When Jello Biafra and Ice-T took on censorship on The Oprah Winfrey Show
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at a moment in music’s rich history as hip-hop and punk combined to take on a common enemy, the PMRC. In this permutation of the good fight against censorship, we see Dead Kennedy’s leading man Jello Biafra combine forces with the iconic ‘Cop Killer’ rapper Ice-T.
The duo verbally duelled with a host of conservative voices alongside Tipper Gore, the then-wife of failed presidential candidate Al Gore on The Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1990. It remains one of the most brilliant pieces of daytime television you’ll ever witness.
Parental Advisory stickers have become a part of music’s lexicon these days and we can’t say they’ve really affected much in the way of deterring kids from buying any record that comes with one plastered on it. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a needless addition to an art form, after all, you won’t see one at any gallery you ever walk through. The stickers were at the time plainly referred to as “Tipper Stickers”.
Backed by the PMRC (‘Parents Music Resource Centre’), Tipper Gore who labelled herself a “liberal Democrat” during the debacle found herself leading the charge against the danger of music during the ’80s and ’90s. It just so happened to be one of the eras of music in which America wasn’t just at its most potent but most powerful too.
With two sides seemingly unwilling to compromise or back down, the PMRC pushed for more and more musical censorship, citing it as the reason for pretty much any ‘unexplained’ run of crimes or suicides. Equally, music was becoming more opaquely provocative, songs like Ice-T’s ‘Cop Killer’ receiving particular heat during unsettling times of civility. There was only one way to settle this, a daytime TV chat show.
In the ’90s there was only one name that mattered in daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey. The iconic TV host played the peacekeeper when she invited Gore, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Juan Williams, Ice-T and Jello Biafra to discuss the continuing issue. It would seem that Dee Snider and Frank Zappa telling you off wasn’t enough for Gore.
While many would have expected Gore, a politically savvy Washington-type to be able to negotiate a snotty punk but Biafra was quick to show her just how intelligent he was, emboldened by his search for justified art. It had all started back in 1986 when the PMRC had Biafra’s house raided and brought him to trial for distributing “harmful material to minors” as part of the Dead Kennedy’s album Frankenhrist.
The charges weren’t actually brought against his music in particular but rather the pull out in the record which included a print of H. R. Giger’s poster Landscape XX (Penis Landscape). Biafra has always suggested that the raid and charges were politically motivated and had been angled towards him because he had comparatively low funds to fight the case.
In court, it may have cost Biafra a pretty penny to be heard but on The Oprah Winfrey Show he was given all the time and space he needed to mount his attack on Gore and he doesn’t hold back. Biafra became famed for his anti-censorship stance and channelled a lot fo the trial into his subsequent spoken-word albums.
But, for us, there’s no greater moment than when he and Ice-T sat down across from Gore and delivered a rant worthy of burning anybody to the ground. Joyous.