by: Maureen Benedict
As music lyrics become more outspoken and controversial, censorship has become a topic of debate.
What is censorship? "Censorship is the control of what people may say or hear, write or read, or see
or do. In most cases, this kind of control comes from a government or from various types of private
groups. Censorship can affect books, newspapers, magazines, motion pictures, radio and television
programs, and speeches. It also may influence music, painting, sculpture, and other arts." (Lieberman).
The founding fathers of this country thought people should have freedom of speech, and they gave that to
the country in the first amendment to the Constitution. Over the years, many groups have tried to control
the words and ideas found in music, because they did not like what the music was saying. There are
many methods of censorship, such as putting parental advisory labels on CDs, blocking out certain words
on the radio, putting censor bars over inappropriate things in videos, and some cities even ban certain bands
from performing. It is a difficult issue, and there are pros and cons to music censorship.
Parents often find certain groups objectionable because of the ideas they think the groups are putting into
their children's heads such as suicide, drug use and violence. They also, many times object to the language
found in songs. Church groups have also found music they think is objectionable. Any group sings about or
relates to things that do not have to do with God, for example magic, witchcraft, Satan, suicide, or drugs,
church groups do not like. Many times, musicians use religious symbols in objectionable ways in songs and
in videos. For example musician Marilyn Manson rips up Bibles on stage at his concerts. "Legislators in
several states are proposing laws which would require labels on certain heavy metal and rap records warning
parents of lyrics which are sexual, violent, degrading to women, or promote drug use, suicide and satanism.
Critics of proposed label laws say it is a first step toward government-enforced censorship." (Harrington). In
1985, voluntary record labeling started. Legislators in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida said they were trying
to tell parents of objectionable lyrics. Community leaders have been trying to cancel shows of certain groups
due to inappropriate language, ideas in the songs, or inappropriate behavior or actions on stage. In some cases
they have been successful, in others they have asked groups not to play certain songs. For example, in Georgia,
church groups and community leaders were trying to ban a show because they thought Silverchair's "Suicidal
Dream" and "Israel's Son", and The Offspring's "Beheaded", "Cool To Hate" and "Kill The President" had
inappropriate lyrics or ideas in them. The result of that was that Silverchair and The Offspring were asked not to
play certain songs.
"Music activists are taking on parental advisory stickers--those little black and white labels that appear on CDs
marketed to young listeners. The stickers read PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LYRICS and are put in place
by the CD manufacturer under agreement reached in 1989 between the Parents' Music Resource Center and the
Recording Industry Association of American." (DesRosiers). If parental advisory labels are placed on a CD it is
either because of lyrics that are found objectionable, or may be found objectionable to some listeners. If it was
placed on the CD because of the artwork, the artwork was found or could be found objectionable.
The first amendment of the Constitution was made to protect people's freedom to express themselves. It says,
"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 of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Many countries in the world do not have freedom of speech,
and freedom is an important part of this country. It is something that should be valued and should be protected.
At the same time, they may expose children to words, thoughts and ideas that may offend. Censorship is a
violation of this amendment. It allows one group of people to control what the community sees and hears. It lets
one group of people speak and think for all people and it prevents everyone from making their own decisions. If
censorship is allowed in music, will censorship spread to other areas of life?
There are many groups and organisations that are trying to fight censorship. Mass M.I.C. is a non-profit
organization trying to promote and preserve free speech in music. P.O.A.A.F.A. is a group that deals with issues
like censorship, first amendment issues and defamation. These organizations were formed because people got fed
up with censorship of music and want to fight against it.
There are many pros an cons to censorship. Censorship is meant to keep children away from inappropriate
thoughts, ideas and language that may be found in the music. Censorship is also a violation of the first
amendment, which gives everyone the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Censorship takes those
freedoms away by telling people what they can and cannot listen to. Censorship is a violation of our rights and
should be watched more closely.
The quotes came from:
"Censorship" in the World Encyclopedia Volume 3 by Jethro K Lieberman
"The New Wave Of Lyric Laws" by Richard Harrington - January 28, 1990
"Rock Fans Fight Censorship" by Mary DesRosiers - June 1999