Censorship and Music

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Music censorship has been prevalent for decades. The reasoning shifts, but most of the time it’s due to “sensitivity and decency” of the public interest. If you listen to the radio there are often times when words are either beeped out or changed entirely. I believe any artist should be able to express themselves without consequences. It’s a 1st Amendment right.

I’ve been listening to music for a long time, since the early 70’s. Over that time, I’ve heard many songs, some of which had “explicit” lyrics when I was a younger listener. One of the songs that comes to mind is Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. In this song, he says “son of bitch.” It was later changed to “son of gun.” If you take this term literally it means the son of a female dog, nothing bad about that term. However, society had morphed this into a derogatory comment and that changed everything. As a young child, the derogatory comment did no harm to my psyche, it was relevant to the story of the song. However, societal pressure made such a stink that it was changed.

In 1985 things really changed. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was founded by Tipper Gore. The group pushed for a ratings system similar to the movie rating system. There were Senate hearings that including influential musicians of the time as well as music industry professionals. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was against the proposal. However, the music industry got so much pressure from societal blacklisting and other types of protest, that they finally succumbed. The Parental Advisory label was adopted soon after. In my mind, if I was a young child seeing this sticker on a CD, I would be more curious than anything and with today’s internet, it’s easier than ever to discover why a product is so deserving of such a label.

The past couple of months have been crazy politically and societally. There has always been discrimination pertaining to many ethnic groups. Racial tensions seem to be at an all-time high and now we’re at the point that Civil War statues and people with certain names are being taken down or censored. The only reason I’m mentioning this current situation is because it’s influenced my local music scene.

Just this past week a local Black Metal band’s event was shut down before it happened due to racial intolerance. I don’t personally know the specific band, but I’ve been told via several reliable sources that some of their songs were racially slanderous and that their attitudes had similar tendencies from time to time. A few people started protesting the event and the club canceled to diffuse the situation. I have never seen this happen before locally.

I can understand why the club did what it did. However, to me, if someone doesn’t like the music, don’t go, or listen to it. It’s their right to protest, but it just goes against everything I stand for as a musician. An artist should never be afraid to speak what is on their mind, good or bad, that’s one of the foundations that America is built on. One thing it did give the band was a lot of publicity and maybe more fans for the exact same reason the Parental Advisory label gets attention.

Another instance occurred last year when my friend’s band was shoved into the spotlight because of their name. I don’t think it made it on national news, but it definitely made the social media rounds. Someone took offense to a name and others jumped onto the bandwagon. The band’s name itself was created only to shock people and to stick in your head, to make it memorable. The name had nothing to do with their beliefs nor any of their songs. What did it do? It gave them a ton of publicity, many new fans, and a couple shows out of state.

Two famous artists that immediately come to mind pertaining to censorship are Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. Two artists from different eras, yet both had to deal with large amounts of social pressure. Both had many shows that were picketed or cancelled outright. Did this ever deter them? No. It gave them fuel to go even further. The protesting and censorship not only gave them free publicity, but grew their fanbase immensely and notoriety as an artist.

Music is about bringing up thoughts and provoking discussion on topics that are relevant to the time. It always has been. Do I agree with some artists’ lyrical content? No, but that’s the point. If I were a parent and my child was curious about an artist with a Parental Advisory sticker on it, depending on my child’s age, I would use it as a platform to talk about the content and its possible relevance to the artist and our society for the time. Music is a form of freedom of speech and expression and will never be restricted. Time has proven this over and over. Music will never be impeded or die.

-Scott Duncan - MU Columnist

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