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Filthey Language: The Sex Pistols VS Bill Gruny

In the 1970’s England went through a severe economic recession. The 1960’s revolutionaries had brought about an idealism that promised a better standard of living and the youths of this time period were angered by this false hope. Punk music, usually comprised of hard, fast and loud sounds accompanied by lyrics containing profanities, was a nihilistic expression of social disdain. Thousands of youths all over England and the United States identified with punk music. However, by the early the 1980’s, punk rock bands such as the Sex Pistols had generated a great deal of media recognition and the punk movement was appropriated into the mainstream culture-ceasing to make it rebellious.

On December 1, 1976 the Sex Pistols, were the special guests on the Today Show of ITV Network in London. The show aired at 6:15 P.M. as a Thames TV teatime program and was viewed by adults and children on a daily basis. A week prior to the program, the Sex Pistols had signed a contract with EMI records and had been given 40,000 pounds up front to secure the contract. After they had signed the contract, Eric “Monster” Hall, an EMI record plugger, was asked if the Sex Pistols could appear on the show after the popular British rock band Queen had declined the invitation. Without consulting the band, Hall agreed to their appearance.

Before the show started, the Sex Pistols were asked to wait in the greenroom. In later interviews Steve Jones, the drummer, describes being nervous about the show and states, “I was downing fucking about four bottles of blue none [alcohol] and I was fucking just having a good old time. Pissed at this point by the time when we went out there and that’s all I remember.” By the time the show started the band, as well as the host, Bill Grundy, were drunk. When Grundy introduced the Sex Pistols, he stated that they were “not the nice, clean Rolling Stones, you see they are as drunk as I am. They are clean by comparison.” As the interview progressed Johnny Rotten managed to say “shit” when talking about the public enjoying Beethoven more than the Sex Pistols. Jones then called Grundy a “dirty bastard” when Grundy told Siouxsie Sioux, a fan who joined the band on the show, that he would meet her later backstage. Grundy encouraged Jones for more insults and Jones called him a “dirty fucker” and a “fucking rotter” while the rest of the band laughed. The exchange between Grundy and the band lasted approximately five minutes.

When the show finished the ITV network was flooded with calls from upset viewers. In the following week tabloids and papers were filled with articles written about the show. Headlines such as, “The Filth and the Fury” appeared in the Daily Mirror and contained interviews with viewers and Thames TV spokespersons. One viewer, James Holmes, was outraged and said he kicked in his television screen because his eight-year-old son overheard the swearing in the Today Show’s program. He then stated, “I am not a violent person but I would like to have got a hold of Grundy. He should be abashed for encouraging that sort of disgusting behavior.” A Thames spokesperson then stated that “because the program was live we could not foresee the language which was used.” Grundy was reprimanded and ordered to make an apology on air the following day.

In the next month the Sex Pistols embarked on their concert tour but were banned from playing most of the pre-scheduled venues as a result of protests from church groups and legislators about their distasteful and offensive behavior. One news report that was aired contained this statement from Councilor Brook-Partridge, “I think that most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death. The worst group, they are the Sex Pistols, and they are the antithesis of human kind and the whole world would be vastly improved by their total utter non-existence.” By January 27, 1977 EMI records broke their contract with the Sex Pistols and paid them 50,000 pounds to compensate the earnings the band could have made. In later interviews Johnny Rotten claimed that the band had been set up in order for Malcolm McLaren, their manager, to make money.

Although the Sex Pistols career only lasted a few years, they were the most famous punk band. Artists still write about them today and create documentaries, such as the film The Filth and the Fury that came out in 1997. This specific BBC show is also examined in the media today, for example VH1 aired a show titled TV’s Most Shocking Moments featuring the Sex Pistols. Bill Grundy is also always associated with the show.

Ethical Concerns

Micro Issues:

1. How much responsibility should Grundy have been assigned for prodding the Sex Pistols as opposed to what he was actually assigned?

2. Whether or not they wanted to appear on the show, how much responsibility should have been assigned to the Sex Pistols for getting drunk before a show appearing on live TV that was watched by children as well as adults?

3. Should the Thames TV network have cut the show after the first swear word and after it was obvious that they were drunk?

Mid-range Issues:

1. To what extent did Malcolm McLaren orchestrate in order to get free publicity to promote the Sex Pistols? To what extent should managers manipulate public sentiment to garner publicity when it crosses the line into crosses the line into moral outrage? Should they have some public responsibility?

2. Regardless of whether the band had to do or not do the show, due to contractual obligation, didn’t the Sex Pistols aggravate the exploitation of the punk subculture by creating a highly public controversial situation? Furthermore, by already singing to EMI didn’t they show a desire for commercial success, which automatically means exploitation?

3. By not cutting the show, did the Thames TV Network hope that this would boost their ratings and if so to what extent is it acceptable for networks to increase their ratings? Do they have any kind of social responsibility?

Macro Issues:

1. If subcultures are willing to exploit their rebellious nature to gain commercial success, how can mainstream culture be made to take responsibility for aiding in the destruction of subcultures and their authenticity?

2. Should subculture be made to apologize for offences against mainstream culture sense its appears to want commercial success? On the other hand, does mainstream culture have any right to take offence to certain aspects of the subculture that it wants to appropriate?

3. Does the appropriation of subculture by mass culture promote awareness of certain issues on a level that would be impossible had the subculture remained hidden, providing a means of social change? Or does mass culture merely promote the status quo in the new forms of its currently appropriated subcultures? Such as Hip Hop or Rave subculture.

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