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Musical Censorship

Rob Maas

Musical Censorship


I don’t believe in censorship. Not now, not ever. Not because someone is sexually suggestive, or because they talk about violence. Not because the artist is black, or because the artist is gay. I don’t think that businesses should be coerced into particular practices by the government because some people are offended by a lyric.

I don’t believe in censorship.

To think that violence or sexuality must automatically dismiss the viability of a particular piece of art is to ignore some of the most important art in history.

Thomas Newkirk’s Misreading Masculinity points out the hypocrisy of our concern with violence literature and pop culture, when we are simultaneously teaching such violent literature as Beowulf or Hamlet or Oedipus Rex. Each of these literary works, and many others, contain scenes of violence far more graphic than those contained in adolescent popular music. Most of these “disturbing? works by bands like Marilyn Manson or Megadeth are no more threatening to their listeners than these violent literary classics. Newkirk states that what makes Hamlet acceptable and Ozzy Osbourne not acceptable in the eyes of educators is not their content, but rather their intended audience. Social class and/or age group considerations are the result of a kind of superiority complex on the part of those in power, including teachers, who act as self-appointed elites which have both the right and duty to judge the tastes of the perceived “lower classes.?
The nonelite group that chooses to watch the more popular versions of violence is perceived as more susceptible to suggestion, less capable of keeping the proper distance, more volatile. All of which leads to the question: Is the issue really about violence, or is it about the social class (and age group) the violence appeals to? (2002, 96)
Newkirk uses the example of Anthony Comstock, the post-Civil War federal postal censor and moral crusader, who was sure to censor any type of nudity that catered to people of low income and little education, but ignored nudity in artwork which was admired by the rich and elite members of society (2002, 96-97). Teacher censorship of student writing, reading, or music which depicts violence is a similar type of hypocrisy – decrying the violence as unacceptable when it originates in a young person, but discussing the literary merit of violence when it is written by Shakespeare or Sophocles.

So-called sexual content suffers a similar fate at the hands of teachers in today’s society. The sexual content (which is largely innuendo) of Romeo and Juliet or Their Eyes Were Watching God is acceptable, but the sexuality depicted in modern music is apparently not.

By and large, I find myself in accord with Newkirk’s ideas. The idea that any type of violence or inappropriate content is unarguably deleterious to the students’ well-being is simply ludicrous. As Newkirk convincingly argues through analyses of various scientific and sociological studies, children of all ages are obviously able to differentiate between actual and feigned violence, and understand that there are acceptable and unacceptable types of violence in various media. Almost all students understand that writing which contains an implicit or explicit threat is completely inappropriate under any circumstances.


Newkirk, Thomas. Misreading Masculinity. 2002. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.