The War on Eminem

John Motley aims to clean up Strongsville, one filthy CD at a time.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Top contender for Brainless Quote of the Year is the clerk at the Strongsville HMV store, caught on tape last month selling an expletive-laced rap album to a 14-year-old. "I'd sell to a fetus if I could," he said -- into a hidden Channel 3 camera, in a much-publicized exposé.

But that gaffe, which resulted in the swift firing of said employee, may be just the beginning of HMV's woes. Recently, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peggy Foley Jones denied summary judgment to the City of Strongsville in its ongoing battle with John Motley, an angered parent who is suing the city for not taking action against HMV after the store sold his nine-year-old daughter an Eminem disc last June. The case is headed to trial in February. Now, a situation that previously had been easy to dismiss as a prime example of overprotective parenting could have a very real impact on how and to whom music is sold in Northeast Ohio.

"They say it's a First Amendment issue, but I don't think it is," Motley states. "Eminem has the right to record what he wants to. You and I want to buy this as adults, fine and dandy. We want to listen to this stuff, great. But the recording industry shouldn't be marketing and targeting it to kids, and stores shouldn't be selling it to kids."

Motley cites the "harmful to juveniles" provision in the Ohio Revised Code as the basis for his argument. Basically, the clause provides for the alteration of obscenity law in order to protect children from material that may be perfectly suitable for adults, but detrimental to youngsters. This is why kids can't buy the latest issue of Hustler, but dads can. To determine whether material qualifies as damaging to children, the code provides a list of seven standards to use in evaluating the items in question. These qualifications include the repeated use of swear words and descriptions of sexual activity, among others.

So, does Motley have a legitimate argument that Eminem's music meets these standards, thereby making it illegal to sell to minors? "You want me to fix up lyrics while our president gets his dick sucked?/Fuck that/Take drugs/Rape sluts," Em rhymes on his latest disc. Weaker cases have been made.

"The bottom line is this: The law is being broken, and city law enforcement is not enforcing the law," says Randy Sharp of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, whom Motley has contacted for financial assistance in waging his legal battle. "These law enforcement officers would enforce the law if it were a magazine or if it were an X-rated video -- there's no difference between those two mediums and music. It all contains the same explicit content. It really irks me that these men evidently don't care that laws are being broken which were enacted to protect their children and other children."

The operative word in all this is "children." Let's face it, when kids become involved in an issue, emotions run high -- sometimes at the expense of reason.

"A lot of censorship that has happened throughout history, in music, has been started by good-minded people who do something really, really stupid, with the best intentions," says Eric Nuzum, local author of Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America. "I think that the real broad idea is actually kind of laudable. But as the details become finer and we start to see an articulation of how this will actually be carried out, that's when the potential problems start to come out, such as what is the definition of foul language and of being too sexually provocative."

HMV isn't talking. The manager of the Strongsville store declined comment on the situation, while calls to the company's corporate offices in Manhattan were not returned. Strongsville Mayor Walter Erhnfelt, who is also named in Motley's suit, did not return a phone call.

But they're not the only ones Motley has targeted. Since last June, Motley has sent his daughter to buy what he deems illicit records in local Target and Borders stores, to demonstrate how easy it is for kids to purchase records with parental warnings on them.

"I'm a naive man," Motley understates. "I didn't know these recordings existed. I didn't know a parental advisory label existed. Why would I? There's no signs in the store."

On Marshall Mathers, Eminem counters with this: "Quit tryin' to censor music/This is for your kid's amusement/But don't blame me when little Eric jumps off of the terrace/You should've been watching him/Apparently you ain't parents."

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