NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Should the Habitually Offended Be Allowed Among Us?

Malcontents Clog Up Music Chat Rooms, Message Boards, Society at Large

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

STUDY: TV VIEWERS STILL FIND MUCH TO BE OFFENDED BY: While broadcasters have touted the desire for more “family friendly” programming, a new study on “viewer offendedness” conducted jointly by Universal McCann and Court TV found that half of all Americans were offended by something they saw on TV. But the good news for broadcasters is that these viewers tend to disagree about what offends them. “The study is dimensionalizing what people consider to be offensive and trying to understand better what’s offending them and what are the appropriate things to do about it,” said Susan Nathan, the study’s co-author and senior vice president, director of media knowledge at the Interpublic Group media shop. “One thing I learned is that if people expect it, then it’s more acceptable. If Janet Jackson’s ’wardrobe malfunction’ appeared on the MTV Video Awards instead of the Super Bowl, no one would have batted an eye, given the content of the show.” — from Adrants Daily

Well, dimensionalize this, baby. Even more people are offended by music these days than by TV. I speak from personal experience and from checking chat boards and message boards on a daily basis.

In what America has become today, people everywhere are standing stubbornly in different camps and yelling at each other and calling each other names. It doesn’t matter if they’re offended about politics or the war or abortion or the economy or Social Security or Paris Hilton or iPods or American Idol. People hate. Period.

Civilized public discourse seems to have become a thing of the past. And many people today find even the mention of civilized public discourse to be offensive. And that has carried over into music, where people now don’t just ignore or dislike certain groups or artists. They actively hate them and want everyone else to know that. And they want them to know that anyone who likes that particular offensive group or artist is stupid at best or evil at worst.

Judging by what I hear and read, some people are most offended these days in country music by the sheer existence — let alone the music — of people including but not limited to Shania Twain, Cowboy Troy, Big & Rich, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and a few others. Why are they after them? Well, they’re either not country or they’re not country in the right way or they’re twisting the music or they dress stupid or … just anything. I just emerged from reading a long, vitriolic music chat room thread that makes me want to burn my clothes and take a long Jack Daniel’s shower to wash away the palpable hatred. Nutcases of the world, shake hands with each other.

I have three words of helpful advice for people who are habitually offended: Get over it. This world was not created just to cater to your own particular biases and prejudices. Why don’t you: Get a checkup from the neck up. Take a long walk on the beach — a one-way walk. Give up music for TV and post only to TV boards and TV chat rooms. Take up chewing tobacco as a hobby. Drink lots of healthful Mad Dog 20/20 or Everclear or Bull Dog malt liquor. Pray for the comet to come and transport you — soon.

Meanwhile, here’s something else to chew on. It wasn’t so long ago that everyone was cheering because country record sales were up, while other music genre sales were declining. This week’s Nielsen SoundScan sales chart for country albums paints another picture. Of the 75 albums on the country album chart, only 11 showed sales increases over the numbers from last week. Another seven had flat sales, or about the same amount as last week. The other 57 albums saw declining sales. The sales dips ranged from as high as 54 percent for Toby Keith to as low as 1 percent for Gary Allan. The Keith figure, admittedly, is a bit misleading because it represents only the second week of sales for a new album, and new releases almost always decline in their second week Similarly, Cowboy Troy in his second week saw sales drop from just over 51,000 to about 25,000. Still, sales are down across the board. Total country album sales for the week were down from almost 960,000 last week to about 734,000 this week.

The biggest sales jump of the week was by Rascal Flatts — who regularly offend a great many people, according to chat rooms and boards. Their sales were up 42 percent, and for an album that’s been out for 35 weeks, that’s a remarkable number even if the spike is undoubtedly due to their appearance on American Idol. In actual sales numbers, it shows that last week they sold about 46,000 copies. This week, it’s up to about 65,000. Go figure.

You have to wonder if — at a certain level — there’s a concerted, if unconscious, effort underway on the part of the music industry to create music that offends the least number of people. That’s always been mainstream radio’s chief strategy. It seeks to keep listeners by programming no music that makes listeners leave the station. That can obviously be deadly to music. And it can translate to sales. Lukewarm music appeals to no one.

P.S. A neat prize will go to whomever can best explain to me what a “director of media knowledge” is and actually does. E-mail me c/o