Censorship – Good or Bad?
The impulse to censor, that is, to control information and ideas circulated within a society, has existed since ancient times. Censorship may take many forms. These include intimidation, consensus, and the economy. Parental claims also play an important role. The reasons given for censorship have included situations thought to be indecent, heretical, or treasonous. These actions were supposedly taken to protect the family, the church, and the state.
While we tend to think of music censorship as a relatively new topic for discussion, in reality, it has been a subject of concern for centuries. As far back as Ancient Greece, Plato’s Republic documents the censorship idea. His mentor, Socrates also presented the notion that there were certain modes of music that he would eliminate. Freedom of speech in early Rome was reserved for those in positions of authority. The organized church and National Security and defense may also use censorship as a rationale for suppression (1).
It is thought that the first song to be banned in North America was in 1735. The song was deemed overly critical of colonial officials (2). While this predates the First Amendment, he was acquitted when his attorney argued that by printing the truth, he should not be condemned (2). Since that time music has continued to be a target for censors and the general rule of thumb seems to be anything deemed offensive at any time will be blocked.
The Radio Act of 1927
For example, in 1927, Congress passed the The Radio Act of 1927 to prohibit the use of unacceptable language. In 1934 Congress created the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to control the public airways.
The 1950’s and 1960’s rock music brought about a stricter attitude toward censorship. The combination of differences in generation and world events gave rise to indecipherable lyrics and allusions to sex, drugs, and alcohol. The older generation considered rock a form of rebellious music containing hidden meanings and changes in morals. The concerns by parental authorities continued with the introduction of heavy metal rock and rap music in the 1970s and 1980s. Responding to public concerns the FCC added to the laws blocking music play and is involved with censoring music (3).
Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).
In 1985, a group of concerned individuals joined together to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). This group pushed the music industry and the government to create a rating system designed to evaluate the content of artists. The system, still in use, uses a black-and-white label “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content to identify objectionable albums (4).
As with most issues involving values and morals there will be zealots on both sides. The issue of censorship in music is both a matter of morality, personal preference, and freedoms outlined in the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. This translates into an individual choosing a position based on personal beliefs. What is important is that we respect the beliefs of both sides and attempt to find a common ground.
For many, the argument revolves around that the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Despite the fact there are a lot of things in music and the media that are inappropriate for children, time has shown that censorship isn’t helping anyone. Perhaps what is needed is for grownups to spend time with their youngsters to find out what it is about the music they listen to that appeal to them. If, in fact they are drawn to a particularly offensive song, the lyrics may be expressing how they feel or answer questions they cannot ask themselves.
1. What is Censorship? http://gilc.org/speech. Retrieved 9/4/14.
2. Lydia Hutchinson, Performing Song Writer. Censored Songs in American History http://performingsongwriter.com/censored-songs-in-american-history. Retrieved 9/4/14.
3. The History of Censorship in Music, http://censoryofmusic.weebly.com/the-history.html. Retrieved 9/4/14.