For reasons I won't reveal (self-incrimination, y'all), I spent part of the week listening to the clean version of Kanye West's new album Graduation, then switched to the (dirty, filthy, immoral) regular version (see the review, page 45).
The experience led me to conclude that, while clean albums purport to be a savior of our nation's youth, they are, in fact, a crime against humanity. The reasoning is two-fold: One, they don't do their job. Cleaned up, Graduation sounds terrible, jerky, spotty and totally unlistenable. Worse, it doesn't actually get rid of the supposed immorality Tipper Gore and the clingy parents of America wring their hands over. Clean versions censor cursing, not artists' sly allusions to misogyny, violence and drugs. In Graduation, the F**k is censored a dozen times (kinda like we just did...), while countless direct references to drunken debauchery and casual sex aren't. The idea that we're protecting kids against some kind of immorality, then, is stupid. We're just cutting out the swears.
More importantly, clean versions irreparably corrupt the art, making it less than was intended by the artist. It obscures meaning and disrupts rhythm. That, in turn, teaches kids to treat art more as a commodity than an aesthetic experience. Stay with me.
Junior wants an album, but mom doesn't want to buy it because of the advisory label (and joints like Hastings won't sell it to him without an adult). Labels, seeing this unserved market, take out all the offending words -- "shit", sometimes "hell" and "ass" -- take off the advisory, and ship to stores. Labels make the same money either way -- with "objectionable" content or without -- and the art/commerce balancing act takes a decided dip toward commerce (like it needed help). Mom (or the clerk at Hastings), seeing no warning label, lets Junior cop the clean version.
The lesson the kid takes away, then, is that experiencing the art isn't important, it's possessing the art -- in whatever mangled form it takes to get the parental advisory sticker removed -- that matters. Eazy-E is rolling over in his grave.