Metal - A Headbanger's Journey begins with footage from 1986 with kids gathering for a rock festival. They're partying, playing air guitar, dressed in proper attire of black t-shirts or no shirts at all, but most of all, they just look like they are out for a good time. But, someone is out to ruin their fun...
The film switches to the September 19, 1985 Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) Senate hearings. The group published their "Filthy Fifteen" list of songs, along with their interpretation of what the lyrics are about. Artists included Venom, Mercyful Fate, Def Leppard, Prince, Sheena Easton, Vanity, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, among others.
Looking precisely like he just left the stage, singer Dee Snider, addressed the Senate suits, including future VP Al Gore. It's interesting to note that in part of Snider's speech which wasn't included in the film, he explained that he was raised a Christian and follows many of the same ideals, doesn't drink, smoke or do drugs and is a married father of a three year old. In other words, he was showing that beneath his mountainous blonde mane, he's actually not unlike most adults, except that he sings in a heavy metal band.
"Since I seem to be the only person addressing this committee today who has been a direct target of accusations from the presumably responsible PMRC, I would like to use this occasion to speak on a more personal note and show just how unfair the whole concept of lyrical interpretation and judgment can be and how many times this can amount to little more than character assassination."
The hysteria surrounding the interest questionable lyrics was described as being the "moral panic of the day." Despite the farce of the hearings, the music industry adopted the PMRC sticker rating system, which actually caused sales to increase in the case of some artists - forbidden fruit.
Sam Dunn introduces himself. He's earned a Masters in Anthropology and his thesis was on the Guatemalan refugees, but he always wanted to do a study about heavy metal. He's a skinny, long-haired fan and looks indistinguishable from the masses of metal fans from 1986, most of whom also probably grew up to be...responsible, normal adults. Sam's a scholar and his approach to look at metal from a more intellectual point of view, doesn't always work.