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Censorship 4 Essay, Research Paper

For as long as there has been music, there has been censorship. In fact, in western culture, it is only in the past hundred years that artists have had much autonomy at all. Eric Nuzum discusses the history of censorship, which dates all the way back to the 19th century, on his web page, A Brief History of Banned Music,

“Most classical and popular music through the 1800’s was created under a patronage system-where a rich benefactor of royalty would pay a composer to create musical works. Music was deliberately created to the tastes and interests of the patrons-if the patron did not enjoy a theme or style the composer simply would not be able to created and perform the music as easily” (www.ericnuzum.com).

Now of course the music industry is a lot different, but the censorship still remains.

Censorship has done many things. It has affected music groups such as The Insane Clown Posse, and Marilyn Manson. It has created groups such as the Parents Music Resource Group, PMRG, and the Southern Baptists who are actively fighting for music censorship. And finally, censorship has gotten a lot of attention in the media, the biggest case being Wal-Mart’s censorship of groups such as White Zombie, 311 and the Fugees. This paper will be focusing on the controversies that the censorship of music has caused in the last 10 years.

The most prominent group in the recent history of censorship is the PMRG, the Parents Music Resource Group. This organization was formed in Washington D.C. in the mid-1980’s by Tipper Gore, the wife of the Vice President, and Susan Baker. The PMRG’s primary focus was getting

record companies to monitor and rate their artist’s releases with a system similar the the MPAA system for movies. Due in a large part to pressure created from groups like the PMRG, the Recording Industry Association of America developed a stickering system to indicate the product contained explicit lyrics regarding drugs, sex, violence or other potentially objectionable material. (www.ericnuzum.com)

But the down side to the stickering system is that they are just a warning, they don’t stop kids from buying the x-rated material. Julia Dunn discusses this in her Insight on the News article, “Warning labels don’t keep kits from shock CD’s”. “The parental-advisory labels on compact discs and tapes are effective only if parents monitor their children’s purchases.” She goes on to state, ” The label consists of four words: Parental Advisory/Explicit Content.’ But parents and music-industry officials often are clueless about the nature of the music carrying such labels.” (39)

Eric Boehlert, is a notable censorship author for Rolling Stone Magazine. He identifies another party that contributes to the censorship movement, in his article, “Rock & Roll: Manson Mania”. This group is called Empower America. This is a conservative organization run by former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett. This organization has been linked to circulating false affidavits which resulted in the cancellation of a portion of the band Marilyn Manson’s, world tour. (28)

Two other groups in the fight for censorship include the Christian Family Network and the Southern Baptist’s. The CFN was also involved in the protest against Marilyn Manson, and the Southern Baptists were responsible for the rap group, Insane Clown Posses’ album being pulled from store shelves. (28)

We know now who it is that fights for censoring music, but who are groups such as PMRG and the Southern Baptists hurting? Hundreds of music groups are affected in some way by censorship. As I commented earlier, the rap duo Insane Clown Posse were dropped from their record contract and had their album pulled from stores within only six hours of them releasing it. Disney is the parent company of Hollywood, ICP’s label, they were told that the music was, “too offensive for Disney.” As it turns out, the motive behind Disney’s retraction was pressure from the Southern Baptists.

The other recent censorship incident recently is against the “shock-rock” band, Marilyn Manson. This group has had a hard time combating opposition. According to unsubstantiated affidavits, “Manson’s concert’s include animal sacrifice, sex with dogs, rapes, and heavy drug use” (Bohelert 27). As a result of these affidavits, all of the concerts on the tour were protested, and a considerable amount were canceled.

Other censorship cases have also emerged due to Manson’s controversial image. A web page run by a anti-censorship group called the ROC, tells the story of 18 year old, John Schroeder from New Braunfels, Texas, who was arrested for wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. The shirt Schroeder was wearing had a picture of Manson on the front and the back read, “God of Fuck.” He was arrested in a local grocery store after some other shoppers called the police, they felt the shirt was offensive. As a result, Shroeder spent three hours in the county jail, and could be fined up to $500. (www.theroc.org)

The most recent and well-covered case of censorship involves major discount retailer, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s 2300 stores nationwide account for 8-10% of all record sales in this country. Eric Bohelert again, talks about this controversy in another of his Rolling Stone articles,

“Meet the new boss (Wal-Mart)”. Recently, Wal-mart has been refusing to carry certain artist’s albums because they are found by the chain to be offensive. Wal-mart will refrain from carrying a certain record because it has obscene language, or the cover art is distasteful. That is the case for the band, White Zombie’s latest album, Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds. The band reluctantly agreed to airbrush a bikini onto a naked woman on the cover art of the album. The reason for White Zombie agreeing to Wal-mart’s demands is that they realize that fans in some rural towns might not be able to find White Zombie records anywhere but the local Wal-mart. (30)

Last year Wal-mart would not carry Sheryl Crow because it included a line about children buying guns at Wal-mart. The chain denies that it sells guns to minors. Crow refused to change the lyrics, and her label, A&M, stood by her. (30)

One of the problems with Wal-Mart’s censoring is that they don’t have any clear guidelines for censorship. The Wal-Mart executives call it “common sense” standards. Only Wal-Mart decides what is seen as offensive or exploitive material. Albums are judged on a case by case basis.

Not all artist’s are willing to stand up to Wal-Mart as Sheryl Crow did. Some, like 311, Beck, the Fugees, Butthole Surfers, and even John Mellencamp have agreed to edit their lyrics or change the names of their songs. (30)

As this paper has discussed, some people are pro-censorship, and some are against it. One downfall though, that everyone agrees on, is the one identified by David Holden in his article, “Pop go the censors (censorship of pop-music in Britain and the US)”, in the journal, Index on


“False censorship is where a band tries to generate some interest in themselves by saying they’ve been banned, when they’ve just been left off the playlist. A rendition of this uses videos for notoriety and sales: you’ve got a relatively inoffensive record, so you make a very offensive video to go with it and then say the video’s been banned. It’s hard to say with those things what the exact truth is”. (14)

“Thank you to the existence of millions of easily reproducible copies, those under 18 have not fount current censorship campaigns to be a significant barrier to hearing music of dubious merit or watching questionable videos”(1). This quote is thanks to JL Crane, a respected expert on censorship, in his article in Popular Music and Society, “The Long arm of the Law…”

When your parent’s tell you not to do something, what do you automatically want to do ten times more? Exactly what they told you not to do, right? The same is true with censoring. BK Simmons, another expert on censorship, featured in Popular Music and Society, says, “Censoring objectionable popular music will only make the targeted audience want that music even more” (64) A study of 65 people done at a small Midwestern university says the same thing. ” The present study would seem to lend credence to the noting that the censoring of rock music can lead to an increased desire on the part of the listeners to hear the censored material.” (64)

We’ve seen who it is that censors, or advocates censoring, but who is against censorship. Well a couple of groups stick out, one is Rock Out Censorship, ROC. Here is how ROC describes itself on it’s web page, “We are a grass roots anti-censorship organization seeking to counteract efforts being made across the political spectrum to deprive us of our First Amendment rights, and we are NOT HAPPY!” (www.theroc.org) The ROC was started in 1989 to combat PMRG and the various religious groups. It started out distributing a newsletter and has since grown into an international organization. Now they are best known for their petition booths that they set up at music concerts across the country. (www.theroc.org)

The other organization devoted to anti-censorship, is Parents For Rock And Roll. PFRAR was started in 1990 by 63 year old, Mary Morello. This group fights to “put pressure on local, state and federal governments that try to take away freedom from artists”, and they “boycott corporations and other organizations that censor or in some way support those who favor censorship.” (www.xnet.com)

The future of censorship doesn’t look to be changing a whole lot. The pro-censorship groups such as PRMG, and various religious groups will no doubt continue to protest “Anti-Christ Superstars” such as Marilyn Manson. But the people are gaining momentum are the anti-censorship groups, such as Rock Out Censorship, and PFRAR. Groups such as these are growing in size and in number, and will no doubt be a contender in the war on censorship in the 21st century. So what is the real future of censorship? Only time will tell.


A Brief History of Banned Music: Available WWW: http//www.ericnuzum.com/

Parents For Rock And Rap: Available WWW: http//www.xnet.com/ paigeone/noevil/pfrr.html

Rock Out Censorship: Available WWW: http//www.theroc.org/


Crane, Jonathan. “The Long Arm of the Law and the Big Beat.” Popular Music and Society

6.3 (1997): 1-6

Holden, David. “Pop go the Censors (Censorship of Pop-Music in Britain and the US).” Index

on Censorship 22.5 (1993): 11-14

Simmons, Brian. “The Affect of Censorship on Attitudes toward Popular Music.” Popular Music and Society 16.4 (1992): 61-66


Boehlert, Eric. “Culture Skirmishes.” Rolling Stone Magazine 21 Aug. 1997: 29-30

“Meet the New Boss (Wal-Mart).” Rolling Stone Magazine 10 July 1997: 30-31

“Rock and Roll: Manson Mania.” Rolling Stone Magazine 12 June 1997: 27-28

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