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#4: Censorship Unit Assignments


With this assignment I want to both get them thinking about the idea of censorship and what it means to the and also help to develop critical thinking skills or skills in formulating an argument.

First, introduce the topic of censorship. Start from the vantage point of government censorship. What is censorship (various ways of looking at the topic)? Where have we seen it used in the past and for what purpose?

Next, students should write 2-3 pages for the following class discussing what censorship is and if there are ever and times where censorship is permissible.

For the next class period I would like to bring up the topic of censorship in terms of the private sector. Have students read "Crash into me, baby: America's implicit
music censorship since 11 September" by Eric Nuzum and "Musical responses to September 11th: The list of allegedly 'banned' songs."

Begin with a discussion regarding the list of "banned" songs from September 11, 2001. Discuss that the list was not "banned" but rather a suggestion for sensitivity that DJs could use their best judgment to play or not to play. Which of these songs do you think are appropriate for a list of this type? Are there songs that you think are inappropriate for this list? Why do you think they are there?

Second, in Nuzum's article how does he define the idea of censorship in relation to music? Is there a difference between the government "banning: or "censoring" a particular type of music and a business "deciding" not deal with a particular type of music? When radio stations do not play songs from a "suggested" list of "do not air" songs, are they truly censoring the music or making a business decision? Is there a difference?

This topic I think would be fairly contentious. Ideally, I would divide the class up according to what there belief in censorship is when it comes to the private sector. Depending on how many take each position, it may mean that I would need to divide them up more evenly that the natural distribution. Have them work in groups of two to prepare for a debate in the subject against their counter parts. Give them 15 - 20 minutes to formulate the ideas that they would like to pursue to convince their classmates of their position. Then...inform them that they will be arguing the other position. Give them until the next class period to research and prepare an argument and a rebuttal to present in an in class debate.

The hope here is that by learning about the other side of the argument more in depth, it will not only inform the position that they have taken, but also help them learn how to argue their position more effectively.

Finally, take a look at songs like "Cop Killer" by Body Count, "Suicide Solution" by Ozzy Osborne, "Let Me Put My Love Into You" by AC/DC, and "We're Not Going to Take it" by Twisted Sister.

Why do you think the PRMC would think these songs should carry some type of a warning label? Are they justified in their concerns? Is the request to put warning labels on various music types regarding content a good thing or a bad thing? Is it censorship? Are the movies different from the music industry in this regard?

Write a 2 -3 page argument for why you believe this is a good idea or a bad idea. Address the concerns regarding censorship regardless of your position.

#3: Music Censorship...

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.

#2: Assignment around authenticity


As with many of the things that we do in my courses, a great deal of it revolves around discussion and presenting them with questions to guide their thought and allow them to explore the issue. These are no different.

#1: This assignment is for a jazz literature and appreciation course.

Let us take a look at "jazz" music through the lens of authenticity.

What does it mean for music in general to be authentic?
What is "authentic" jazz?

Since most students do not come into this course with knowledge of jazz music(s), lets being the discussion with what it means to be authentic in the popular music that they encounter in their everyday world. What is the difference between a music developing and in turn becoming less authentic?

Read: "Authenticity Within Hip=Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation" by Kembrew McLeod

Here the author discusses what makes Hip-Hop "real" or "authentic". Music that does not conform to these criterion are therefore considered "fake" forms or perhaps even commercial forms of the music. Is the move of a rapper like Will Smith to more "commercialized" Hip-Hop truly a move away from "Authenticity" or is it a move in the development of the Hip-Hop medium?

Think back to early jazz and the definitions that were used to describe this music. Was Louis Armstrong correct when he insinuated that Bebop was not "authentic" jazz music because it did not conform to the early jazz forms that he had grown up playing? Why or why not? Does your view change with artists like Herby Hancock who used jazz to cross over into the popular music market? What is the difference between these two types of "development" within jazz? Would you define one as "authentic" and another as "Fake"? Is there a difference between "development" of a musical genre (in this case jazz) and the commercialization of that genre?

Write 2 - 4 pages explaining to the best of your ability what "authentic" jazz is and offer examples of "authentic" versus "fake" jazz forms. Touch also on the difference between "development" and "commercialization" of jazz.

#2: This assignment is aimed at my voice students and class voice students. However, I think it may even be applicable to music appreciation as well.

Opening Questions:
Thinking about authenticity in performance and in music...what makes a performance authentic? What makes it more than a performance, but rather makes it an experience that is shared by all, performer and audience member alike?

Music today focuses so much on the performer and their perceived "authenticity" which is in fact their image...and the performance of that music as well. But is that what makes the music...the fact that someone who has a name or an image is performing the music?

Read: "4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music" by David Pattie

Looking at the idea of "Authenticity" in performance from the perspective of rock music, what do you believe provoked the response or the "experience" to the concert the Verve performed in this article? How do you think that correlates to the attribute James says the performer must have under heading "Two" within the article?

Is the "experience" that was created due to the fact that the Verve were the ones performing the music...i.e. is it there image that created the experience or was it something greater?

Is the "Authenticity" or "truth" of the performer and their image the important part or is it the fact that the performer found the "authenticity" or "truth" in the music and was able to present that truth to the audience?

Write 2 - 3 pages (or more if necessary) discussing what you believe your role as a performer is in terms of the music and the audience you are performing for. What does it mean to search for the "truth" in music? Why is that "truth" important to you as a musician?

Or for music appreciation

Write 2 - 3 pages (or more if necessary) discussing what you believe you role as a listener is in terms of the music you are hearing? What do you expect of the performer of that music? How do you assess if the performance of that music was an "authentic" or "truthful" performance? How does the search for authenticity in the music and the performance of that music inform the way in which you may chose to listen?

#1: "Authentic Music"

The readings for this post have to do with idea of Authenticity in popular music. As a starting point we were assigned to read "4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music" by David Pattie long with "Authenticity Within Hip-Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation" by Kembrew McLeod.

The authors here take two different, yet, I might conclude, similar approaches to the issue of authenticity in music. Pattie argues in large part that authenticity has to do with the musical connection that a performer or ensemble has with their audience. What makes the group and/or the music authentic is the fact that the music and performance is transformed from a performer/audience perspective to one in which the performer and audience have an experience together revolving around the music. Contrary, McLeod takes a much more "scientific" approach o looking at the issue of authenticity within Hip-Hop music. He comes to the conclusion that authenticity has to do with a number of factors that can be attributed to all music types: Social-psychological, Racial, Political-economic, Gender-sexual, Social location, and Cultural. Within the Hip-Hop world, those who are "authentic" are those who remember the roots of the music they sing, remember where they came from, and worry more about accurately portraying who they are and the life they lead (and writing music to that effect) as opposed to "selling out" by trying to adapt their music to a more popular market.

These two concepts are seemingly different, but I would argue that they are perhaps the same. One might argue that for a performer and audience to have the chance to have an "experience" with each other that the music itself (and the performer for that matter) needs to be authentic. And according to McLeod that means that they stay true to the musical genre and the meaning within that genre...they don't change their image to market themselves...they don't change the music to be more marketable or "popular".

I have to admit that I have never really heard of "authentic" versus "fake" before in the musical world. I have heard of a similar debate which I am sure has been raging on since music and art were first invented...what makes "good" art. The issue here is that what makes art "good" is in the eye of the beholder that looking/listening to that work of art. I have a feeling that the same thing is true with what makes art "real" or "authentic". It depends on what perspective and criterion you are using to define a musical genre as an "authentic" one. Taking for example McLeod's work, he narrows down to very specific categories what makes Hip-Hop authentic. What gives his argument credence s the fact that he is looking to those who were perhaps originators of the art form or part of the underground that writes in the same vain as those original founders to determine what it means to be "authentic". One of the issues that I see here is that it doesn't leave room for the development of an art form. Hip-Hop began on the streets, but does that mean that it can't evolve into something else? I can see us saying that something has an "authentic" sound but it seems that putting a series of categorical restrictions on what the "authentic" music can and should be holds it in a very stagnant pattern that doesn't allow the music to grow. Also, the fact that race is one of those categories that determine if a music is "authentic" or not is a little disturbing. That is like saying there is no white person ever who grows up on the streets and has similar experiences and can write and perform music about them in the same style and manner of a black person.

I see a potential issue with that of Pattie as well. Just because there is an "experience" that occurs between performer and audience does that mean that the music is "authentic" or "real" or does it simply mean that the performance or shared experience as it were is "real" or on a different plain? I liken this to a solo song recital. There are many works that I love to sing, that I connect with and that I perform exceptionally well because of that fact. However, as a performer, I take special pride in being able to communicate the message of a song and bring my audience into a performance regardless of the work that I am singing, the amount of life experience I bring to it, etc. I think that is part of being a great performer. And one other aspect that is perhaps ignored (or that I perhaps overlooked within his argument) is that it takes a special set of circumstances for one of these types of performances to occur (and in fact I believe he does mention this). Does one of these performance make the music all the more "authentic"...I would argue that it makes the performance at that moment in time more "authentic" but that is a reflection of all the elements coming together. However, it could be argued that a great performance cannot occur with bad music...or at least an experience such as the one being described. Food for thought...

I guess one of the questions I would ask is what are we trying to be authentic/real to? Am I looking for someone who is authentic to the genre, to a culture, to themselves? The Fresh Prince for example...many Hip-Hop artists get on his case for the fact that he "sold out". His music has moved to a commercial vain and that he has lost touch with his roots. I can see this argument, but I would ask if the music that he performs now is more of a reflection of him now? Is it who he really was the whole time? Where should his loyalties lie in this vain? Is it better to be true to who you are or to the genre you began in? Would his music be as good as it is if he were trying to force himself to stay "authentic" within the genre he is writing? Could we ever get to the concert "experience" if he didn't believe in what he was singing about?

I guess this leads me back to the very beginning...what is "authentic" or "real"? How does one know that what they are hearing is "authentic"? Do we need someone to tell us when we have heard this music? Does the market determine it? Is it only people who are inside this music that really know if the music is "authentic" or not? At the same time, how do we ensure that all the music we listen to doesn't end up as an empty that is far more concerned with obtaining an audience and making the almighty dollar rather than actually saying something...being that "authentic" music that broke in in the first place?

There is no doubt that record executives will latch on to the latest, greatest thing and try to water it down to be a marketable commodity. Country music, for example, has been mainstreamed with a "pop" music type sound. Many people have said that these artists have sold out. One might argue instead that they have brought the genre to a new group of people. Regardless, while there are still elements from the original country sound, the music is not "authentic" as it were if we compare it to Hank Williams Sr. for example.

It is definitely a tough question to determine regardless of how you view it...

I have a hard time with the second part of this assignment as I do not listen to all that much "popular" music. The only lens that I can look through this question is with art song recitalists, which is, I am sure, exactly where you would not like me to go with this post, so I will try to look at country music, which I used to listen to long, long ago.

Back in the 90's when I listened to country music; I used to listen to the likes of Tim McGraw and Collin Ray. The first question is would I define either of these as authentic? And the first question I would ask back is authentic compared to what? If we are looking at the old country music of Hank Williams Sr. and the like I would definitely say that they are not authentic. But if we are looking at the country rock genre that has developed over the years I would say that they are fairly authentic representations of this genre. A genre that has taken a number of the elements of country (the steel guitar, the country "twang" in the voice, and a great deal of the subject material) and added a more rock undertone to them. However, I don't think this is what people mean when they ask about "authenticity" in the sound is a bit of a catch 22.

The more important question, weather we are discussing authenticity or what makes for "good" music is how do you prove it to someone who does not feel the same way? The simple answer for me is that I have no idea. You can bring up all the great artists of the past who established the genre and try to show the comparisons between them and your artist. You can try to discuss the elements of a particular genre and show how the artist uses these elements within their music. You can try showing them artists within the genre that defiantly are not authentic as showing them how your artist does not compare with them. Regardless, at the end of the day, it is a matter of perspective and attempting to bring them to yours through education..."there are no right or wrong answers in music...only more educated ones."

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