Plastic Surgery Disasters - Dead Kennedys
Like with the Rage Against the Machine album, I suspect some fans don’t know what the cover image depicts, despite the image being perfectly clear, because their minds simply will not let them see the horror of it. A photojournalist took the photo, which shows the impossibly slim forearm of an emaciated Ugandan child during a famine. Even when interpreting the image correctly, I think it would be natural to assume that the image is of a model or a sculpture. But no, this is a real unnamed child.
And again, there’s something very icky about using the image for commercial gain. The album title, Plastic Surgery Disasters, clarifies that the intent is to highlight the inequality between those who can afford plastic surgery and those who die from a lack of basic nourishment, which is a good illustration of the Dead Kennedys’ anti-consumerist stance. But as soon as you slap an image like this on the cover of a record sold for a profit, then you’re exploiting it for commercial gain, regardless of what non-conformist or anti-consumerist philosophies informed the art.
The follow-up to Plastic Surgery Disasters, Frankenchrist was packaged with a poster of H.R. Giger’s painting Penis Landscape, which is a very descriptive title. Frontman Jello Biafra and label head Michael Bonnano were charged under California’s obscenity laws. The trial ended with a hung jury, split seven to five in favor of acquittal. Had they been convicted, they’d have faced up to a year in prison. This highlights a strange contrast between the reaction to the two images. While censorship is not the answer, it’s interesting that it was the painting of Genetalia that nearly landed them in prison, not the photograph of the dying child.