Censorship! Censorship is a difficult topic to discuss for any number of reasons...for example, ones man's censorship, in another man's common sense or statement of morality. It leads us to a very interesting question of what censorship really is and who determines if it really is censorship at all.
In the readings for this week, the authors discussed censorship as they potentially see it within the context of the twentieth century moving into the twenty first century. The article "Music Censorship (part 1) : A Brief History" by Kelly Sparrow seeks to identify over the past 60 years or so a number of instances where they have seen the "censorship" of music. These range from radio stations choosing not to play certain works to the attempt of congress to form an oversight committee to determine if songs were appropriate and perhaps even recommend (or in fact uniformly) change lyrics before they are offered for sale to the public. Our text book spends a great deal of the discussion regarding censorship discussing the role of PMRC and the "conservative" religious fervor as an element of this censorship of music.
These thoughts have led me to my own question...what is censorship? If we look in the dictionary, censorship is "1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively". We might ask to go further then and see what it means to censor. According to our dictionary, to censor is "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable". So now that we know what censoring is by definition, the next question I want to ask is what does it mean to have something censored? Who has the power to censor something? Is there a difference between censorship and choice?
We can look to our classrooms to begin our discussion. How many times have we cut off a student in the middle of a thought because they were heading on a different track or they were espousing their own belief in something that we did not feel was "appropriate" for the discussion or school for that matter? If we look at censorship in its truest form, are we not censoring the thoughts of our students and not giving the other students in our classes the right to consider those thoughts and make decisions for themselves? Or are we exercising good judgment as teachers, keeping our discussions to relevant topics and thoughts, and making sure our classrooms to not become havens for profanity because students don't have the vocabulary to necessarily express what they would like to say?
Take the individual who listens to music. Four people are driving in a car and someone wants to listen to a specific type of music. The driver does not allow that type of music in their vehicle the other occupants of the car are never allowed to hear it. Is the driver committing a true act of censorship or expressing their preference for their own type of music while in a vehicle that is under their control at the time?
May be those first two examples a bit nebulous, so perhaps we can discuss the radio industry for just a moment. Radio stations that are formatted for specific types of music...are they not committing an act of censorship by not allowing the playing of all the other varieties of music, or are they simply reacting to the market forces of their primary listenership. Is there a difference then between a company making a business decision that it feels is in its best interest, vs. actually censoring the music?
To me true" censorship" comes when a much higher power puts the "kibosh" so to speak on a form of communication. To me this usually insinuates the government. For example, if a radio conglomerate makes a recommendation to its djs that they should avoid playing a specific type of music due to a national event (this happened around the time of 9/11 if you recall) is it truly censorship? Can you not find the music you would like to hear from another source (the record store, YouTube, download from iTunes, etc.)? It is not as if the government has come along and declared that these songs cannot be played on the radio and should not be sold in stores and should be removed from the internet. That to me is true "censorship" as it were. When a higher power comes along and makes it impossible to get your hands on legally, that is when we have a problem here.
I think back to the readings in our text about the PMRC. Were they trying to "censor" something? Perhaps when they began their hearings before congress they had lofty goals in this direction, but initially they were looking for a rating system. I find it funny that we rate movies but due to the "quantity of music" we don't think we should be looking at the appropriateness of the music that our children can get their hands on. Even the FCC reserves the right for the "common good" to restrict the amount of foul language and explicit material that we are exposed to on television...why do we find it a violation of the first amendment then when we consider this with music? I realize that we find our selves coming down the slippery slope with interpretation, etc. As someone who is all in favor of metaphor in music and the higher thinking of music, why not keep it simply to material that uses foul language and explicit discussion of sex (take lil' Kim for example...a bit of both that I would not like my daughter getting her hands on without my knowledge).
Our book also references any number of court cases in which an album or a group was brought to trial for obscenity or something of the like. I think these are horrible examples of censorship...perhaps attempted censorship...but at the end of the day our justice system should be applauded for WORKING. These were not censored but rather declared the free speech that it truly is.
There are a few moments in history when censorship has been a huge problem. For example, when we ban certain books from public schools because we don't like content. Here, students can still get their hands on the material, but in a way the government is telling them that this material is unacceptable for their education and therefore bad. I believe the FCC position in 1971 bordered on censorship when they were threatening to revoke the licenses of radio stations for playing songs about "drugs". Even during WWII, censorship from the government occurred in radio because they feared that the information might help their enemy...perhaps justified...but still censorship to me.
There are any number of examples in these articles that I think are horrible examples of censorship, but rather business decisions made by companies who have the right to protect their interests. The 1955 example where the radio station stopped playing a particular song due to protect from its listeners...they actually listened to the consumer and we accuse them of censorship? 1968 when a Texas radio station "banned" or as I would say "made a choice" not to play Bob Dylan songs because they could not understand the lyrics...a CHOICE.
I think another thing I find funny here is that we lay the blame completely on the record labels and radio stations. These are businesses that make decisions like this all the time. Artists understand this going in, and if they don't they should not be allowed to use "ignorance of the law" as a way to blame the industry they have VOLUNTARILY gotten into bed with. Yes, they made their bed, they signed a contract with s record label relinquishing a certain amount of power and authority in their music making process if the label so chooses so why do we accuse the labels of censorship when they exercise the power that was granted to them? An artist can make a choice to sign elsewhere, form their own label or just be independent. There are any number of groups that strictly put thing out via the internet to avoid the record labels making decisions about their artistic visions.
Another thing that I find funny is that by avoiding what I might call an overreach in what censorship is, we may actually be censoring those we are accusing of censorship. Well, that was perhaps a bit nebulous so let us take our 1980 example from Sparrow's article. The reference is to a youth minister that "organizes a group of teenagers who publically burn records for the Beatles, Ravi Shanker, Peter Frampton, etc". Is this an act of censorship? I would argue that these people are exercising their first amendment rights to protest against a particular topic of public interest, in this case music. If we stop them from doing this are we not violating their first amendment rights and censoring their speech? Do they not have the right to express their opinion about this music, even if it is not shared by others? Isn't that what they are accusing the "conservatives" of doing? Seems to me that this is a two way street here.
So, in short, the question is not if censorship actually occurs...I think we all know that it does. The question is simply if every choice that is made that "limits" or "changes" the music is actually an act of censorship? There are other issues at play, for example, does changing the music or putting a warning label on that music only interest the population you are trying to "protect" more? Are their times that censorship of something is actually acceptable? Where does the line of making a business decision end and censorship begin? Is there a line and if not, isn't everything censorship at the end of the day? The material we chose to teach or not teach, the music we decide to record or not record (should every Tom, Dick and Harry have the "right" to a recording contract then since not having one would be to censor their music?), the opinions we listen to and chose not to listen to, etc. When you open up censorship as broadly as people like Eric Nezum would like, it seems that there are no choices you can make that are correct.