In Defence of Offence

Parental Advisory - Explicit Content

It’s no secret that MENTORS have drawn ire in their half-century of history. Starting in the 1970s with the “I Can” attitude of youthful rebellion, these offensive upstarts pioneered the Shock Rock genre through their indomitable lyrics and style.

Appalling, gross, and tongue planted firmly in collective cheek, this band were here to repulse and raise hell. Probing the limits of acceptability and going far beyond. Earning notoriety through the decades with increasingly worse words and off-stage antics. Offending all across the political spectrum.

But offence is a reactive concept, one entirely in the eye of the beholder. What one may deem deplorable, another could find amusing – with no absolutes in the interpretation of intent. Acknowledging offence gives it power and prominence, a factor exploited to both promote and restrict creativity.

Dark, disgusting themes are prevalent in extreme art. Exploration of the Id. Shadow work in 4/4 time. The legacy of Leah Sublime and de Sade brought to filthy fore. Freedom of expression must mean exploring such topics alongside more palatable ones, without taboos, even if personally provocative.

Moral relativism aside, Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to entertain. By evidence of longevity, Mentors have sustained their own nasty niche. Attracting an audience who appreciates dark humour and licentious lyrics, the Kings of Sleaze have more than earned their boundary-pushing crown.

Yet in the mid 80s, authority pushed back.

Fearing the rise of obscene music across the US, a group of ladies dubbed the “Washington Wives” came to prominence. Led by Tipper Gore and each married to an influential husband, they founded a committee with intent to protect children from hearing such nasty tunes. The Parents Music Resource Centre.

What began with the best of intentions soon betrayed an all-too familiar overstep of authority. The PMRC, believing themselves correct in their self-righteous fervour, took the playful hedonism of Heavy Metal at face value and declared judgement.

As with the Comic Book Code and movie ratings of prior decades, the PMRC called for the music industry to self-regulate. To categorise the content of albums with ratings and labels. Targeting violent, sexual and sadomasochistic content to restrict availability to the impressionable.

In September 1985, the US Senate held a hearing to discuss the viability of this proposal, overseen by Tipper’s husband, then-Senator Al Gore. Although Mentors never made the infamous “Filthy Fifteen” list, their lyrics were still read out to mild amusement. A tacit admission that perhaps such bad words weren’t to be taken seriously.

Nonetheless, the argument was made. If the music industry could not self-regulate, then the State must regulate on its behalf. As always, for the good of the children.

Unwilling to tackle the greater evils of the world, and hyperfixating on irrelevance, the battle lines were drawn in debate. Musicians were asked their opinion and, regardless of genre, all were in agreement that this was a bad thing.

Compromise came with the introduction of the infamous and oft-parodied “Parental Advisory” label. Adding a level of money-making mystique to the music, and drawing much mirth from this side of the Atlantic.

Four decades on, music retains the capacity to push boundaries, as it should. Artists and bands find new ways to offend. The pearl-clutchers of the past have diminished into irrelevance, yet in their absence has festered a more insidious suppression.

The modern “Morality Squad” does not exist as a top-down assertion of authority. Rather it is the result of clandestine collectivism. Seldom challenging openly or directly, but enforcing censorship through malicious sabotage and backbiting.

Gatherings have been shut down, bands have been blacklisted, and freedom of expression ruthlessly undermined.

Including this tour, which has already received anonymous complaints and demands for cancellation. I thank those venues, promoters, and bands who have refused to comply.

Despite censorious subcultures embracing transgressions that would make prior generations weep, and with greater evils even more blatant, they find their purpose in petty partisanship. Demonising and devouring those who would have once stood together against oppression.

Through the safety of echo chambers and algorithms, they mark the outsider an irredeemable enemy, to be othered and silenced with pious zeal. Unwilling to understand the subtleties of context in communication, and all with the same self-righteous fervour of another age.

The attitude of “I Can” has become “You Cannot”.

Near the end of the PMRC hearings, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider took the stand to offer a thoughtful rebuttal to the accusations of the time. Underestimated by his political opponents, he methodically and eloquently deconstructed the arguments for censorship and the context-free judgement of external jurisdiction.

He proposed the listener of potentially provocative music should possess the freedom and responsibility to define their own boundaries. With parents protecting their children through dialogue and discussing what is appropriate for their family. With the right to reject and return should these self-declared lines be crossed. Without deference to overreaching authority, and especially without imposing such boundaries on others.

Back then the State had processes and procedures laid in law that would compel them to listen. To hold such hearings, learn from them, and ratify a rational response for the good of all.

But where now is the time for thoughtful rebuttal? Where is the space for an individual to declare boundaries against the baying intent of the mob? What process exists to appeal misunderstanding of intent?

At Internet speed, accusation is absolute, nuance buried in hyperbole, and the will to simply listen and learn subsumed by soundbites and strawmen. From Al Gore to algorithm, very little has changed…

… and that’s why I’m putting these hooded bastards on!

Mentors UK Tour - January 2024