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Against Music Censorship

Music censorship has been a major problem plaguing America for over fifty years. In 1957, Elvis Pressley was only allowed to be filmed from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan show (Nuzum 1). Plenty of controversy has taken places between then and now, but more recently it has become much more prominent in the media, and people and organizations are beginning to actually take a stand. For example, Island Records (owned by Disney) dropped the Insane Clown Posse just after their release of The Great Milenko and MTV actually refused to play Madonna’s video for Justify My Love because it was considered too sexually explicit (Nuzum 1).

Music content is just one of the many issues that puts the First Amendment of our Constitution to work. On one hand people believe that lyrics should be censored so that people can be protected. And on the other hand, people believe that the First Amendment protects everyone’s rights to free speech. Basically, it is a matter of whether lyrical censorship be accepted.

Many people say yes, that there should be censorship because lyrics from songs are telling our youth it is acceptable to participate in illegal actions such as murder, rape or drugs. These people believe that the lyrics actually drive people to become social deviants. In one case, the parents of John McCullom sued Ozzy Osbourne, because his song “Suicide Solution”, “aided, advised and encouraged” McCullom’s suicide (Nuzum 1).

C. Delores Tucker, chair of National Political Congress of Black Women, said, “No one and no industry should be allowed to continue the social and psychological poisoning of the young minds of this nation that occurs with the music industry” (91). This belief of musical content being “poison” is prominent all over America. During the 1970’s, record burning was a popular way to speak out against music content, and today protests are quite popular. Other ways of stifling these problematic artists may be through the pressure of having to use a parental advisory label or legislation passing bills. The head of the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression, Jim D’ Entremont, explains one of the bills passed by Governor George W. Bush Jr. as “Prohibiting the state of Texas or any of its agencies in investing in any private concern that owns at least ten percent of any corporation that produces music which describes, glamorizes or advocates violence, drug abuse or sexual activity” (111).

On the other side of this issue, the First Amendment protects the artists’ freedom of speech by saying there should be no censorship of something that is lawfully protected. For example, the people on this side believe that just because someone sings about enjoying sex, his lyrics will not necessarily urge the listener to go out and have sex. In many cases the lyrics are not serious, they are just amusement, or the media takes them for more than they are worth. D’Entremont expemplifies this by saying, “The most effective right-wing campaigns exploit real or imagined evidence that the music’s content is so far beyond all civilized standards of tolerance that we must dispense it with some of our rights in order to vanquish it” (109). And organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and then American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are at odds with all of these right wing campaigns because they feel the Americans should not be forced to give up some of our rights, and artists should not be forced to limit their speech. Mass Mic, an organization which fights against music censorship said, “The First Amendment to the constitution extends freedom of speech to all Americans… The First Amendment protects the right of artists to produce controversial material” (1). For many people who support censorship such as the American Family Association (AFA) and the Christian Coalition, it may be a matter of personal disagreement with what that person is advocating. For example, if you just wanted Marilyn Manson banned because you disagreed with his attitude about sex and religion, then you would be sacrificing your own freedom of speech under the First Amendment (Mass Mic 1).

In my opinion, I think it is unconstitutional to censor lyrics. The First Amendment gives everyone the equal right to speak freely about anything, in any way. This does not exclude musicians. If I am allowed to speak my opinion (positively or negatively) on a subject, then so is a lyricist, even if he/she is speaking it to the public. When an organization such as the Christian Coalition protests against an artist, that is the same idea of musicians’ controversial lyrics. Both sides are expressing two extreme views, and if one side is going to be stifled, then so should the other. I believe Thomas C. Grey explained it best when he said if you are going to regulate speech, then “you are going to create the danger of suppressing debate, (and) suppressing ideas” (59).

I believe it is important to keep censorship away. Just because a certain percentage of our population is offended doesn’t mean we should take away the First Amendment rights of artists. I believe the most effective solution to this problem would be through disclaimers and self-censorship. For example, if there is some sort of disclaimer before a video that may seem offensive, then it will allow you to change the channel, the same way that movie have ratings. And if you are concerned about the messages getting sent to children, then spending time with them and finding out what they are about, and teaching them morals and values, would be a very effective solution. Eminem said it himself in the song “Who Knew” on the Marshall Mathers LP, “But don’t blame me when lil’ Eric jumps off of the terrace. You shoulda been watchin’ him – apparently you ain’t parents.”

In conclusion, I believe that it should be up to the individual to censor themselves, rather than the government taking control and censoring lyrics, because in the grand scheme of things, “censorship cannot eliminate evil, it can only kill freedom” (Mass Mic 1).

Works Cited

  • D’Entremont, Jim. “Music Lyrics Should Not Be Censored.” Ed. Scott Barbour. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press 2000. 105-111.
  • Grey, Thomas C. “Regulations of Harassing Speech Does Not Threaten Free Speech on College Campuses.” Ed. Scott Barbour. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press 2000. 58-64.
  • Mass Mic. “The Religious Right VS. Marilyn Manson.” 11 March 2001. .
  • Nuzum, Eric. “A Brief History of Banned Music in the United States.” 1 December 2000. 11 March 2001. .
  • Tucker, C. Delores. “Violent and Pornographic Music Lyrics Should Be Restricted.”
  • Ed. Scott Barbour. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press 2000. 88-91.

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