“We’re talking about words – why are people afraid of words?” – Frank Zappa
In one of the best ’80s episodes of CNN’s Crossfire, we get a good picture of two ways to argue. What appears to start as an open forum about whether the government should censor music turns into three conservatives attacking a fourth conservative – the late Frank Zappa.
Multiple times, they get him off the subject of the Constitution, and into the intentions of the founding fathers, calling his music garbage and filth the whole time. They use “the children” as the cornerstone. Frank doesn’t take the bait. He stays on the subject of words.
Why was the subject up for debate?
During this time period, bills were surfacing that called for government censorship boards and there were Senate hearings. Zappa even testified in some of those hearings battling Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) made up of political wives who sought censorship of satanic and sexual lyrics. As a result of PMRC pressure, albums were labeled with the various forms of the “Parental Advisory” sticker beginning in the late ’80s. Zappa predicted that there would be court tie-ups, major fines, and that the stickers would be useless.
At times in the Crossfire episode he calls out the opponents: “I love it when you froth like that.” When they tried to argue that dirty song lyrics were a matter of national defense Frank said:
The biggest threat toward America today is not communism, it’s moving America towards a fascist theocracy.
The opponents, particularly Washington Times commentator Jon Lofton, tried to argue that dirty music was leading to behavioral crime and hopelessness. Zappa wanted youth to find hope by registering to vote and running for something. That suggestion was scoffed.
On his album covers Zappa called for people to register to vote, even having register booths at his concerts. He opposed the War on Drugs, believing that the crime lies in a person’s actions towards another, and that the US Treasury would benefit from decriminalization. “You own the government–it doesn’t own you,” he once said.
They talk over him a lot, but he remains calm and unfortunately never gets to finish his last point. He reiterates: we’re not talking about advocacy, we’re talking about words. Basically, it would be better to allow everything, without fear, with functioning brains and free choice, rather than install a government board that forbids certain words from our ears. He didn’t want to see the U.S. government moving towards fascism.
If you want to go right for the kill-zone low blow in an argument, do what Dave Barry’s satirical “How to Win an Argument” says – compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler. Character attacking is number one if you find yourself “spectacularly wrong.” In this case, they actually did just that and called him an anarchist for taking a non-invasive view.
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