Banned and Censored
The discussion of whether or not the censorship
of music is constitutionally sound has come about. This problem has
been around since the beginning of music in one way or another. The
fact of the matter is that there is technically no such thing as the censorship
of music in the United States(Banned Music 1). Although that is supposedly
the case, that statement can be very misleading. It is stated in
the First Amendment of the United States Constitution that every
American is granted the Freedom Of Speech. This includes all musicians.
Contrary to this statement, there has been a numerous amount of cases in
which a song or music group has been banned of either their right to perform
their act on stage, or the sale of their album has been condemned as
illegal. The troubling fact about music censorship is that music
is considered to be an art form, and there are certain laws set up to protect
art from being censored. People should have the right to choose what type
of music they want to listen to in this country.
Censorship is the control of what people
may say or hear, write or read, or see or do. Censorship can affect
books, newspapers, magazines, motion pictures, radio and television programs,
and speeches.” (World Book 345)
Most of the early problems with the
censorship of music came about in the early 1950’s. This was the
first real era of rock and roll in America. In 1954 a Michigan Congresswoman
tried to pass a bill that stated that the mailing of any explicit or pornographic
album could lead to some hefty jail time, up to five years if convicted.
When looking back, the 50’s had some of the most laughable incidences when
songs were banned. There was a Billie Holiday song by the name of
“Love For Sale,” none of the radio stations were allowed to play it because
of its strong sexual content and its depiction of prostitution. In
even a funnier case there was a song by the name of “Transfusion” banned
because it was felt that a blood transfusion was not a laughing matter.
Perhaps the most farcical form of censorship in the 50’s came about in
1957 when Elvis Presley was scheduled to perform on the Ed Sullivan show.
Cameramen were instructed not to film any of Elvis’s lower body because
his dancing was considered inappropriate for the viewing audience(Elvis
To Ice-T 3). What is so offensive about that to have it censored from the
public. Times have changed though, today we just sit back and laugh at
that type of censorship.
The 1960’s brought about a new wave of
censorship. During the 1960’s, popular music diversified, and so
did the censors. Although the censorship supposedly diversified, the uncalled-for
censorship of certain music continued. In 1964 the state of Indiana
banned the song ” Louie Louie” because they felt that it had some sexual
content in it. But if you listen to the words it is obvious that
sexual content is no where to be found. In 1967, the Rolling Stones were
forced to change the lyrics of a song in order to perform it on national
television because, of course, it had sexual content. The song was
called “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and they were forced to say “Let’s
Spend Some Time Together.” Later that decade John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s
album “Two Virgin’s” featured a naked picture of the two. These albums
were confiscated before they even had a chance to hit the record stores.
There was one Chicago retailer shut down by the vice squad for carrying
this album(The 1960’s 1). A piece of art is destroyed if altered. What
would Michael Angelos’ famous sculpture “The Thinker” be like if somebody
carved clothes on to him. it wouldn’t be what he attended and therefore
the art piece would loose most of its significance.
People often times do not get offended
as easily as they use to. In the early 1990’s an album released by Nirvana
featured a naked baby on the cover. There was very little controversy
over the cover and there was no ban of the record sale. Unlike the 1950s,
the 60s proved to have a few more controversial topics. That goes to show
how people change their views about morality as time passes.
The 1970s proved to have just as many controversial
cases about censorship, as the fifties and sixties. In April of 1971
Officials in Illinois released a list of popular music that contained drug
references. The list included the popular children’s song “Puff The
Magic Dragon” and the Beatles “Yellow Submarine,” (The 1970’s 1) This is
so absurd. These officials must really have had a lot of time on
their hands to sit around and turn around the words to these wonderful
children songs. If somebody wanted they could depict violating thoughts
or images out of many different forms of art.
The censorship of music only increased
as the years passed by. In 1981 Olivia Newton John’s song “Physical” was
banned because it was believed to have strong sexual content and this was
considered to be more than inappropriate for the Mormon religion. 1985
brought about one of the most prominent groups to support censorship in
music. This group was the Parents Music Resource Group. This
group was headed by Tipper Gore. This group was later named the Parents
Music Resource Center. The PMRC’s primary focus was getting
record companies to monitor and rate their artist’s releases with a system
similar to the MPAA system for movies. This group brought about some
problems about two types of music, rap and heavy metal. The PMRC
hit them so hard that it became very hard to find a rap or heavy metal
record in stores. In order to get around this many record labels
released two versions of the same album, one was the original album and
the second one was an edited version. The PMRC created a type of
stickering system. Under the sticker system if an album was believed
to be inappropriate, a sticker would be placed on the album cover.
This sticker would indicate that the album should not be purchased by anyone
under the age of eighteen due to explicit lyrics or violent behavior.
This was a big step backwards for those who were against the censorship
of music. This stickering system did not include the censorship of
pornography. In 1987 a singer by the name of Jello Biafra was arrested
for the distribution of pornography. He had a picture of a naked
lady on the cover and was found to be inappropriate for the public.
These albums were later seized and his band eventually broke up.(The 1980’s
1) Pornography and prostitution are often times found to be legal
in America, but a person’s constitutional right of speaking freely can
be outlawed by the same government, that really doesn’t make since!
The 90s by is the most controversial decade
as far as censorship goes. With all of the Knew and diversified types
of music there is sure to be differences in taste. The widely known
incident about the subject of banned music took place between the police
in Dade County Florida and the rap group 2 Live Crew. 2 Live Crew
released a very risque album by the name of “Me So Horny”
The record sale and distribution of this album were deemed illegal in Florida
and Alabama just to name a couple of states. 2 Live Crew were also
arrested in Florida at a concert. The police claimed that the performance
was too obscene for the general public. This led to 2 Live Crew’s
next album to be titled “Banned In The USA.” Later on that year rapper
Ice T’s album “Freedom of Speech” was banned. It’s lyrics were also
considered to be too obscene. (Music Censorship: Elvis to Ice-T 5)
It seems that rap music is taking the fall for music censorship.
Public Enemy, another rap group, has recently been under some heat for
a video and an album they just recently released. The name of the
album “By the Time I Get to Arizona” features a video in which it depicts
the governor of Arizona as a David Duke type of character. Public
Enemy claims that it is just trying to get its point across that it is
wrong that the state of Arizona does not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.
Day(Loder, Censorship, A Town Meeting). Evan Mecham, the former governor
of Arizona had this to say about the matter, “I could not understand how
anyone could have the gall to market something like that and call it entertainment,”(Gregory
Lewis 1). It should be added that Mecham was impeached for abolishing
Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. So I guess that you
could say that Public Enemy was trying to get a point across and they succeeded.
In the mid 1990s many large chain stores
took a major role in the sales of these so called obscene albums.
Such stores as Wal Mart and K Mart decided not to sale any records that
proved to be obscene. This meant that if a record label wanted to
sell a lot of copies of an album, they would have to start making sure
they were acceptable for the general public. Since the Wal- Marts and K
-Marts were so big it would be really hard to sale a large quantity of
the albums at record stores.
As you can see, censorship is a
big part of the music industry these days. Obviously censorship has
been around for a while, but is it all that it is cracked up to be?
There are many groups or coalitions who
believe the answer to this question is no. There is a group by the
name of the Free Music Coalition, based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
that is always fighting for the right of musicians. They feel that
the censorship of music is wrong and it is bad for the music community.
The Free Music Coalition has three basic goals: 1. To educate the
public about the seriousness of the threats we are facing. Church
groups, politicians, and the police have formed a network to censor music.
Fans need to understand this to effectively fight back. 2.
To organize a counter attack. To be successful everyone must band
together, only then will activities such as letter writing campaigns, petitions,
boycotts and demonstrations produce results. 3. Make censorship
illegal. The First Amendment is supposed to protect our freedom of
expression, but lawmakers and police are able to twist the laws to stop
ideas that they find dangerous or offensive. What we need is a law
that prohibits the censoring and labeling of records, books, arts, or films.
Only then can artists create without a cloud of fear hanging over them.
Only then can we enjoy the music we want to hear ( Fighting Censorship
The Free Music Coalition is against the
censorship of music because censorship is unfair to musicians. In
a recent case in Michigan it wasn’t a band’s lyrics that got banned, it
was one of their T-shirts. A young boy went to school with the inscription
“Korn” on his plain black shirt. He was asked to change the shirt, and
if he didn’t, he would be suspended (Music Censorship: Elvis to Ice -T
1;2). This incident can be more rightly justified; the Offense Principle
states that a person can be stopped from doing want he or she wants do
if it is going to offend others(Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues
203). Everybody has a choice about what kind of music they want to listen
to. My friend is big into rap music, and I am offended by the language
used in it. It is his choice to buy and to listen to it, and it is
mine not to. Him buying it doesn’t affect me, so there for it should be
his right. If nobody is affected by a persons actions then
it should be allowed.
The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution
states pacifically that each person has the right to freedom of speech.
Congress shall make no law representing
an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise there of; or abridging
the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people
living peaceably to assemble, and petition the government for
a redress of grievances.
If a person is not allowed to express
themselves and their feelings vividly, then they are not being given the
right that is rightfully theirs.
Artists have never had their drawings
censored because they are inappropriate, and boxers don’t get censored
because their sport is too violent, so why should musicians? Sure,
some of the music out there is not appropriate for little kids to hear,
but it is not the musicians’ responsibility to make sure youngsters do
not hear it. So, for those people who believe the censorship of music is
correct, maybe they should take their own advice and start censoring what
they and their kid’s buy, and quit worrying about what others are buying.
America is based on individual rights and individual differences.
Censoring the music in this country would go against everything America
is all about. People should be able to choose want they want or don’t want.