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Music Censorship

Albums with explicit lyrics or content started having black and white parental advisories on them in 1994 (http://www.riaa.org/Parents-Advisory-4.cfm). Are these labels necessary? Is controversial music molding our society and causing teenagers to turn to drugs? Is censorship necessary to protect the youth of our nation. Generally, younger people are against censorship on this issue. Music is an outlet and even an anti-drug for many teens; however, parents and society feel differently. Should parents censor their children or society, many parents would like to raise their own children. Censorship, like charity should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there, is a quote by Clare Boothe Luce (Fitzhenry, 84). Many believe that the explicit lyrics and content in this controversial music like Eminem will turn their children to crime and drugs. Music censorship started in the United States in the late fifties and continues till today. Will it ever go too far or stop?

Society causes a lot of music censorship. Starting in the late fifties and early sixties members of society made efforts to censor R&B music (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm). They were concerned that the music endorsed wild living, promiscuous sex, and lewd dancing (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm). During the late sixties and seventies, Jim Morrisons dark and suggestive lyrics stirred up communities, and parents were appalled to see Elvis Presleys hip-thrusting (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm). Society censors music like this because they are afraid of it. They think it will alter the minds of their children and cause them to do things they would have never done if it were never suggested in a songs lyrics. Music mirrors the society that creates it (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm). Some people believe this, while others believe that music causes problems in our society such as crime and drugs. For every person who believes certain lyrics portray a frightening world, there is another person who finds them deep and powerful because that world is all too real (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm).

A number of people believe there is a correlation between album sales and the parental advisory label. Others, like the Recording Industry Association of America believe, or at least try to make parents believe that there is no correlation. Its not the labels kids look for, its the music. Independent research shows kids put limited weight on lyrics in deciding which music they like, caring more about rhythm and melody. The warning label alone isnt enough incentive. (http://www.riaa.org/Parents-Advisory-4.cfm).

Censorship, like charity should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there, is a quote by Clare Boothe Luce (Fitzhenry, 84). Some parents are against the censorship of music. They believe that they should raise their kids, not some politicians who believe one nasty word will change a whole childs future.

Many music artists have had other people attempt or succeed to sue them for their explicit lyrics and sexual content. 2 Live Crew was one of these music groups. In June of 1990, a Broward County judge in Florida declared that their album, As Nasty as They Want to Be, was legally obscene. (http://www.xyno.de/) 2 Live Crews record was the first one in America to be deemed legally obscene although a Georgia appeal court later overturned this decision in May of 1992 (http://music.lycos.com/artist/bio.asp?QW=2+Live+Crew&AN=The+2+Live+Crew&MID=66486&MH=). Some people believe that a label should be placed on albums by artists who have explicit content in their recordings. Others believe that the music should not be on the market for the public to access at all. Many believe that censorship should not be allowed at all because it infringes our first amendment right, freedom of speech.

There are many groups and organizations who are trying to stop the censorship of music. One very prominent group is called Rock Out Censorship. Rock Out Censorship has been actively opposing the censorship of popular music since 1989. One platform they stick by, is they do not like the warning labels placed on albums to warn parents there is explicit material in the album. Rock Out Censorships position has always been that these stickers do very little to warn parents, but do a lot to open the door to more restrictive forms of censorship (http://www.theroc.org/). Rock Out Censorship has traveled and set up booths against censorship at many shows controversial and not so controversial groups and bands have played at. Some of these include Korn, Aerosmith, The Warped Tour, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day and many other tours and artists (http://www.theroc.org/). Rock Out Censorship has also had stage demonstrations in Washington D.C and has had petitions written to the Recording Industry Association of America asking them to get rid of the parental advisory warning system (http://www.theroc.org/). Rock Out Censorship believes that this system will lead to pieces of legislation that would criminalize the sale of controversial music to minors.

The magazine, Rolling Stone also had a negative response to the censorship of music. The first articles in Rolling Stone to speak out against censorship appeared in 1969. Similar to Rock Out Censorship, their articles focused on stickering, labeling and ratings. (Davidson and Winfield, 99) Rolling Stone also felt that the recording industry had given up and given in to the stickering and labeling and no longer would put up a fight. As said in the book, Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music edited by Davidson and Winfield concerning Rolling Stones response:

Rolling Stones anti-censorship sentiments included blatant disdain for the PMRCs actions with an editorial placed in the middle of the article. Detailing the 1985 Senate hearings, Rolling Stone stated, The Parents Music Resource Centers proposal is unworkable and unnecessary and comes perilously close to censorship. A three-page article, entitled At a loss for Words: Record Industry Acceptance of Stickering is Already Having a Chilling Effect, was clearly an anti-labeling opinion piece. Rolling Stone argued that control efforts have a negative effect on the industry: The concessions [voluntary labeling] sound disturbingly like self-censorship. Who needs legislation if the record companies like Circles wont sell those albums to minors?

In addition to Rolling Stone, other magazines have been voicing their opinions about music censorship for years.

Wal-Mart is also a key component of some peoples fight against censorship. Wal-Mart has a policy of not carrying any CDs that carry the notorious parental warning label (http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/01.09.97/walmart-music-9702.shtml). Hit artists like Snoop Doggy Dogg are not carried at Wal-Mart because of the parental advisory warning label. When Hank Hoffman questioned why Wal-Mart would not carry CDs like this, a clerk responded, its a family store, we dont carry other things that might bother people, like Marilyn Manson or Korn either (http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/01.09.97/walmart-music-9702.shtml). If Wal-mart does sell these albums, then they are heavily censored. The question is does it offend people that they do not carry albums such as these? For some Americans,

Wal-mart is the closest thing to a record store they have. Some anti-censorship groups are even calling for people to boycott Wal-mart due to this infringement of the first amendment of the Constitution.

Most often teenagers feel differently about censorship than their parents. They use music as an outlet and sometimes to rebel. It also helps them cope with some things. Music plays a big part in kids growing up. for teens, music becomes especially important, giving a voice to those unable to speak their feelings (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa010801a.htm). As response to a national initiative conducted by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, music was number one. This came from more than 25,000 kids from ages 9 to 17 (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa010801a.htm). In fact, many musicians are involved in the Musicians Assistance Program, through the recording industrys nonprofit treatment referral service. This program has well known musicians share their stories about how drugs hurt their friends and families, and how drugs damage a persons creativity (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa010801a.htm). They also emphasize that recovery is possible through treatment. These artists include Mary J. Blige, KISS, the Dixie Chicks, Lauryn Hill, widow of former Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell and many other artists. Each of these performers appeal to a different sector of the music culture, but all deliver a single message: drugs may appear glamorous, but in reality are destructive forces that ruin talent, end careers, destroy lives and kill (http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa010801a.htm).

Most people have seen the Anti-Drug commercials on television by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. The kids on the commercials say what they do to keep themselves away from drugs. In one particular commercial the teenager says music is his anti-drug. A number of people say that certain types of music influence teenagers to try and use drugs; however, some kids say they use it as their anti-drug. So the real question is, if a teenager listens to the 36 Mafia song called Where is the bud, then is he or she going to want to go out and try marijuana? This is the big controversy in this area.

Most likely, teenagers, parents and society will never agree as to whether to censor music and what kind of music will be censored. Although there are many anti-censorship groups like Rock Against Censorship, censorship of music is getting tougher and tougher. I do not think any time in the near future everyone will ever agree upon this issue.

I do not agree with the censorship of music. I think that it is the parents responsibility to decide what their children may or may not listen to. Society and the government are not here to raise Americas youth, parents are. Also, an artists music is an art, an expression of themselves and what they have been through. Changing their music, changes their art that they created. I would find that very insulting if I were a music artist. I do not think that parental advisories help parents at all. I think that for a parent to decide whether their child is old enough to listen to a music album, they must listen to it themselves. I also think music is an important part of a teenagers life. I know in high school I often used music as an outlet. For some, they are living the music, in a ghetto with parents with drug problems. For others like me, who fortunately did not have any of those problems, we use it as an outlet when our sweethearts break up with us or we just have a bad day. Foremost, I believe that music censorship infringes our first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of speech. Saying that music artists may not use certain words is the same as saying a newspaper cannot print a certain article in my opinion. Yet it seems that music is an easier target because pro-censorship groups claim that they are helping the youth of America.


  1. About R.O.C. 11 February 2002. http://www.theroc.org/aboutroc/roc10.htm
  2. Controversial Music, The Beat Goes On. 7 February 2002. http://teenmusic.about.com/library/weekly/aa022301a.htm
  3. Fitzhenry, Robert I., ed. The Harper Book of Quotations. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1993.
  4. Hoffman, Hank. Wal-Mart Blues. 18 February 2002. http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/01.09.97/walmart-music-9702.shtml
  5. Record Industry Association of America. 7 February 2002. http://www.riaa.org/Parents-Advisory-4.cfm
  6. The 2 Live Crew. 11 February 2002. http://music.lycos.com/artist/bio.asp?QW=2+Live+Crew&AN=The+2+Live+Crew&MID=66486&MH
  7. Winfield, Betty Houchin and Davidson, Sandra, eds. Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music. Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

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