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Music Censorship Essay, Research Paper

During the Doors concert in Miami, in 1969, lead singer Jim Morrison, “did

lewdly and lasciviously expose his penis and shake it. . .” (Rosen et al. 90).

Today, Billy Joe Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day, bares all at his concert in

Philadelphia (Bernstein 95). The eccentric Courtney Love will rip off her bra for

the audience to marvel and glorify at her action (Bernstein 95). She acts in such

a fashion because she is insane and wants to prove it to the world, where as Billy

Joe just performs naked for the shock value and the love of hearing tabloids and

gossip. Both performers of past and present conducted strange acts on stage for

the shock value and attention, but with performers of old, it reflected their life and

what they were really like. Today’s performers, however, do not act like that in

real life, for the most part. Today, performers take on challenges, like the dare of

a child. . . “Betcha won’t do it!” These rock performers cannot turn down a dare

or back away from even the slightest bit of public notoriety. By listening to one of

their “questionable” albums, it is easily noticeable how they thrive off of it. All of

these performers do have one thing in common, at one time or another,

censorship made them victims because of their social unacceptable actions or

the content of their music and lyrics. While censorship is slightly more realistic

and open-minded (no more censoring performers from the waist down, like Elvis

Presley on the Ed Sullivan show), it still affects listeners and their choice of music

quite significantly. Although the government, music associations, and other

various groups try censorship, the music a person chooses is still, and always

should be, his choice.

Some children are too young for the exposure to certain types of music.

Albums containing sexually explicit lyrics depicting sexualacts in great detail are

not good for young children to hear. Also, sexual content within the albums, as in

their artwork, is unacceptable. For example, the Frankenchrist album by the

Dead Kennedys, which portrays an extremely sexual painting by H.G. Giger,

entitled Landscape #20: Where Are We Coming From (Wishna 444). Not to

mention all the shows and concerts in which some kind of pornography is used

or displayed that is inappropriate for younger kids, such as Billy Joe Armstrong, of

Green Day, baring all for a concert of his in Philadelphia (Bernstein 95). Also, in

Cleveland, a frustrated Courtney Love tore off her bra and screamed, “Now you

know how I get all the guys,” (Bernstein 95). Most parents would not allow their

children to attend a concert with actions such as Courtney Love’s. These actions

and paintings, however, are choices of the musicians, part of their expression.

Who are we to say what is wrong and what is right?

Parents are not always aware of the references to sex in their children’s

music choices. Most parents would not allow their children to listen to the music

if they knew it consisted of lyrical references to masturbation, orgasms, sodomy,

and anal vapors (Zucchino 9). An example is the hit song, “Sugar Walls,” by

Sheena Easton which makes references to orgasms: “The blood races to your

private spots. . . come spend the night inside my sugar walls,” (Zucchino 9).

“Feel the hot cum dripping on your thigh,” from “Tie You Up” by the Rolling

Stones, is also a reference to orgasms (Zucchino 9). Not to mention an excerpt

from the 1983 song “Fits Like A Glove” by Kiss, “when I go through her, it’s just

like a hot knife through butter,” (Zucchino 9). When the majority of people

(children) listen to these types of music, they do not sit and analyze the lyrics and

say, “Gee, this sure is quite sexual music.” No, people listen to the music

because they enjoy the style, and most realize the sexual content of this music is

not to be taken so seriously. Lastly, an piece from Mentors’ “Golden Showers” on

their You Axed For It LP:

Listen little slut /Do as you are told. . . /Come with Daddy for me to put the gold. . . /All through my excrements you shall roam. . . /Bend up and smell my anal vapor. . . /Your face is my toilet paper. . . /On your face I leave a shit tower. . . (Zucchino 9). Most songs and lyrics are not quite this extreme.

In addition, there are the songs which contain references to sex crimes

mainly against women. The PMRC produced lyrical references to the Senate on

September 19, 1985 (Zucchino 9). The songs usually consist of either rape,

incest, or bondage. Two examples of these styles are: “incest is everything it’s

meant to be,” from the song “Sister” by the artist formerly known as Prince

(Zucchino 9); and the Judas Priest song “Eat Me Alive” : “I’m gonna force you at

gun point to eat me alive,” (Zucchino 9). Most men who hear this misogamist

music do not go out and commit crimes against women. Men realize that

committing such a crime against women could have serious consequences.

Certain people believe that censorship is violating the First Amendment,

but it is highly doubtable that the framers of the First Amendment thought that

the amendment would be used to protect such filth, so that it may be broadcasted

into our homes. What the framers wrote, however, is already “in stone.” The

amendment means exactly what it says, people have the right to speak their

minds and express how they feel, and others cannot stop them.

Rap, as all music, has its positives and negatives, but it is not as awful as

people seem to think. The problem of urban violence is much bigger than rap,

and rap should not be named as its main cause (Leland 64). The real problems

are outside the music, not within it. Hard-core rappers are only telling what life is

really like in the ghettos and hoods. Rappers would not have the gangs and gang

violence to sing about, if police started abolishing gangs and gang warfare

(Leland 64). Rappers speak the truth about where they are from and if people do

not like it, they blame it on the rappers (Leland 64). People could at least put

blame where blame is due, the law enforcement agencies.

The arrests of Tu Pac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dog, and Flavor Flav show

what little effect rap actually has in the real world (Leland 64). These people

should be the classic American success story: young unknown men, who

through a lot of hard work and talent, rose to be the millionaire with the mansion

on the hill. Ironically, most rappers do not own a mansion; they choose to stay

where their roots are, which is usually the slums, ghettos, or inner part of

whatever city they are from (Leland 64). The fact that they stay with their roots

proves that they do not all forget where they came from and who helped bring

them along through the rough times. Obviously, some of them actually do care

about their roots and the people that helped them get where they are today; and

they are not all corrupt.

Snoop Doggy Dogg really is not the sinister, awful person his critics make

him out to be. (He received this rap by being an ex-gang member. Also, because

of the content of his lyrics, the critics labeled him “bad.”) About four years ago,

Snoop (real name Calvin Broadus) called up Richard Harris, minister of Golgotha

Trinity Baptist Church (coincidentally where he learned to sing in the children’s

choir), just to recite a Biblical rap about grace, Jesus, and coming down from the

cross (Leland 64). Snoop’s music is not intended to cause people to go out and

kill people and steal and do drugs. Instead, it is intended to make people STOP

committing violent crimes. Taneika Archer, 17, an African-American girl, believes

this about Snoop Doggy Dogg:

He tells it like it’s supposed to be told. People will always try to bring you down no matter what you do. It’s the same with Dolly Parton and her big breasts. He’s not trying to be something he ain’t. If he said he wasn’t a gangster, he’d be lying. They [gangster rappers] talk like that to look hard. They don’t actually treat people that way. Most girls won’t let them.” (Leland 63-64).

Snoop described his idea of the perfect happy day:

I want peace on the street like it was 4/29/92-” the day Los Angeles gangs called a truce- “That shit felt good. Bloods, crips, everybody just chill’n. I ain’t never felt that before, being able to go to the neighbor-hoods where they restrict you because you wear this color and they wear that color. Everybody was together. That’s what my music’s going for- to stop you banging for a second. Listen to my music and get on another vibe.” (Leland 64).

While rap is not the devil, it is also not perfect either. Dr. Dre’s reputation

could use a little doctoring itself. His top hits, “Deep Cover,” main chorus read, ”

It’s 1-8-7 on an undercover cop”: 187 is Los Angeles cop talk and rap slang for

homicide. The song’s main topic (yet again) consisted of killing a cop (Leland

63). The line, “if your bitches talk shit, I have to put the smack down,” seemed

quite arresting and ironic coming from Dr. Dre because he just settled a law suit

for allegedly beating up Dee Barnes, a rap television host (Leland 63). Public

Enemy’s Chuck D and Ice Cube defend their lyrics by stating that the lyrics depict

real inner city life and ghetto realities and black consciousness in ways that have

never been documented before (Lewis n. pag.). Ice Cube said that the song

“Black Korea” describes life with Koreans in a black community. He believes that

Blacks do not like the Koreans and vice-versa. There is much hatred shared

between both groups (Lewis n. pag.). So, in the song he raps about killing the

Koreans because they cannot live in the black community. He also raps how they

take away money and jobs from the black people because of their stores, mainly

grocery stores (Lewis n. pag.). For this, the Korean grocers boycotted the malt

liquor of the McKenzie River corporation that Ice Cube endorsed. The company

then turned around to bounce Ice Cube from the ads and donated $90,000 to the

Korean grocers (Lewis n. pag.).

Some people are “waking up” and finally taking a stance against it. The

KACE-FM radio station out of Los Angeles has banned all songs degrading

women or promoting drugs or violence (Leland 64).The Reverend Calvin Butts, a

high profile minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, has mounted a

crusade against “offending” (rap) music (Leland 64). Last summer he held a rally

where he ran over tapes and compact discs of ” offending” material with a

steamroller (Leland 64). The Reverend Jesse Jackson added policing rap part of

his campaign against black-on-black crime. Even Rap Sheet, a hip-hop fanzine,

has taken a stand by banning all album and artist ads featuring guns (Leland 64).

These people care enough to speak up for what they believe and some of

them actually know what they are talking about.

Nathan McCall, a reporter for the Washington Post, knows all too well the

influence of violence in the entertainment (Leland 64). He served nearly three

years in jail for armed robbery in the mid seventies (Leland 64). He recalled the

exhilaration of shooting someone as a teenager, and being intoxicated with the

rush of living out and fulfilling the life he watched on the screen in The Godfather

(Leland 64). The influence of violent entertainment on teenagers is something he

takes quite seriously. One reason, according to him, that the black community

ignores some of the harsh language is because it reflected the backlash and

anger of young, disenchanted black folk, but then evolved into something else

(Leland 64). Also, he feels that we should acknowledge the “obvious”

correlations between the constant, negative, violent messages that are being put

out by rap and violence in the world (Leland 64). He realizes that some people

take the rap they listen to very seriously and just wants to warn people of why

and how these boys can sing about such violence and destruction.

Some options for the awareness of music and its content have been and

could possibly be made public, making censorship unnecessary. In 1985, the

Parents’ Music Resource Center, better known as the PMRC, managed to

pressure eight percent of the music industry (twenty-four companies) into placing

a PG rating onto music of uncertain content (Zucchino 9). More pressuring

enabled them to persuade companies to print the lyrics in some albums of

uncertain content (Zucchino 9). Also, the television plays a very strong role in

society, so it could be used as a very strong medium. People complain about the

filth that fills the air-time of television, but if some of the time consisted of alerting

parents of certain parental issues, such as music and the different types and

styles of music, then people could not complain as much. Not all choices for

awareness are possible though.

Certain styles of censorship cannot be enforced for many reasons. Unlike

the movie industry, records and albums cannot be rated the way movies are

because approximately 25, 000 songs are released every year in comparison to

only about 325 movies per year (Zucchino 9). Although the idea of printing lyrics

in the albums and cassettes has the endorsement of the great Frank Zappa and

John Denver, this is not possible (Zucchino 9) . The record companies, who print

the albums, do not own the rights to the lyrics, the music companies do (Zucchino

9). Providing printed lyrics to radio stations cannot be done for the same reason

(Zucchino 9). Because of FCC regulations, the music a station chooses to air

cannot be controlled, let alone how often the music is played (Zucchino 9). Lewd

or otherwise, actions of rock performers at their concerts, cannot be controlled

because only the performers can control their actions (Zucchino 3). A rock

concert cannot be rated for content because the content of the happenings is not

known until after the concert has occurred (Zucchino 3). Placing “questionable”

albums behind the counter or wrapping them in a plain brown package would

jeopardize a retailer’s business, therefore they refuse to do that (Zucchino 3).

Parents place too much responsibility on society for establishing what is morally

and socially acceptable and not acceptable in music. If they are wary of the

actions at a concert or of the lyrics their children are listening to, then obviously

the best censorship is parental awareness (Zucchino 3). Getting more involved

with their children and learning what their tastes consist of, is much better than

society doing it (Editors 10). If society becomes too involved, it will take away

parental responsibility. Then gradually (perhaps) parents could become virtually


Most definitely the music industry cannot “refrain from the use of hidden

messages or backward masking” for a few reasons (Zucchino 3). First of all, the

industry does not have and cannot take the time to play each song of every

album released backwards and analyze the lyrics and music, scrutinizing for

these so called “hidden messages” and “lewd meanings” (Zucchino 3). Secondly,

the writers of music would also have to do this and they are more concerned with

placing their album onto the market than with acknowledging the content of the

lyrics within their albums. (Zucchino 3). Finally, most executives have never even

experienced such things. Even Stanley Gortikov, president of the Recording

Industry Association of America (RIAA), claims he has never heard of or heard

an example of these “hidden backwards messages” in all of his twenty-five years

in the business (Zucchino 3). Most of the general public has not ever heard of

these either.

Fuji Tape conducted a survey of young Americans between the ages of

eighteen and twenty-four asking whether or not anyone has the right to control

what prerecorded music is bought or sold. Seventy percent of those surveyed

believe that no one has the right to control what prerecorded music is bought or

sold. Of those who did reply yes, twenty-six percent would give it to local or state

governments, twenty-five percent to record companies, and eighteen percent

would give it to the federal government (”Youth Will Be Heard ” 4). This study

shows that most people realize how unnecessary censorship actually is.

There are numerous reasons why censorship is unnecessary and

unwanted . Only nine percent of buyers of censoring-type music are between the

ages of ten and fourteen (Zucchino 9). Parents seemingly enjoy complaining

about the trashy music their children listen to, but if parents feel that strongly

about it, they should check the music their children purchase either before or after

their children purchase the album (preferably before) (Editors 10). People and

musicians alike, agree that it violates the first amendment, ” freedom of speech”

(Rosen et al. 10). Since most of the lyrics to that type of music are inaudible

anyway, what is the point? (Editors 10). These supposedly, awful, “backward

messages” would be very hard to detect because approximately ninety-five

percent of music players cannot play things backwards (Editors 10). By stating

such a thing, advocates of censorship suggest that when played backwards,

secret messages are unearthed that normally would not be heard when music is

played like it should be played. The censorship action of taking the music off the

shelves takes away the privilege of buying that music for people who have

different values and who want to listen to that music. If the music bothers

someone, turn it off; if the album offends someone, complain to the band or

ignore them; if a video disgusts someone, change the channel. The options for

censorship are there, use them. Not every person in the world is a moral freak.

The government takes censorship too far because most of the senator’s wives

are members or “associates” of PMRC. In most music stores, listening booths

have been erected in order for customers to listen to the music before purchasing

it, so that they did not buy “objectionable” music or music that they personally

found offensive. Also, radio stations cannot please everyone all the time.

Meaning that some of the music played might be objectionable to some, but

everyone’s thoughts and ideas on “objectionable” music differ. Therefore making

it virtually impossible to please the entire public at the same time.

Not all alternatives to censorship are inept and unreasonable. “Toning

down” lyrics is an option to musicians, especially big-time sellers. Maybe if more

parental involvement became incorporated in their children’s lives, which includes

music, the need for censorship would decrease. Labels placed on albums

acknowledging the use of explicit or vulgar language alert people who prefer not

to hear those sort of words. Printing the lyrics inside the albums was also a

suggestion made to musicians. Musicians might also start to consider the

majority age group in which they are popular, and if the group is of younger ages,

nine to fourteen, for them to consider the “moral health of children in America”

when writing lyrics. Lastly, if what the listener is listening to does not appease

them, the off and stop buttons are there for a purpose. If the radio is a problem,

turning the station will do just fine.

Most ratings and labels are unnecessary evils we have to live with.

Musicians feel these will eventually lead to more and more censorship, such as

taking away the first amendment rights and telling them they may not sing certain

lyrics because it is “offensive” or rated R. As quoted way back in 1985, Frank

Zappa feels it:

Opens the door to and endless parade of moral quality-control programs based on Things Certain Christians Don’t Like. What if the next bunch of Washington’s Wives demands a large yellow J based on the material written and performed by Jews. . .? (Zucchino 9).

During the summer of 1985, the women of PMRC, managed to get eight

percent of the music industry to place PG labels on albums with lyrics or pictures

thought to be sexually explicit and/or promoting violence, suicide, rape, the

occult, or drug abuse. (Eight percent is about twenty-four companies) (Zucchino

9). The label reads :”Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics,” (Zucchino 1). As if the

PG rating was not enough, the PMRC felt it had been watered down too much.

So they asked that it be raised to R (Zucchino 9). Also, because they already had

the PG label they wanted, they felt they could get more, so they tried for four

additional labels: D/A for drugs and alcohol, V for violence, O for occult, and X for

vulgar and explicit language (Zucchino 9). Plus, they wanted a panel of all

industry types [such as artists, songwriters, executives, producers, distributors,

broadcasters, retailers, et cetra] and consumers to draw the guidelines of what

qualifies for this rating, instead of the people who actually write these “dirty

records” (Zucchino 8).

Stanley Gortikov, president of the Recording Industry Association of

America (RIAA), suggested that the PMRC develop its own rating system for

songs, lyrics, and albums, as the Catholic Church had done for movies (Zucchino

3). He felt insulted that the PG rating was shoved back into his face as not being

good enough. Even the PG rating was “approached with trepidation,” and yet

they had the audacity to push and push for more. A “review panel” in itself is a

first-stage form of “ad hoc censorship,” to him. After two meetings with the

PMRC women, Gortikov had been pressured into trying to get ALL recording

companies to place the PG rating label on certain albums (Zucchino 8). For that,

Frank Zappa, Dee Strider (lead singer of Twisted Sister), and Danny Goldberg ( a

rock manager and lyric libertarian), accused Gortikov of “caving in” to PMRC

(Zucchino 8). The PMRC realizing that it was strongly influencing Gortikov, took

advantage of that and pushed for further extensive ratings (Zucchino 8).

Ratings ultimately provide no benefit to the children they are meant to

protect. In fact, they seriously threaten the artists’ freedom of expression and

everyone’s freedom of choice (Editors 13). Currently, songs identified as

“objectionable” contain sexual, violent, or occult imagery or lyrics. But once the

restriction of language, for any reason, becomes possible, that could be extended

to include politically unorthodox lyrics (Editors 13).

Radicals and people who believe they can change the country constantly

try to convince the American public that censorship is a very good thing and it is

“healthy.” People were born with minds for a reason, to use them and make

choices for themselves. Censoring music takes away that whole purpose. If we

had been born without brains and not able to make choices for ourselves, then

maybe censorship might be necessary. Ratings, labels, and censoring in any

form are all unnecessary evils that society needs to relinquish, besides that, a

brain’s purpose for creation involved choice and decision making, let people take

advantage of their privilege.

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