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Watershed - what watershed? | Hot Air | Mike Stock Blog | Friday June 17 2011
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Pop music in this country is almost completely dominated by American acts who have taken sexualised imagery, dance moves and lyrical content way beyond the limits of decency. So much so that I don’t know if one can call it music anymore, let alone Pop.  I’ve sold more records than all of them.  I’ve written more hit songs than anyone.  Never once did I swear, use overt sexual references of a salacious nature, or revel in drugs or violence.  It was difficult to write over three hundred separate hit songs, keep them clean and keep the creative juices flowing as well as maintain passion and enthusiasm.  It was hard work.  What we are seeing now with the likes of Rihanna, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Nicole Scherzinger and a whole host of male rap stars, is a new breed of artist.  Mainly American.  I am not alone in thinking there should be more control introduced to prevent unacceptable material finding its way into the UK media.  At the moment you could be forgiven for thinking that, when it comes to music, the U.S. had undue and unrestrained access to our airwaves.

Whatever recommendations the Bailey report has made, toughening up the Watershed is irrelevant in this 24/7 world.  With the BBC iPlayer and the internet as your platform, you can watch last night’s TV at this morning’s breakfast.  Young people all know how to use these features.   Advisory stickers on records are also a non- starter.  You can’t easily sticker a download.  Although I am so pleased that the government has taken this first step, I have concerns that the report has let the broadcasters off the hook.  All broadcasters need to take responsibility for their own output. Eventually even sites like YouTube will need to face up to their obligations. What I hope is that David Cameron and the Conservative-led coalition have taken the first step on the road to re-establishing an ethical code of conduct, which should be international in its reach to protect our young people.

In December 2003 New Labour ended the ITC, (Independent Television Commission) whose duties were assumed by Ofcom, who also took over the responsibilities of the radio authority, Broadcasting Standards and the Radio communications Agency, effectively lumping together all UK broadcasters including the BBC.  Surprisingly, this move was the catalyst for many of the problems addressed in the recent Bailey report and, another nail in the coffin of pop music. Not that a rebirth or resurrection is out of the question and for this, I welcome David Cameron’s initiative.

After the ITC and under the new regime of Ofcom, the use of sex and violence in TV drama, and in pop music and videos grew steadily and became more and more recognised as the easy way to attract audiences.  After all, ‘Sex sells’.  Decency, probity and the caring concern for an impressionable audience were all sacrificed upon the altar of ratings.  And Ofcom could do little about it.  It only reacts.  So you can complain after the offending material has been broadcast, but what’s the point after the horse has bolted? This has led to the gradual de-sensitising of the public who try to convince themselves that if it’s on television, it must have been approved by someone. Surely someone will complain and it won’t happen again?  But it does, only next time it’s worse.  I don’t blame Ofcom for this.  I think they have hitherto been given the scope to be little more than passive observers.

Before 2003, the BBC had a number of pop music TV shows, including Top Of The Pops and Saturday morning shows, like Live and Kicking. Similarly the ITV companies with shows like SMTV, all featured pop music and were hugely influential in promoting music and encouraging sales in search of high chart positions and that elusive number one slot. To get your artist and record played on these shows, you needed to have the material approved.  The BBC, for example, was very careful about both visual and lyrical content. Your record would not make the show if the lyrics or the visual aspects or if any dubious subject matter, failed their strict guidelines. These shows attracted audiences of all ages. The ITV also, under the ITC, were very strict and took their responsibilities seriously.  The TV companies behaved responsibly because they knew they had a mixed audience of all ages. They cared.  But, for the record companies, if you did not get your music on these shows, you could not have a hit. You would not sell in quantity and you would lose your artist and probably your money.  So you did everything you could to comply with the guidelines. After Ofcom was empowered there followed a gradual phasing out of these Pop music shows.  The new regime gave more freedom to all broadcasters. The BBC could sell its programmes to new stations on the Sky satellite system.  It could contract ‘outside’ independent production companies and take revenue from advertisers.  Music was being shown more and more on the internet.  What point was there in having standards of broadcasting on terrestrial TV or radio, if Sky and all the social networking sites such as YouTube were unbridled?  No point at all.  It was a 24 hour world.  You can watch your favourite programmes any time you like.  No point in a Watershed.  The damage was done and ITV and the BBC gave up trying.  In all conscience they could not continue to schedule pop music shows if the policing of such was now in the hands of another agency.  Playing uncontrolled, uncensored music on Saturday morning TV which targeted young people was unthinkable, so they dropped the shows.

It felt a bit like the Wild West.  Everybody had been given licence to pursue commercial returns in any way they saw fit. The music industry now felt they had an easy run at things. No BBC broadcast standards to worry about. No ITC looking over their shoulder. They were free to make whatever records they liked. They pushed the boundaries of decency further and further. A kind of lawlessness followed this freedom.  As far as music is concerned, it has been a slow but unmistakable descent into pornography. Why?  Because it’s easy.  Put some sexualised dancing and scantily clad females in the video, and get it on the box.  Job done.  Now we have music dominated by sex and violence, salaciousness and deeply dark themes, mainly emanating from America. They sell to us here, stuff that they have already banned there. They can do this because there are no awkward rules here anymore.  We are tolerant and love our liberty and our uncensored cultural diversions.  But what about our children, and their freedom to enjoy an unexploited and innocent childhood? We may be in the last chance saloon for a whole generation.

Can any child psychologist or expert in childcare tell me that those born since 2003, who are now 6, 7 or 8 years old, having been exposed to this over sexualised music, videos, computer games, uncontrolled internet sites, grown up clothes and fashion all their young life, is undamaged?  How does a six year old assimilate this stuff?  A case in point is Nicole Scherzinger’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent last Saturday?  How do you justify the overtly sexual content on a family show which also contained a performance by an 11 year old girl and a 12 year old boy, no doubt watching in the wings, to a live audience made up with a large percentage of young people?  Which expert would be bold enough to say it doesn’t matter and won’t do any harm?  A year ago, when I first went public on this issue, there were many so-called experts who took the opposite view.  A year later and with more worrying examples happening on a daily basis and they seem fairly quiet right now.

Music promotes the trends that fashion then picks up. I have no doubt that pop music in its present condition is guilty of driving sling back high heels for 5 year olds, make-up and bras etc for 7 year olds.  Pop stars have always influenced people. But now we have armies of 5 to 12 year old fans who think Lady GaGa or Rihanna is someone to emulate. These stars should have a long hard look at the influence they have.  If the broadcasters didn’t play this stuff they wouldn’t survive. Trouble is there’s nothing else out there. There’s no broadcast opportunity for pop.  No room, apparently, for the type of music that all the family could enjoy.  Instead a relentless torrent of sex driven imagery.

It’s time to make a stand. So starting with the BBC and ITV here’s what I’d like to see. They don’t have to ban any type of music or video. We know that doesn’t work. They just need to make it clear that some music and videos do not fit with their new policy. They just need to announce that they will judge each record on its subject matter and visual imagery. Irrespective of the magnitude of the star or the pressure from the record labels.  Anything they deem unfit will not be broadcast.  At this point I do not see that it has anything to do with Ofcom. Remember, if the record companies don’t get their music broadcast, they won’t get their hit. They can’t drive sales.  When the broadcasters realise this, a remarkable thing will happen. The record companies, writers and producers won’t make the offending stuff.  Nobody is going to waste their time and money making a record or video which won’t get broadcast. They’ll have to think again and clean up their act.

Let kids be kids. Bring back pop music for young people, expose it on television and drive all this sexually explicit trash back to the Stone Age where it belongs. Let’s all get behind a weekly chart of the best-selling pop records. The promotion of which is something that the BBC and ITV should take the lead on. Everyone else will soon follow.

(c)2011 M Stock

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