AOL Keyword: Censorship

unknown, 2000-10-22, by: Dave Marsh
On AOL's Bruce Springsteen discussion board, the fans wanted to talk politics. AOL said its infamous Terms of Service (TOS) forbade such controversy. So the fans talked about song lyrics, and several posted excerpts from Bruce's songs. Everyone who did this was served with a TOS violation and the posts were deleted. When the posters asked why, they were told that the lyrics were "vulgar." If they protested further, they were suspended from AOL for a week.

Among the lines that TOS find too vulgar: "Bobby said he'd pull out / Bobby stayed in" ("Spare Parts"), which explains how Janey got pregnant; "Janey's fingers were in the cake" ("Spirit in the Night"), which is as gross as "Little Miss Muffet;" and "Pink Cadillac," where Springsteen declares "My love is bigger than a Honda, it's bigger than a Subaru."

Now if Springsteen were to do something truly vulgar, like use "Pink Cadillac" to pimp for General Motors, TOS wouldn't ban it. AOL crams vulgarity of that sort down the throats of its subscribers the instant they log on. As for the sexual stuff, one of the highest traffic areas on AOL is its chat rooms for kids, which a child abuse expert told me he considers the single most effective trolling ground for child sex predators. AOL has never done anything meaningful to protect subscribers from that.

AOL basically doesn't have to care. If you want to be in on that Springsteen discussion, you'll play by its rules, even if those rules basically leave you nothing to talk about, including the color of his wife's hair. ("Red Headed Woman" was banned in its entirety.) If you object, they'll toss you out and don't expect to get a refund on this month's bill.

This isn't about Springsteen or Bruce fans. It's about AOL, which happens to be one of the corporations in the American record industry cartel. Will artists signed to its Warner/Reprise, Atlantic and Elektra subsidiaries face pressure NOT to release songs with lyrics like "taste your sweet red wine" or "late at night when I'm dead on the line / I think of your pretty face when I let 'er unwind," the offending passages from "Book of Dreams" and "Ramrod?" (That line isn't even actually in "Book of Dreams.")

One of AO-Hell's kingpins is Robert Pittman, the first honcho of MTV. Pittman forbade MTV to show any video featuring black artists, on the grounds that viewers wouldn't put up with race mixing. Pittman, a native Mississippian, is also a major supporter of the most infamous advocates of music censorship, Al and Tipper Gore. The record division of AO-Hell is under his direction. One of the first things that happened after Pittman took the helm was that Howie Klein left. Klein ran the Sire and Reprise labels with great success, in part because he refused to put warning labels on releases by, for instance, Madonna and Alannis Morrisette, among others.

Many AOL subscribers have hard drives loaded with.mp3 files, none of them purchased from the cartel (because the cartel doesn't sell them). Presuming that the record biz ever realizes its dream of being able to invade the hard drives of file-sharers to find such "evidence," who do you think the first people they attack are going to be?

Is this paranoid? Don't ask. You might find your account suspended.