An iconic logo that touched a generation of music listeners before being obliterated from the popular consciousness by the move to digital is finally getting a makeover. Yes, the unmistakable black and white barred “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” is back to be completely useless to a whole new age group.[more]
In the 1980s, the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) was behind the original logo. Infamously co-founded by Al Gore’s ex-wife Tipper, the PMRC became the tsk-tsking nanny against which many rock musicians pushed back (and in the process only became more popular). Gore’s name became permanently fixed in connection to the “Tipper Sticker,” with one punk band even calling itself “Tipper’s Gore.”
Meanwhile, bands like Rage Against the Machine and Tool made rock’n’roll reputations for themselves not for the “explicit lyrics” in their music, but for anti-PMRC protests, which often took naked liberties with the logo. All to their fans’ glee, of course.
One of the core problems with the logo, which was endorsed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is that there was no agreed-upon standards for applying it. Some recordings that probably deserved it went without, while others were slapped with the badge despite little or no “explicit” content. It was applied solely at the discretion of music labels’ marketers.
The role the logo really served was a hedge for record companies against parental complaints. While the logo itself maybe did little to turn youth away from dirty, dirty music (and probably actually helped rebellious teens identify that music), it was a major victory of design and a clever bit of marketing — add the PMRC logo, boost sales!
Early versions of the PMRC’s logo were drab and far from attention-grabbing, such as this:
But the definitive black and white version at top popped out on nearly any album cover, a veritable Good Housekeeping Seal of Disapproval. Visible even from a distance, it alerted parents, and teens, which albums were deemed explicit.
With the rise of digital music, the RIAA/PMRC logo scheme became largely pointless.
The RIAA’s current website on the matter is, well, about as adorably out of touch as the RIAA has probably ever been. The “Information for Parents” site begins, “It’s Not Easy – Who knew it would be so difficult? Or so complicated. Children are the joy of one’s life and the bane of one’s existence—all at the same time.”
The RIAA’s advisory policy page contains a section (last updated in 2006) on “Guidelines and Requirements Regarding PAL Notices in Digital Distribution.” It’s a confusing mess, including terms like “To the extent technologically feasible” and “Covered Digital Platforms.” It was so much easier when it was just an “album cover.”
While music services like iTunes and Amazon do provide content warnings, they are hardly as prominent as the “Parental Advisory” one of the past.
But the RIAA’s UK counterpart, the British Phonographic Industry, is not dissuaded by the challenge of an industry standard and is now looking to update and standardize the Parental Advisory so that all digital provider platforms use the same, recognizable warning. BPI released a statement on its website.
“The BPI’s updated Parental Advisory Scheme will stipulate that UK digital music retailers and streaming services should clearly display the internationally-recognised Parental Advisory logo or the word ‘EXPLICIT’ alongside any music or video files flagged as containing explicit content.
Some digital music stores already flag explicit content, while others do not. Most audio and video streaming services have not yet implemented a parental guidance system. The BPI believes that consumers will benefit from consistent labelling across all music formats.”
A noble effort, but not the bold, recognizable badge that engendered fan and musicians’ rebellious instincts, which means it will probably also be less effective.