Andre J M Prevos. Popular Music and Society. Volume 22, Issue 2. Summer 1998.
The history of French rap has been described already (Prevos, “The Evolution” 714-20) and need not be repeated here. This essay focuses on legal problems faced by several rap artists in France. The latter have become the target of repressive actions by the representatives of police forces as well as by several other ethnic- or gender-based groups. The actions on the part of the French police unions and their representatives involve the words (but seldom the lyrics) of rap artists as well as the public and artistic attitudes of these performers. Several such cases have occurred since the mid 1990s; they will be characterized here.
In the United States, rap artists have had to withstand accusations by the leaders of police unions and protests by the representatives of “morality movements.” This essay will describe similar actions undertaken against rappers in France. It will also underline differences from the actions taken in the United States against African American rappers by representatives of police unions and so-called “morality groups.” It will then become clear that these differences do not reflect any significant variation in the opposition to rap artists, their lyrics, or the popular impact of their recordings. Instead, they will illustrate basic differences in the legal texts governing artistic creation and variations in the operations set in motion by those opposed to rap artists and their productions.
The Culture, Real and Represented, of Rap Artists in France The majority of rappers in France come from suburban areas where poverty has always been present. These suburban areas include subsidized public housing developments (HLM for Habitations a Loyer Modere-that is to say, low-rent housing) where large families, including many children, live in apartment buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s to house workers and their families. These suburban areas have come to symbolize the excesses in violence, drug consumption, social dislocation, and delinquency encountered in financially strapped urban neighborhoods. Even though several rappers have likened these economically depressed areas to the American ghetto, they do not represent similar societal environments and differences between the two are clear (Bernard 9). These differences are due essentially to the existence of French social laws whose impact on the members of financially disadvantaged groups is significant. They are also due to the fact that the population of these financially disadvantaged areas is not ethnically uniform. It is true that many immigrant families live in these subsidized structures, but there are also large numbers of French families in the HLM. The immigrants come from many areas of the former French colonial empire: Blacks from Africa and the French Caribbean, Muslims from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. For many French individuals influenced by the characterizations used in the media, the notion of immigrant is seen as an equivalent for immigrants of Arab origins.
The 1980s have been marked by violent uprisings in several subsidized housing centers in the suburbs of Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles. These destructive episodes caused financial losses to storeowners and other retail outlets. As a result, there are fewer and fewer businesses in these financially depressed areas. The large numbers of unemployed teenagers and the significant numbers of youngsters who decide to drop out of school (even though this may lead to the suppression of subsidies to the family) organize gangs, steal, rob, sometimes rape women, or beat up others who refuse to hand over their money, their clothes, or their shoes. These young gang members reserve the brunt of their heinous contempt for the policemen and policewomen who are in charge of controlling the security of these areas as well as the security of subway and train passengers. Police officers are sometimes ambushed by young gang members (Cornevin 9) and a policewoman was raped by a gang of young immigrants in a subway train (C.C., “Le calvaire” 9).
The French government has undertaken several types of actions in order to help the youth of these urban areas. The Ministry of Culture sponsors artistic workshops (theatre, music, dance) organized during the summer vacations (Thibodat 28). The administrations in charge of the HLM help renovate older structures and often involve those who are living in the buildings in this process (Arnaud, “Le Franc-Moisin” 16). These interventions are limited and their impact is difficult to evaluate. Moreover, the economic and social situation of France limits the scope of such interventions, whose impact upon the diminution of unemployment or the creation of new jobs lacks decisiveness.
Rappers in France call this urban-based culture the “ghetto culture.” They use the term for its symbolic value and for its suggestive power: the images associated with the American ghetto conveyed by the French media are strongly anchored in the minds of a majority of French people. The racial policies that led to the emergence of ghettos in American urban areas are also well known. These reasons are at the root of the choice made by rappers in France. They want to underline the negative aspects of poverty and racism to the detriment of the social and economic actions on the part of the French government. At the same time, they hint at the underlying racism encountered in the French population at large. Rappers in France, like many of their American counterparts, insist that they alone are the real chroniclers of the lives of those who have been confined in these unforgiving urban environments. They add that their language, with its mixture of all types of neologisms, new words, slang expressions, and off-color words, is the language of the “ghetto,” just as the African-American slang of American rappers is the language of black American ghetto dwellers.’ These rappers in France seldom mince their words and have often been accused of sexist and demeaning remarks towards women and even against other ethnic groups (Jews in particular). All these excesses have been detailed in articles in the French press as well as on French television (Latil 47). They have contributed to the elaboration of a set of fixed images in the minds of many French people (Davet, “Stomy Bugsy” 22). As is the case with the popular American representation of the ghetto, none of these French popular representations conveys a positive image (Latrive 22).
French Popular Musicians and Their Lyrics
On the one hand, the history of French popular music during the last centuries has been marked by few openly hostile actions against popular performers. On the other, there are many examples of less overt actions taken against performers whose lyrics were seen as unpleasant, controversial, or repulsive by those in charge of supervising the “morality” of the population at large. French laws governing artistic creation guarantee a wide and extensive coverage in favor of the artist. Nowadays, French artists enjoy a well-defined set of rights that prevent legal actions against any artist whose words or artistic productions are simply deemed offensive. Only overt calls for the destruction of the social order, revolution, violent crimes, and political unrest would be a cause for judicial intervention on the part of the government, even if they are part of the lyrics performed by the artist. This is why the last French singer to spend time in jail because of the lyrics of his songs was Pierre Jean de B6ranger, a nineteenth-century French chansonnier (a popular singer performing songs in cabarets or in music halls) whose texts caused violent reactions on the part of the French governments in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s (Frat 6). But there are many examples of situations when more subtle actions were taken against French popular singers in the twentieth century. French state-owned radio (under control of the French government until 1982) was forbidden to broadcast Boris Vian’s Le Deserteur (The Deserter), written after the Dien Bien Phu episode of the Indochina War; it was finally allowed when Vian modified the line deemed offensive by the censors. Several songs by Georges Brassens, Jean Ferrat, and Maxime Le Forestier were never broadcast by French state-owned radio stations. Leo Ferrf’s song about Charles de Gaulle was never published (Frat 6). These songs were censored because of their political slant. The famous “Je t’aime, Moi non plus” by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot was seldom broadcast by French stateowned radio stations because of its overtly sexual allusions; it was even forbidden in Italy (Frat 6).
In the Unites States, attacks against popular music focused more on their aspect as a commodity. As early as the 1950s there were efforts by American groups to pressure those they saw as the key purveyors of such “poisonous” products: BMI, the entity in charge of royalty gathering for popular music (as opposed to the more “respectable” ASCAP); the composers; the performers; and the record companies (Hill 59-61). During the 1980s, hearings were held at the prompting of Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Committee (PMRC). These hearings made it clear that there had been little—if any—change in the minds of the politicians and their supporters since the 1950s (Hill 61, 69).
In the 1960s, rock-and-roll artists in France were sometimes described as “antisocial” but they hardly suffered from direct or indirect pressures This was essentially because their lyrics were neither sexually explicit nor violently political (Davet, “Le rock” 17). The singers of the so-called “alternative movement” of the 1980s in France brought new attitudes and social consciousness into many of their songs (Prevos, “Le mouvement alternatif” 44-50). The arrival of rappers and their openly anti-establishment lyrics led to the emergence of French rock groups whose members continue the “alternative” tradition, whose lyrics convey messages aimed at those in power and denounce the excesses they impose upon the disadvantaged or the immigrants (Medioni, “Le J’accuse“ 117) In addition, several artists have developed sexually focused public images and repertoires, based on the lyrics and on the seductive look of the artists; this is true of the so-called “boy bands” and “girl groups” (Mortaigne, “Les idoles” 18).
The Ministere AMER “Sacrifice of Chicken Case” (1995-1997) In 1995, the French film La Haine (Hate) became a huge commercial success. It showed the life of three young suburban poor (one Arab, one African, one Jew). The soundtrack featured only one French rap group (Expression Direkt), while most of the other songs were part of Bob Marley’s repertoire (“Burnin’ and Lootin”’ in particular). The French record company Delabel asked eleven rap artists in France to record an album of songs “inspired by the film” (La Haine). The songs reflected the repertoire of the artists who agreed to record. IAM and MC Solaar insisted on the insidious banality of violence; Sens Unik and F.F.F. used metaphors and focused on their musical identities. Others were more “documentary” Ste Strausz detailed her everyday life. As for La Cliqua, Les Sages Poetes de la Rue, and Assassin, their lyrics were clearly antagonistic. Ministre AMER’s “Sacrifice de Poulets” (Sacrifice of Chicken) was less crude but more insidious.
The song followed a format reminiscent of Ice-T’s “Cop Killer.” In French, the word “poulet” means “chicken” but in popular French it means “cop” (reproducing the dual meaning of “pig” in American English). The so-called “Cop Killer” debate in America appeared after several police officers noticed the lyrics of a song performed by rapper Ice-T. American critics of “gangsta” rap often failed to understand the signifying encountered in lyrics outwardly boastful or violent but much more meaningful to anyone making the effort of understanding what was “behind” those shocking lyrics (Potter 103-04). When members of Ministbre AMER were asked about the lyrics to “Sacrifice de poulets” they focused essentially on the signifying aspect and answered that “young people living in the popular suburbs are not idiots, they are not going to mistake a work of art for reality” (Bouilhet, “Cette petite” 34). They implied that the elements of allusion and signifying were at the core of their lyrics (here the “Sacrifice of chicken,” in addition to its coded message, brings voodoo connotations into play). What is certain is that members of Ministbre AMER do hide, disguise, and amplify the meaning of the lyrics through diverse techniques.
Members of the police unions (like the most vocal American rap critics) took these lyrics at face value and, in their complaints to a judge, inferred that the rappers were openly advocating the killing of policemen and -women. They decided to attack the group in the courts. In addition, on 19 July 1995, Jean-Louis Debrd, the French Minister of Justice, entered the fray and asked for an inquiry into what he called “calls for the assassination of agents of law and order”-a crime that is not covered by the French laws on artistic creation. Here too, the action was not against the individual members of Ministre AMER as artists but, instead, against these same members as individuals who, during interviews on the French television channel “France 2” and in the French magazine Rock & Folk, had indicated that their lyrics were a call to resistance against the police.
On 14 November 1997, the 17eme Chambre du Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris returned a guilty verdict against the members of Ministere AMER. They were found guilty of having called for the killing of police officers, of having insulted both the French police forces and a public administration. Jrome “Kenzy” Ebelle, the leader of the group, was condemned to pay FF171,000 [$28,500] (FF90,000 [$15,000] of fine, FF30,000 [$5,000] of general damages, and FF21,000 [$3,500] of damages to the three police unions who had attacked the group as civil entities, as well as FF30,000 [$5,000] of fees to pay for the publication of the legal decisions in the French press) (“Publication judiciaire” 60). As for Gilles “Stomy Bugsy” Duarte, he was found guilty of the same offense (but not of the insults) and was condemned to pay a FF15,000 [$2,500] fine (Binet 22).
This case offers a striking illustration of the techniques used by those who want to bring rappers to court. They cannot attack the members of a rap group as artists. The utterances used in these trials were not the lyrics sung during a show but the words spoken during interviews either on the radio, on television, or in a magazine. As far as the French courts are concerned, the members of the group were no longer “performing,” they were “speaking.” As individuals, they are entitled to certain rights with regard to their freedom of expression. However, explicitly calling for the assassination of police officers is not covered under these rights, nor are insults to representatives of public administrations and, through these representatives, to the administrations themselves. The members of Ministre AMER had declared “One homie killed, two “chicken” sacrificed. Do this first and, then, we’ll see” (Binet 24) during an interview on France 2 (a channel of the French public television system). These words were cited as proof of their calls for the assassination of police officers. The radio journalists were not called to answer the suit because they had only “done their job” by interviewing the rappers. When these same rappers were interviewed by print journalists, they renewed their calls for violence and added “derogatory comments” about one French woman officer, Florence Rey, who had been killed by a car driven by young Arab delinquents. In the interview, the rappers were quoted as saying “Florence Rey is a woman who has balls.
Now we do not work on St. Florence day. We celebrate.” One of the journalists who interviewed the rappers intervened to express his agreement and, in so doing, became an accomplice. This is why only one among the two journalists for Rock & Folk magazine was required to pay FF20,000 [$3,334] in fines (Protche 84). One of the lawyers defending the journalists illustrated the legal procedure used against the rappers and the journalists as follows: if, instead of “do not attack your neighbor, go burn a police station,” one person says “the hero in the song says that you should not attack your neighbor but go burn a police station,” that person cannot be brought before the courts. The same message has been conveyed but the law no longer applies (Binet 24). This is exactly what worries the defenders of rappers whose often slangish and evocative words during stage commentaries or off-the-cuff interviews may now become evidence against them in a court of law. Moreover, a journalist may now become an accomplice, whether because s/he wants to encourage the artist to expand the scope of the remarks or because s/he wants to encourage the interviewee by expressing support for outlandish utterances. This will undoubtedly lead some interviewers to control their reactions and their lines of questioning when they are facing rappers or artists expressing violent and overt critiques of the socioeconomic and political situation in France.
The “NTM Affair” (1995-1997)
The rise in popularity of the Front National (FN), France’s neofascist party under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, is now well-documented (Soudais 20-100). The FN has regularly attracted between fifteen and twenty percent of the French electorate during national elections in the 1990s. In June 1995, the French local municipal elections brought three FN mayors to office in three southeastern cities. In this region there are large numbers of former French colonists who were forced to leave Algeria in the mid-1960s and a significant number of Algerian and other Muslim immigrants. The city of Toulon elected a new mayor in June 1995. Jean-Marie Le Chevallier and members of his municipal council had campaigned under the FN banner, promising a severe tightening of all programs targeting the immigrants (Arabs in majority) and a draconian revision of the financial support of artistic activities deemed “unacceptable” (Medioni et al. 57).
Members of the opposing political forces organized a “Freedom Concert” at La Seyne-sur-Mer, on 14 July 1995, with several artists representing a wide array of popular styles: from rap artists like MC Solaar and NTM to pop artist Patrick Bruel. There were also several politicians from the Socialist Party (Jack Lang) and intellectuals associated with the Socialists (such as the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy). During their performance, the members of NTM interpreted several of their songs with rather brutal and clearly offensive lyrics against the French police and other public servants. These lyrics were not mentioned in the complaint launched against the group by police unions. This complaint indicated that, between two songs, the two performers pointed at the policemen and -women present in the concert hall and said “Fascists are dressed in blue and go by groups of three in Renault 19 cars [a type of car used by the French police]. They wait for violence to start and they hit us in the face! We piss on them” (Tellier 18). For the representatives of the police officers this attitude was seen as a form of “antipolice racism” that, as is the case with any other form of “racism,” is not tolerated by the French legal system. A judicial action was thus set in motion. The inquiries, interviews, subpoenaed evidence, and testimonies were gathered by the judge in charge of putting together the evidence to be presented before the court. It should be made clear that the complaint did not mention the very offensive and really insulting lyrics against the French police and other French public servants (M. 10).
The members of NTM had been contracted to perform at the annual Chateauvallon Festival (in the same department as Toulon) in 1996. The Prefect of the Var department relayed to the Director of the Festival that the presence of the group at the Festival would lead to the suppression of subsidies from the Government if the Festival featured NTM (Fr6tard 14). For the Prefect, the members of NTM had insulted members of the French police forces and, because of their stage name (NTM stand for “nique ta more,” the French equivalent of “fuck your mother”), were a constant insult to every French mother (Vernay, “A Chateauvallon” 35). In addition, the city of Toulon entered the fray by accusing the organizers of the Festival of misusing governmental subsidies and failing to report expenses incurred. The city of Toulon asked for, and obtained, the designation of a temporary administrator of the Festival in order to ensure that subsidies had not been misappropriated (C., “Nique” 17). The ultrarightist political forces had found a successful technique with which to fight what they had always perceived as a vicious form of antisocial activity that, until then, had benefited from the support of the French political system.
On 14 November 1996, Judge Claude Boulanger from Toulon condemned the members of NTM to three months’ imprisonment (plus three months suspended, under benefit of the First Offenders’ Act) and a sixmonth ban on public performance. This was certainly a stiff sentence and the members of the group appealed immediately. This led to the immediate suspension of the sentence: they could still perform and remained free.
Once we compare this early condemnation (the first of its kind for many decades) with the lesser condemnation inflicted on Ministre AMER, we cannot but wonder whether French judges have found a way to defuse possible demonstrations and violent reactions to the threat of imprisonment for popular performers by forcing them to pay rather stiff fees (popular artists selling successful records are perceived as financially well-off and able to shell out fines sometimes equivalent to one year of a worker’s salary). The NTM decision led both to anticipated and unexpected reactions. First, the members of NTM indicated that what they sing is simply a reflection of the harshness of life in the poorest sections of large cities where youngsters, more likely to come into contact with members of the police, have developed an unmistakable antagonism to the French police and its agents (Caramel 81). Youth groups planned a demonstration to protest the decision against their new heroes. New web sites were created in order to spread the protest (Chorus) and disseminate the message of support to the artists (Davduf, “La saga 1, 2, 3, 4”). Members of these groups saw the decision as a clear limitation of NTM’s freedom of expression (Chemin and Inciyan 8). The French political parties of the Left (at the time, they were part of the “opposition”) and their allies (student groups, political groups) also joined in the protest against the decision.
More surprising was the decision of the French Minister of Justice, Jacques Toubon, who directed the Toulon Parquet (the representatives of the higher judicial court) to appeal the judge’s decision (Broussard 9). This decision did not appease the Socialist opposition and its allies, who maintained their call for a demonstration in Paris on 23 November 1996 (Inciyan and Chemin 11). It did bring agreement on the part of many politicians of the French Right, from Charles Pasqua to fdouard Balladur. It also led to protests from several police unions, who saw the action of the Minister of Justice as a criticism of their complaints. Several representatives of these unions accused M. Toubon of being “more willing to defend members of rap groups than to come to the defense of police officers who died during the discharge of their professional duties” (Bouilhet, “NTM” 16). For other members of the French Right this new development was a clear indication of the pernicious influence of America’s “political correctness” and of other popular beliefs seen as a deleterious cultural and political influence (de V6zins 16). For the observers of popular music, both in France and in the United States, this decision was not welcome. French journalists saw it as an attempt at outlawing French rap and its artists (Barbot 78). The few American reporters who covered it saw it as a French version of Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” episode, even though they mistakenly lumped together the prison sentences and the ban on performance (Tullis 48).
On 12 May 1997, the General Substitute of the Public Court of Appeals requested a decision of “one hundred `fine-days’ against the rappers” (Lenzini 14); the Appeals Court decided to deliberate and return its decision on 23 June 1997. This request, if the court was to accept it, meant that the rappers would have to pay FF25,000 [$4,167] each, or perform public service activities for one hundred days. In France, the “fine-day” is designed to allow those who have enough money available to pay the sum of FF500 [$84] per day; those who cannot pay serve their “fine-days” by performing public-service activities. On 23 June 1997, the Appeals Court’s final decision went beyond the original request of the General Substitute. The Court condemned each member of NTM to a fine of FF25,000 [$4,167] as well as a two-months-long suspended imprisonment sentence (this meant that no actual imprisonment would ever take place but that the sentence would appear on the record of each member of NTM and cause any future imprisonment sentence to be increased by two months) (Decugis 24). Thus the “NTM Affair” ended, unexpectedly enough, under the stewardship of Jean-Pierre Chevbnement, the new Socialist Minister of Justice, named in replacement of M. Toubon, after the defeat of the Right in the May 1997 elections following the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies-a constitutionally guaranteed decision taken by Jacques Chirac, the President of the French Republic.
In the NTM case, as well as in the Ministre AMER case, it is essential to note that the performers were not attacked because of their grossly insulting and offensively derogatory lyrics against the French police, the French socioeconomic order, or French civil servants. Instead, they were condemned because they stepped out of their “performer’s domain” and came back into the so-called “citizen’s domain” where protections under the rules of free expression are different and less comprehensive.
The “2Bal2Neg’ Case” (1997-present)
At the end of June 1998, this case remains unresolved. It is characterized by a somewhat fuzzy situation owing to the fact that no official complaint has yet been officially deposited before the courts.
Since 1988, there is a “Music Feast” in France on the first day of Summer. On 21 June 1997, during a performance at the Place Denfert Rochereau (in the 14th arrondissement of Paris), in a commentary between songs, members of the French rap group 2Bal2Neg’ (Keita 12) asked the audience to repeat the slogan “Police Assassins” (whose meaning is the same in English and in French) accompanied, according to members of a police union, by “provocative gestures.” The Sixth Division of the French Judiciary Police was asked by the representatives of the Alliance Police Union to launch an investigation. According to the Alliance Police Union, this was justified because this union represents a significant number of uniformed policemen and -women. This accusation was accompanied by a message asking the French Minister of Justice to help uniformed police officers against open calls for assassination and murder during the fulfillment of their duties (Renault, “Prison” 24).
“Mothers” and Others against “Rappers”
This new “case” appeared after French groups and associations had launched several complaints against rap groups artists in France. In December 1996, a group representing French mothers launched an official complaint against members of NTM (Louis 20). For these mothers the name of the rap group associates mothers with offensive acts and demeaning actions against women. Newly passed articles in the French legal system underline the fact that, nowadays, French laws clearly condemn insults “whether racist or sexist” against any individual. These new actions are at the root of protests by groups, traditionally nonpolitical or even apolitical, that use the legal texts now available to anyone and associate them with actions inspired by American protest groups. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that these mothers want to launch a complaint against the group as well as against their record company which, according to the leaders of the group, is an “accomplice in the diffusion of these derogatory and hurtful comments, notions, and ideas” (Guyot 12).
In addition, the French Licra (International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism) has launched a complaint against French rap singer Doc Gyneco because the lyrics of one of his songs include the word “youpin” (“kike” in English) (Renault, “La Licra” 12). However, for the representative of Doc Gyneco’s record company as well as for the singer himself, it is “surprising to see that the Licra complains against a rap artist for his usage of a word derogatory to Jews but has never complained about equally offensive words against Africans or Asians in several television programs broadcast on the French Canal+ television channel” (Renault, “La Licra” 12).
In this case, no legal action has been launched and the calls by these representatives of “French mothers” appear to be efforts to establish the group as a media relay for the protests of some “mothers.” This resembles the efforts of Tipper Gore and her PMRC, whose goal was said to be the defense of “parents.”
A Transfer of Protest Techniques from the United States into France? These attacks allow for a comparison between the situation developing in France and the attacks on such American rappers as Paris, Ice-T, the group 2 Live Crew, Tupac Shakur, and Insane Clown Posse. In The Ice Opinion, American rapper Ice-T deals at length with “the controversy” (161-84). For the rapper, this “controversy” about “Cop Killer” was the latest in a long series of harassments and attacks by police groups against African Americans. These police officers and their white representatives were supported by those groups and individuals he calls “the enemy”-that is to say, those who protested the shocking lyrics of his first album, the cover of his second album, and the lyrics of some of his other songs (163-65). For Ice-T, the 29 April 1992 uprising in Los Angeles was a “total vindication” (166). But the “Cop Killer” song was the one that brought together several groups whose members wanted to silence him (“permanently,” suggests Ice-T). The controversy did not begin when the album came out. The second half of 1991 and the early months of 1992 saw a steady climb of the album in the charts. Ice-T performed the song many times during the 1991 summer Lollapalooza concerts and during a second tour (169). Ice-T is convinced that the Rodney King episode and the growing dissatisfaction of Americans of all races against the excesses of police officers everywhere were at the root of the “Cop Killer” affair.
The affair started when a police officer from Houston, Texas, discovered the song and the “Fraternal Organization of Police” decided to attack Warner Brothers and “run a big boycott” (170-71). For Ice-T this was not an attack on his lyrics but a way to camouflage the issue of police brutality. In addition, the fact that the attack was always focused on Warner Bros. (Mulard 23) and seldom, if at all, on Ice-T was a clear indication that the police officers and their associates (Mrs. Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center in particular and other so-called “morality groups”) did not want to deal with the sociopolitical situation they had partly exacerbated but, instead, to focus on the bottom line of a large entertainment company.
Since the eruption of the “Cop Killer” controversy, there has been an extension of such attacks by several American groups and associations on large entertainment companies. By attacking these large and wealthy conglomerates, such groups hope to bring a faster resolution to their complaints. They are well aware that these large capitalistic enterprises are constantly trying to improve their profits in order to maintain their prominent positions in the United States and abroad and satisfy their shareholders in the process.
The attack by the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 5 and Sergeant John Whalen against the group “The Crucifucks” and Jello Biafra was much less advertised but not less noticeable. On 26 March 1997, the courts found the group “The Crucifucks” and Jello Biafra, owner of their record label Alternative Tentacles, guilty for “offensive album art” and “offensive songs” (“Pigs in a Blanket” and “Cop Fertilizer”) in their album Our Will Be Done. The group and Biafra were condemned to pay $100,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million punitive damages each to Officer James Whalen and the FOP (“Crucifucks” 5)
In the second half of 1997, several such actions have been launched against the record companies producing various rap groups in the United States. C. Delores Tucker has emerged as one of the most vocal black critics of African-American rappers and has attacked several companies, including Time Warner, for the presence of artists such as Lil Kim and Junior Mafia on their rosters (Johnson 34). However, C. Delores Tucker may have gone beyond credible behavior in her $10 million suit against the estate of the late Tupac Shakur when she claimed that she and her husband had not been able to enjoy sexual relations since Tupac’s derogatory references to Tucker in his 1995 album All Eyez on Me (Hendrickson, “Grapevine” [18 Sept. 1997] 38)!
The anti-Disney attacks were launched for different reasons. The most significant included the group Insane Clown Posse, whose record The Great Milenko was pulled off the shelves by Disney-owned Hollywood Records on 24 June 1997, the day after its original release (Hendrickson, “Grapevine” [7 Aug. 1997] 32). This action was brought not by an overtly antirap group but by a religious group-the Southern Baptists (Boehlert 29). They accused Disney of permissiveness towards homosexuality and of disdain for “family values.” According to reports, it appears that, this time, these Southern Baptists may not be successful in their attempt to redirect the Disney company according to their wishes (Morganthau with Katel 51). In the United States, such attempts at pressuring companies into submission by threatening their financial performance are pervasive and are often aimed at groups and companies whose impact on American society is noticeable whether among the society at large-as is the case with Disney-or among some segments of this society, the young in particular -as the problems encountered by popular performers such as the Insane Clown Posse or Marilyn Manson illustrate (Levine 18).
French police unions do not have the financial clout of their American counterparts. They are also divided along political lines and they do not dare “take the law into their own hands” like their American counterparts. This would simply put them at odds with the French government and the French courts and destroy their credibility. As for French religious groups, the only one that could lead such a strong movement is the Muslim group. French Roman Catholics are profoundly divided and too few in number to have a significant impact. As for the Muslims, they have to fight negative images conveyed by the media in association with the murders carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria. The racial situation in France is also more recent than the one in the United States. Several ethnic groups, mostly from France’s former colonies, have immigrated during the past decades. Moreover, French record companies are smaller and less wealthy than their American counterparts and the laws governing artistic freedom are significantly more extensive in France than in the United States. As has been underlined above, the attacks on French rappers have not come about because of lyrics whose crudeness, antiestablishment slant, and grossly insulting words are clearly aimed at the representatives of the legal, judicial, and legal establishments. Instead, these attacks have come about because of reprehensible words and utterances between songs or during interviews, clearly personal expressions of the “individual as a citizen.” The latter is at the mercy of the French laws governing racist and demeaning remarks uttered against ethnic groups. The “individual as an artist” is protected by the existing laws governing artistic creation. In addition, as the Ministere AMER affair has illustrated, once these artists have left the stage, their words may also drag their interviewers into a controversial situation. The journalist who expressed clear support for the “sacrifice of chicken” advocated by the members of Ministere AMER whom he was interviewing was also condemned to pay a fine.
There are many people in France who recoil at imitating their American counterparts in the elaboration of actions against groups, institutions, or individuals they abhor. Recent developments among French antiabortion groups whose members imitate their American counterparts (the so-called “rescue missions”) and chain themselves to the doors of operating rooms in hospitals have illustrated the limited impact and the potentially risky results that such actions may cause (Warner 21). Antiabortion groups in France fighting against hospitals that perform legal abortions have encountered strong and decisive opposition from both the judicial system (they have been condemned to heavy fines and jailed) and the people at large, who have withdrawn their financial support. The French people see those religious zealots more as “media-hungry Americanized ghouls” than genuine antiabortion protesters.
Protesting against individuals whose artistic creations are seen as inadequate or unacceptable is not new, whether in France or in the United States. What is new, in both countries, is the fact that more groups are becoming involved in such actions. Through their respective resources and sociocultural environments, they have managed to influence, albeit indirectly, the evolution of popular musical productions. In a French society where uncertainties are numerous (high unemployment, a low but increasing rate of crime, media-relayed actions by immigrant groups, demonstrations by all types of protesters-from long-term unemployed workers or illegal immigrants to civil servants or truck drivers) there is a growing tendency to view attacks against the administrations and their representatives as the epitome of antisocial behavior and use of brute force.