Right-wing hate speech and violent sexual fantasies are common in the lyrics of some songs. But now, Germany's Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young People is sounding the battle cry against such explicit texts.
Rita W. couldn't believe her ears when she entered her 16-year-old son's room. What was booming out of the loudspeakers sounded like the foulest pornography she'd ever heard, coupled with a violent scenario: "Be careful, bitch, if you don't want your brain splattered all across the curb," bellowed rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang. And those lyrics are relatively harmless. "Calm down, Mom; it’s only a joke," Philipp said, laughing. "You can’t take it seriously. It’s really cool.”
It’s so cool that the album "Jung, Brutal, Gut-Aussehend 2" (Young, Brutal, and Physically Attractive 2) by the two hip-hoppers from Düsseldorf landed at the top of the German, Austrian and Swiss charts in February. But Kollegah and Farid Bang don't appear on television or radio much; their world is the internet – where Philipp regularly watches their videos.
YouTube in kids' rooms
Philipp isn’t interested in the fact that the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, or BPjM) placed the first album of the "Jung, Brutal, Gut-Aussehend" series on the list of forbidden media in 2012. The BPjM determines whether media content is dangerous for young people and, if so, places it on a list commonly known as the "index." According to the BPjM, "Distributors of that medium are then no longer permitted to sell, rent out, present it in public or broadcast it." Advertising is also verboten, with violations punishable under German law.
Unlike Philipp, his mother is quite interested in the fact that the "Young and Brutal" album landed on the index. "All of the songs appear brutal and provoke violence or acts of crime," the BPjM concluded. Unperturbed, the album's creators responded, "A lot of our texts are tongue-in-cheek. Hip-hop is about provocation and exaggeration, and our fans know how to deal with it."
The parents of these fans aren’t quite so sure. Like Rita W., they're concerned about what ends up in their kids' rooms with just one click on YouTube. In times when young people often know how to navigate the internet dramatically better than their genitors, parental oversight is difficult. If they find a song's lyrics questionable, concerned mothers and fathers can directly contact the Office for Youth Welfare or the BPjM. "But the parents themselves cannot demand that a song be placed on the index," said BPjM chairwoman Elke Monssen-Engberding. "Only youth welfare offices or youth organizations can call for an investigation. Nor do we at the BPjM initiate the investigations ourselves. We have to wait for youth welfare institutions to submit an official request. We can't keep an eye on the entire market," she said.
Sex, violence and right-wing extremism
The BPjM investigates some 1,000 to 1,500 cases each year: videos, CDs, DVDs, the internet and games. The authority judges media to be "youth-endangering" if it is "indecent, appears brutalizing, encourages violent or racist acts or discriminates against women or homosexuals."
Dubious lyrics by artists like Sido, Fler and Bushido were long a thorn in the side of the media guardians. These days there is less outrage over those once provocative, now nationally famous musicians, but new blood on the hip-hop block has taken the genre to a whole new level: misogynist lyrics and violent fantasies are on the daily agenda. The Aggro Berlin label and its rappers in particular often make it onto the BPjM index.
"Around 20 percent of the index listings concern hip-hop and black metal texts, but nearly 80 percent are from right-extremist groups," Monssen-Engberding said. That figure has increased in the past few years. "Those songs aren’t placed on the index for conveying right-wing extremist ideas, but for glorifying or trivializing National Socialism and inciting violence against foreigners."
Keeping an eye on "cop pigs"
Left-extremist bands' songs appear on the index much less frequently since they do not fulfill these criteria. Hamburg-based punk band Slime was an exception when its song "Bullenschweine" (Cop pigs) landed on the index in 2011. "This is a call to violence / building bombs, stealing weapons / punching cops in the face..." The BPjM showed no mercy.
"That is simply a call to violence," concluded Monssen-Engberding. Oddly, the song was only on the index 31 years after its release. That was not due to the BPjM, however, as it acts only after other authorities request an inquiry.
A total of 1,328 music recordings are currently listed on the index – tracks that may not be distributed or sold to minors, be it in a store or on the Internet. Radio or YouTube play and advertisement are also prohibited.
Famous bands such as Die Ärzte landed on the index as early as 1987, due to their clearly suggestive songs such as "Geschwisterliebe" (Sibling Love) and "Claudia hat 'nen Schäferhund" (Claudia has a German Shepherd). Record sales plummeted, but concert halls were more packed then ever. The band played instrumental versions of the indexed songs, and the fans sang along.
But Monssen-Engberding doesn't believe the index can unintentionally promote a band. "That’s a wrong impression. If our index inadvertently caused an increase in distribution, then the record companies wouldn’t be so upset about the advertising and sales prohibition," she said.
As chairperson of the BPjM, Monssen-Engberding has had to develop a thick skin toward all the vitriol that lands on her authority's desk. But the tolerance level of society at large has changed considerably. The use of words such as "f***" and "geil" (formerly meaning only "horny," now it stands for anything "cool" or "wicked good") – which guardians of public moral would have contested 30 years ago – no longer bothers anyone. In that vein, Die Ärtze songs were removed from the index in 2004, with the BPjM retrospectively certifying a "satirical form" in the texts.
With social norms evolving, an index listing expires after 25 years. A record company may also request that an indexed work be re-evaluated after only ten years. Some bands, such as Rammstein, have taken the matter to court. Their 2009 record "Liebe ist für alle da" (Love is for Everyone) was once in the poison cupboard of youth welfare agents, but in 2011 the Cologne Constitutional Court revoked the song’s index listing. Its references to sex and sado-masochism were too slight to be deemed "dangerous to young people," the judges ruled.
Rita W. has meanwhile discovered where she can find the names of the "indexed" songs she does not want her son Philipp to listen to: at the Youth Welfare Office, the Office for Public Order, police stations, and at the library. The BPjM deliberately chooses not to publish the index on the internet to prevent unintentional promotion of the works.