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Rocking the vote

Leave it to Madonna.Who else could transform the simple act of voting into a provocative display of sexual innuendo?

Last week, MTV introduced the pop siren's latest video clip: a 60-second, rap-oriented public service advertisement in which she encourages her fans to express themselves at the voting booth:

Dr. King, Malcolm X

Freedom of speech

Is as good as sex.

Madonna delivers the rhyme wearing red bikini underwear with an American flag curled around her shoulders. She ends the clip with the teasing quip, "If you don't vote, you're going to get a spankie."

Madonna's TV spot is the latest in a series of pro-voting ads designed to motivate pop fans _ especially the 18-to-24 age group _ to become active in the political process. Other pop artists who have made clips include Iggy Pop, M.

C. Hammer, Ozzy Osbourne, Mellow Man Ace, Megadeth, Donny Osmond, Lita Ford, Lenny Kravitz and Los Lobos' Louis Perez.

The ads, which run about twice an hour on MTV, were commissioned by "Rock the Vote," a non-profit, non-partisan recording industry coalition made up of some of the most powerful figures in the music business _ including the presidents of Warner Bros., Capitol, Geffen, MCA, A&M, Virgin and Giant Records. The voter registration campaign is the most ambitious step yet on the part of the record industry to respond to the widening debate over explicit lyrics in pop music. Concerned over recent court rulings deeming 2 Live Crew's rap music obscene and the obscenity-related arrests of record retailers and pop music artists throughout the country, music industry executives are on the offensive.

"What we are trying to do here is stimulate young rock fans to consider the issues at hand and begin to participate in the democraticprocess," said Virgin Records co-managing

Chuck Philips is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

director Jeff Ayeroff.

"There is a new generation gap and government officials like (North Carolina's Republican Sen.) Jesse Helms are taking advantage of it. They assume that because young music lovers rarely vote that they can trample on the rights of rock artists and not worry about retaliation at the election booth. We aim to turn that around."

Ayeroff and Virgin co-managing director Jordan Harris disclosed the concept for the voter registration drive at a July 11 meeting in Beverly Hills, Calif., attended by a cross-section of musicians, writers, directors, actors, executives and entrepreneurs who have all cooperated in donating time and money to the project.

(One Veterans of Foreign Wars official who saw the Madonna spot last week said it was "bordering on desecration" and predicted that veterans would be critical of the campaign.)

Capitol Records president Hale Milgrim says that "Rock the Vote" has united an unlikely combination of corporate competitors.

"It's difficult to get different record companies to agree upon anything," Milgrim said last week. "But something as patriotic and positive as this campaign, one that activates young people to get involved in government, is certain to be applauded by every American, regardless of their political persuasion."

But not everyone is clapping.

While national media watchdog groups such as the Focus on the Family of Pomona, Calif., and the Parents Music Resource Center of Washington, D.C., have no problem with the campaign, Sandy Crawford, editor of the Alexandria, Va., newsletter TV etc., questions the political strategy behind the "Rock the Vote" campaign.

TV etc., which analyzes political activities of the Hollywood entertainment industry, is distributed by the Media Research Center, a watchdog group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III.

"On the surface it looks real nice," Crawford said. "These (public service announcements) sound like an innocuous invitation to register young people to vote, but how can they can call it non-partisan when the underlying goal of the drive is to remove conservative government officials like Jesse Helms from office?"

Ayeroff disputes Crawford's assessment, arguing that at least 30 percent of those signing up to vote as a result of the campaign are registering as Republicans.

"This isn't a campaign about bashing conservatives," Ayeroff said. "It's about preserving the piety of freedom of speech and dealing with the demagogues who are trying to destroy it."

Setting their sights on the 1992 presidential election, "Rock the Vote" officials have created a strategy to market their pro-voting, anti-censorship theme on college campuses, concert tours and through promotional contests soon to be initiated on radio, television and at record retail outlets such as Tower and Wherehouse Records.

MTV vice president and creative director Judy McGrath maintains that her network _ which debuted the public service campaign at the MTV Video Awards Show Sept. 6 _ has already donated more than $1-million in air time to the project.

Last week, a Rappers for Voter Registration rally was staged on in New York featuring De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Chill Rob G. Voter registration booths were also set up at "The Gathering of the Tribes" benefit, the heavy-metal Foundations Forum convention and a recent "Rock the Vote" California campus concert tour that ended last week at the University of California, Los Angeles, yielding more than 10,000 new voters.

Additionally, a new collection of pro-voting clips featuring country artists such as Randy Travis, Tammy Wynette, Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless and Brenda Lee is also expected to begin airing on VH-1 within the next few weeks.

"This is a long-term project," said Geffen Records president Eddie Rosenblatt by phone from New York. "Our commitment to "Rock the Vote' will extend beyond the upcoming November election.

"The goal is to alter the voter make-up of the 1992 election. Once young people are aware of what censorship means, we believe that voter apathy will cease."

Los Angeles Times