When Dee Snider fought against censorship in the 1980s
In 1985, America felt the wrath of four overprotective parents who were known as the ‘Washington Wives’, a group who set out to increase censorship in music. However, if they were going to achieve their goal then they would have to get through a rock dream team of Dee Snider, Jon Denver and Frank Zappa first. What made Snider’s appearance the most iconic out of the three was that he arrived in the courtroom in his leather-clad Twisted Sister outfit, a decision which made his expert detailing and unstoppable defence of artistic integrity a bizarre but brilliant sight.
The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) wanted to prevent children from hearing music that they deemed to have violent, drug-related or sexual themes by labelling albums with parental advisory stickers—a proposal which Snider fought furiously against. The husbands of the women who founded the PMRC’s were all connected to politics in one form or another and even included Tipper Gore, wife of the Senator and future Vice President Al Gore. One of the actions taken by the PMRC was to compile a list of fifteen songs in popular music which they labelled as the ‘Filthy Fifteen’ with each song then being labelled objectionable because of the category its lyrical content falls into.
Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ was one of the songs that made it onto this unenviable list with the song being deemed inappropriate because of the theme of violence, it was a categorisation which angered Snider. Some other examples of the reasoning for songs making it into the ‘Filthy Fifteen’ include Prince’s ‘Darling Nikki’ because of what was described as the ‘Sex/Masturbation’ lyrical content, Black Sabbath’s ‘Trashed’ for its mention of ‘Drug/Alcohol abuse’ and, bizarrely, Mercyful Fate song ‘Into The Coven’ for its occult themes.
Snider may have looked like he was going to be a pushover in the courtroom or that he was maybe another rocker without a clue but in actuality, he presented an articulate argument in a well-mannered, well-delivered way that will have undoubtedly shocked the PMRC who, having judged his song for its supposed violence, would have likely cast their own judgements on Snider before arguably his finest performance. The Twisted Sister leader was also quick to point out to the officials that he lived a clean, teetotal lifestyle and that any suggestion otherwise was merely a facet of their prejudice.
He quickly took aim at the ringleader of the PMRC, telling the committee: “Ms Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage and she found it,” implying that her reaching the conclusion on his song was down to her own brain rather than the lyrical content. Snider later wrote for the Huffington Post that he was pleased with the “raw hatred I saw in Al Gore’s eyes when I said Tipper Gore had a dirty mind,” — the former Vice President was sitting on the sub-committee.
The PMRC, who took umbrage with the video for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and the violent themes that it includes, may have expected a fight but they couldn’t have predicted the brilliant response that Snider had up his sleeve. Snider stated the video was “simply meant to be a cartoon with human actors playing variations on the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote theme. Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons.” It was a hint at the demonisation of music when it, in fact, was just another channel of art which at this time had gained some more widely spread popularity.
Anything they threw at him, Snider had a well-thought-out and reasoned response for, a factor which made the PMRC’s anger level rise with each eloquently placed sentence. The highlight of the whole proceeding came when Snider pinpointed a statement from Tipper Gore in which she accused Twisted Sister of selling T-shirts which didn’t exist, saying, “You look at even the T-shirts that kids wear and you see Twisted Sister and a woman in handcuffs sort of spread-eagled.”
Snider didn’t beat around the bush and labelled this as being an “outright lie” in his testimony. He then told the committee Twisted Sister “never sold a shirt of this type, we have always taken great pains to steer clear of sexism in our merchandise, records, stage show, and personal lives. Furthermore, we have always promoted the belief that rock and roll should not be sexist, but should cater to males and females equally.”
He wasn’t done there, the Twisted Sister frontman then asked Tipper Gore to produce such a shirt and when asked about it again by Senator Al Gore, Gore clarified for the record that “the word ‘T-shirts’ was in plural, and one of them referred to Twisted Sister and the other referred to a woman in handcuffs.” A simply laughable statement and proof that victory was clearly in Snider’s grasp.
Nobody in the room bought her response and Snider had succeeded in his defence even though the PRMC helped enforce the birth of the ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker — it’s still 1-0 to Snyder in our book.