of the Year award from the National Father’s Day Committee at the Marriott Marquis, and found that Powell was a co-honoree. According to Simmons, Powell said he’d like to come to the summit, but on Friday Powell’s staff called to say he had a scheduling conflict. “He said [this fine] was just a random case, and not to view it as an attack, but that’s bullshit,” Simmons says. “I asked him how the record was indecent, and he couldn’t give me a clear answer.” (The FCC declined comment.)
Kathleen Kirby, KKMG’s lawyer, isn’t surprised. “FCC indecency rules are difficult to get your arms around, even for the agency’s own attorneys.” Nonetheless, she calls the fine “unusual” and says the station will appeal. Earlier this year, the commission imposed an equal fine on a Wisconsin station for “accidentally” playing the album version of “Slim Shady.”
Kirby is cautious about gauging the political implications of the fine. Powell was appointed by Clinton—Bush named him chair days after the inauguration—and is known as a strong advocate of the First Amendment, while Gloria Tristani, the other remaining Clinton appointee, has pushed for more aggressive indecency enforcement. Neither was involved in issuing the fine, which was imposed by career civil service employees in the FCC’s newly created enforcement bureau.
Will other stations be fined? FCC enforcement actions are driven by complaints from listeners, and the agency won’t tell Kirby whether it has received any others. “This is probably a result of pressure from this organization,” says Paul McGeady, director of Morality in Media’s National Obscenity Law Center on the Upper West Side, which lobbied Congress during the first few months of Bush II for stepped-up enforcement. But even McGeady can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with the clean version. “The whole thing is offensive. It’s got bestiality; he’s talking about a vagina—what more do you need?”
Actually, the bleeped word is “clitoris,” and the question Eminem poses is similar to the one his lawyers will raise. “The Supreme Court said in the Pacifica case that the FCC can bar the ‘seven dirty words’ because radio is a uniquely pervasive medium that is particularly accessible to children,” says Northern Kentucky University law prof Kenneth Katkin (who has done work for Kirby’s firm). “But this looks a lot more like the FCC trying to decide what ideas kids can hear, and even the FCC would agree that’s unconstitutional.” Kids with Web browsers can find the complete lyrics of the “dirty” version on the FCC’s own Web site, along with shock-jock pedophilia jokes, lots of cusswords, and oral-sex tips from Monty Python. —Josh Goldfein
Gettin’ Happy Meal
Lord, how can we give praise to McDonald’s Gospelfest 2001: A Musical Odyssey? This semi-secular circus of sensory overload, lauding the fast-food owner-operators almost as frequently as Christ and repeating their new slogan like scripture, this 18-year-old touring show that usually plays arenas like Westbury Music Fair shoehorned into Town Hall on June 3, this audience draped in a century of African American finery from glitter-geles to massive church-hats, this four-hour revival and competition featuring Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mother), Hezekiah Walker (the George Clinton of gospel), and the mixed-race McDonald’s Gospel Choir, dressed in red polo shirts as if they’d just served billions and billions, this pageant depicting the last supper as narrated by Melba Moore, who wears an oversized shiny wig and screams until it seems like her eyeballs are going to fall out, these 12 disciples—so handsome that sisters were sweating and fanning themselves—who receive communion from a buffed Afro-Christ who writhes on the cross while Cissy belts out “He Would Not Come Down,” this Love Fellowship Crusade Choir, whose rail-thin director flails around like a man possessed as Walker declares, “Ain’t no party like a Holy Ghost party,” these eight-year-old children wailing out cracked versions of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” this “Hezekiah Walker Award” that Hezekiah Walker presents to his father-in-law, this competition featuring “praise dancers” like the Rejoice Mime Ministry, a woman in white who acts out all the lyrics of a gospel song, and “praise steppers” like the acrobatic 20-strong Nubian Gents, this choir competition in which huge groups of people move on and offstage, displaying a range of genres from near-disco to practically Episcopal, this awards ceremony where hundreds of brothers and sisters start screaming and leaping around when their home choir wins? Forgive us Father, for we know not what that was. —James Hannaham