Censorship in music has been a major problem plaguing America since the early nineteen forties. It came to a head during the nineteen sixties with the Vietnam War and the hippie movement. During the nineteen seventies and eighties heavy metal and hard rock were getting the brunt of the censorship heat. Now in the nineteen nineties the major focus of censorship is rap; primarily gangster rap. Some of the main factors of music in general that cause legal ramifications are sexual content, suggestive violence and obscene language.
Censorship is an attack against our first amendment right guaranteeing the freedom of speech. However if a song or album is deemed obscene the first amendment does not protect this. The mass media has been involved has been involved in the many so-called problems that music causes in society today. The attempted censorship of music is not just because people need a cause to fight. In today’s society there are many problems that experts feel are directly related to music. Some of these problems are suicide, murder and sexual assault.
Many people argue that it is not only music made for entertainment purposes. Many parents and experts argue that rappers and musicians use vulgar, profane, sexually explicit lyrics to target the teenage market because money is a major issue and this kind of media is a hot commodity. Another popular subject that has taken heat and was attempted to be censored is politically charged music. During the Vietnam War many songs blasted the government. “For what it’s worth” by Buffalo Springfield is a song documenting the actions by San Francisco police taken against members of the band at a peaceful protest.
This song is not the first and was definitely not the last to point out the harsh actions of law enforcement officials. In nineteen eighty-five the seeds of censorship were sewn. It began by the Recording Industry association of America agreeing to voluntarily place-warning labels on albums that were deemed obscene. This came after a congressional hearing before the Senate commece, science and transportation committee. Frank Zappa a controversial musician attended the conference and called Tipper Gore who is co founder of the Parent’s Music Resource Center a “Cultural Terrorist. “(Winfield pg. )
Record labeling made many angry and at the same time pacified others. It was seen as a step forward in attempting to control the one mass media aimed directly at teenagers. Musicians such as Axle Rose have spoken out against labeling claiming their right to express themselves musically no matter what the response. One artist, Luther Campbell, of the rap group 2 Live crew released a single titled “Banned in the USA” in response to the labeling (Winfield pg. 14). This labeling of albums is not the first attempt and success at censoring music. For 50 years radio stations have been censoring songs deemed inappropriate.
In 1940 NBC banned 147 songs. The Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s authority to regulate music in 1978 (Winfield pg. 14). The rock and roll community could only expect some sort of limited censorship. Initially the ban was only in effect from 6 am until midnight but in 1988 president Reagan made the ban all day. The FCC in an attempt to let radio stations know what types of songs were unacceptable sent a list of 22 drug related songs to radio stations. Three of these songs were Puff the magic dragon; I get by with a little help from my friends and Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
These songs were put on the “do not play list” and lost broadcast privileges (Winfield pg. 14). To take matters one step further president Nixon tried to have John Lennon deported for his deviant behavior and anti-political messages in his songs. Lennon is not the only artist the government has had their eyes on. The FBI also has files on Elvis Presley and Jim Morisson (Winfield pg. 15). Federal authorities linked the music’s political messages to the power of resistance from the mid-sixties to the early seventies (Winfield pg. 15). This form of censorship ahs only targeted one form of music media.
There are still many other areas and sides to music that have faced the scrutiny of censorship. Take for example the sale and distribution of records. Earlier in the paper I talked about voluntary labeling of records but with songs like ICE T’s “Cop Killer” there was a call for mandatory labeling (Winfield pg. 13). Although it seemed like a good idea to try to prevent kids from getting their hands on the music it is still a form of limiting free speech and it never made it past the state level. Many store chains such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart refuse to carry and album with a warning label because of their reputation as a wholesome store.
This is why the labeling hurts artists. Those are sales that could benefit an artist’s career but because of a sticker on an album some stores will not carry it. Some artists choose in an attempt to please censors to release a clean and dirty, if you would like to call it that version, of their album. Prince released a double CD set and made one vulgar and in the other used sound effects to muffle the obscene words. 2 Live Crew was the first group to be indicted on charges of obscenity. With lyrics like “Hey, we want some pu**y” they were found offensive by people everywhere (Winfield pg. 13).
However when they were brought to trial the Supreme Court ruled that they were not legally obscene. Sexual lyrics in rap are not the only controversial issues at hand. Violence in rap songs have also taken center stage and are getting their share of criticism and attempted censorship. Rapper Ice T ended up pulling a song “Cop Killer” of his album body count because his record officials were receiving death threats for releasing it (Winfield pg. 13). The predecessor to Ice T’s stance on cops would be the rap group Nigga’s with Attitudes or NWA. They received a lot of abuse for a song simply titled “Fu*k tha Police.
However the most modern controversy over controversial politics and anti-police messages belongs to the Los Angeles based rock/rap band Rage against the Machine. At a concert in Philadelphia front man Zach de la Rocha made an announcement to the crowd, “we would like to send a brief message to the members of the Fraternal order of Police her in Philadelphia” then they covered NWA’s “Fu&k tha police. ” (www. RATM. com) Rage is no stranger to protest, censorship or threats. They are supporters of a new fair trial for convicted cop killer and death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal.
Mumia himself is also a victim of censorship. Mumia recorded several bits documenting prison life that were played on national radio stations until Senate majority leader Bob Dole and the FOP pressured national radio stations into not playing them. (www. RATM. com) Rage themselves have been boycotted by police on several occasions. Two years ago they played a show in New Jersey to raise money for Mumia’s trial expenses and were boycotted outside by numerous policemen. (www. RATM. com) It had no effect on concert goers who are there for the music not the politics.
The police who boycott Rage have also targeted NBC for allowing Rage to appear on the Conan O’Brien show and to perform their song “Testify” which outlines the Mumia case (www. RATM. com). The president of the FOP released a statement about Rage, which read “This is a mediocre band at best whose real talent is not music but radical politics. I guess when you lack musical talent, but are good at marketing an anti-everything image you can still sell records and get on television”(www. RATM. com). On December sixth, nineteen ninety-nine Rage played a show in Philadelphia.
Several local officers of the law threatened to go on a local television affiliate to defame rage. They backed down when they heard that two members of the band would be there to debate them. Music is in sad state of affairs today. No matter where you look someone is offending someone else and no one attacks the issue at hand. It is always taken one step up and nothing is ever resolved. In closing this paper I would just like to say that just because it is there and it is obscene it doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. You may not like it but to someone else it may be genius.