Arguments Against Censorship in Music
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Have you ever wondered why radios have to bleep everything? Or why some CDs can’t be sold in stores? Or why there’s a little “Parental Advisory” sticker on some albums? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, then stick around, because for the next 5 minutes, I am going to explain to you why the censorship on our music is way too harsh. Censorship in music should be reconsidered because of many points such as political views, the fact that musicians are willing to fight for their own music, and most of all, freedom of speech!
There’s a song that comes to mind when I think about political censorship. A song called “Not Ready To Make Nice” by The Dixie Chicks. The song won three Grammies in the categories of Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. The song is about how they, the band, felt about the invasion of Iraq, and the responses to their position on this situation. Natalie Maines, the main vocalist of the group, was quoted as saying that “[they] don’t want this war, this violence, and [they’re] ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Some of the lines in the song are about the death threats that the band had received in 2003. “How in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge that they’d write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over.” Another line in the song “it’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought’a hate a perfect stranger,” refers to an incident where a mother is actually egging on her young child to say to the band “screw ‘em!” Think about that.
The next song that I think of is American Idiot by Green Day. From the beginning, this song was opposed by most people in the US because of the open lyrics that express the author’s feelings towards President George W. Bush, and certain political issues. Some believe that the song is “anti-American” because of the title. However, if you actually listen to the lyrics, you might see how patriotic the song really is. The title refers to the authors’ opinion of how politicians these days are telling people what to do, buy, and believe, and how they’re constantly dooped by all these commercials and campaigns that eventually turn is into, for lack of a better term, “American Idiot”[s]. In the song, the singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, says that he doesn’t want his nation to become idiots, and doesn’t want to be “part of a redneck agenda”, and doesn’t want this country to be hated because of decisions made by the government. “Welcome to a new kind of tension, all across the alienation.”
For this next topic, let me give you some background information. The committee that labels CDs as “inappropriate” and put the Parental Advisory stickers on CDs is called the Parents Music Resource Center, PMRC. It was founded in 1985 by Tipper Gore. It was created with a goal of “increasing parental control over the access of children to music deemed [by an unknown source] to be violent, have drug use or be sexual.” The people to whom I will be referring to are John Denver, a famous musician during the 70s, and Dee Snider, the lead singer for the band Twisted Sister. These people were called to a senate hearing about the PMRC, and stated their opinions on the topic.
John Denver had prepared an official statement for the hearing. After he had given his statement, he spoke off the record, saying “in my experience, sir, all over the world, one of the most interesting things about music that young people are listening to, is it gives us as adults a very clear insight as to what is going on in their minds. We can know what they’re thinking by listening to the music they surround themselves with.” To me, this totally makes sense. It’s an easy way for parents to communicate, and understand what their children are feeling, and thinking. He goes on to talk about “the troubled children” he’s talked to, and the troubles they have about “an inability to communicate with their parents.” This would all be fixed if parents could just understand what their kids are feeling and thinking by just listening every once and a while.
This next man, Mr. Dee Snider, is quite an amazing and humble man. He starts out his official statement by saying, “I am 30 years old, I am married, I have a 3 year old son. I was born and raised a Christian and I still adhere to those principles. Believe it or not, I do not smoke, I do not drink, and I do not do drugs.” Does this sound like a man who needs to be censored? I didn’t think so. In his statement, Mr. Snider talks about how he was attacked three different times because of his music. The first one, Tipper Gore had written an article in a Long Island newspaper where she “claimed one of [his] songs, ‘Under the Blade,’ had lyrics encouraging sadomasochism, bondage, and rape.” He actually talks about those lyrics and says that the lyrics are about the fear that people get before they go into surgery. Attack number two, Twisted Sister’s song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was labeled as rated V because of “violent lyrical content,” when Snider assures everyone that “there is absolutely no violence of any type either sung about or implied anywhere in the song.” Lastly, Mr. Snider was accused of sexism because of a T-shirt Tipper Gore thought she saw. In response to this, Snider says “we have always taken great pains to steer clear of sexism in our merchandise, records, stage show, and personal lives.” Clearly, the PMRC is trying to make up stories to get their way.
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” These are the exact words of the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. Basically, congress can’t make any laws saying that people can’t speak their minds. If you ask me, congress has done just that by censoring our music. I think that music is the most important and powerful form of expression that both entertains and informs. So, why hide it? Moral values? Racial implications? Fear? The actual censoring of music began in the 1950s when traditional conservative values were part of the peoples’ mindset. People during that time believed in those morals, and strived to determine what is “acceptable” for people to listen to. By the end of the 1950s, members of the society witnessed many young adults and teens expressing new attitudes about topics like sex and drugs. This movement started breaking down the “traditional moral order” in many ways, but especially in music.
It may seem off that race would be a factor in music censorship, but it actually is a huge problem, especially in the 50s and 60s when rhythm and blues was first introduced to the world. Some older white people believed that R&B was a threat that corrupted the young people who listened to it, and that it promoted “immoral behavior.” This prompted authorities to take action. An example of these actions; after receiving a myriad of angry letter from listeners, a Chicago radio station promised to censor “any controversial music, especially R&B”. A more recent example of racial censorship in music would be MTV refusing to play music videos from black artists. During a live interview in 1983, famous musician David Bowie asked, “Why are there practically no black artists on the network?” Good question, Mr. Bowie. I’m sure everyone else was thinking the same thing.
“Censorship is based on fear.” A fear that music will affect us negatively. A fear that music will prevent us from achieving a morally acceptable life. A fear that society will change significantly. Not for the better. The people who decided to censor OUR music are afraid of the unknown, and our music seems to hold that unknown and uncertainty. There’s a song from 1975 called “The Pill” by Loretta Lynn that was censored on many radio stations for more than 10 years after birth control pills became popular. People did this because they were afraid of the unknown, and thought that all their kids would start acting out, and going out of control. So, all these people who are afraid of our music just try to cover up the problem instead of facing it like adults.
To end this speech, censorship in music should be reconsidered because of many points such as political views, the fact that musicians are willing to fight for their own music, and most of all, the freedom of speech. Now, instead of leaving it like this, I’m going to leave you all with a quote from R. Andre Hall. “From the Vietnam War to today’s Iraq War, and from the advent of the sexual revolution to today’s “culture wars,” music is recognized as a potential source of power to change values, ideas, and beliefs- as well as to influence actions. Those who fear this change try to stop it by censorship, even when, as history has shown us, censorship is futile when change is inevitable.”
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