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Music Censorship: a Violation of Artistic Expression

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Music Censorship: A Violation of Artistic Expression
Brandi Yaeger
University of Phoenix

What if you were told that you could no longer listen to your favorite song anymore because the message that it sends does not conform to someone else’s way of thinking? What reasons are given for the censoring of music, or why have musicians been tortured, jailed, exiled or even killed? Why have certain forms of music been silenced? Music is an expression of ideas and emotions that reflect hopes, dreams and aspirations not only for the artist creating the music but in the listener as well. Music has been used as a form of expression of thoughts and emotions for centuries. People in power sometimes view these expressions conflicting to their current way of thinking what is proper lyrical content or negating to current governing practices. The implementation of music censorship has been done by governments, religions, educational systems and even families. In most cases this censorship is a violation of international conventions of human rights, (Freemuse.org). George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), said “All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All Progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.” (Freemuse.org). Although music censorship is imposed for various reasons, music is a form of artistic expression and censorship violates the artist's human right of expression. Music expresses thoughts and ideas that have the power to inspire the listener in many different ways. An artist creates a lyric or music that expresses their ideals, aspirations or is a reflection of their life experiences. Music has been used to express religious views and inspire patriotism giving the feeling of hope and pride. Religions have used music for many, many years in order to teach about beliefs and faith. Happiness, laughter, anger, sorrow and aggression are some of the emotions inspired in the listener when they hear a song, these emotions have the power to lift a person’s spirits when they are feeling down or give them strength to get through a difficult time in their life. Music has the power to bring back a memory of a certain time and place in someone’s life that creates an emotional connection between that specific song and that specific experience in that person’s life. People have used music as a coping mechanism in their lives to relate to the past or propel them into their future by giving a way of relating to how they are feeling or the situation that they are currently experiencing. There have been claims that certain types of music are to blame for juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy and teen suicide, (Crigger, 2007). Music has been blame for many different types of wrongful acts that have resulted in mayhem or destruction. Music censorship has been implemented by many different groups such as governments, religions, families, educators, and retailers. Lyrical content is usually the basis of such censorship. Political statements that oppose the opinions of the government or reflect ideas different than those of the current regime are targeted for censorship. Media outlets use censorship as a way to drive popular opinion by playing the music that is determined popular more than the music that is not considered as popular. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains that after an extensive study of the marketing plans, media companies do aggressively market products with “mature” content to children and that it is frustrating to parents that are attempting to protect their children from inappropriate material. Governments use censorship ban or censor certain lyrics because the statements made can cause public resistance in their leadership. Some governments have jailed and even exiled artists for their adverse statements that have been seen as harmful or contradictory to the government’s current political aspirations. Lyrics that contain vulgar, offensive or suggestive language are also targeted for censorship by religious groups, educators or parents in order to protect certain audiences from their content, (Rabkin, 2002). Parents and educators attempt to censor music that contain lyrics seen as obscene, profane or explicit in order to protect children from being subjected to that type of content. In the 1980s the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was developed by Tipper Gore, wife of then – Tennessee Senator Al Gore (D), along with several other politicians’ wives to act as a watchdog group because of subject matter such as masturbation and casual sex, (Crigger, 2007). Religions censor music that may be seen as offensive or suggestive because the lyrics may go against their values. Expressions that conflict with popular opinion or thoughts of how life should be are subject to many types of censorship from different types of groups be it government, religious, media, or family. How would you feel if someone told you that you were not allowed to listen to your favorite song because it did not conform to their opinion of what you should be listening to? Human beings have the right to freedom of association, freedom of religion and the freedom to express themselves in a way that is a representation of their ideas and opinions. Musician’s rights to freedom of expression and the right to participate in cultural life is violated when their music is censored or altered by another person or group because they do not agree with the opinion of the artist. Regardless of which expressions or points of view may be expressed by the lyrics or the music itself, no censorship or legal actions can be taken against musicians because of what they express in their music. Censorship not only takes away the right the musician has to express their thoughts and ideas, but also violates the listener’s right to choose what they want to hear and gain from the music. An increasing number of recording artists attach a parental advisory label and at times release two versions of their albums with one consisting of “explicit” lyrics, and the other being a more “clean” version, (Rabkin, 2002). Musicians have the right to participate in cultural life and to the freedom to perform and produce their music. People have the right to have the freedom to listen to and enjoy the music that is produced and performed by others. However, there are exceptions that are imposed on musical content that can limit freedom of expression and cause some censorship to be justified. Some expressions are considered unlawful and may lead to prosecution, such as propaganda for war, which is unlawful and may be censored. Advocating for national, racial or religious hatred is also unlawful and could be subject to legal measures. Freedom of expression may also be limited for a certain number of other reasons like the protections of national security or keeping public order. Protecting public health or morals and preventing defamation of the reputations of others are also grounds to limit freedom of expression. Using music to incite a riot or destroy another’s reputation with false accusations would be considered unlawful and subject to censorship. Music allows human beings to express themselves in a variety of possible ways. Lyrics can send various messages of love, hate, comedy, pride, and even violence. A song has the power to make you laugh and cry, or bring back memories of a specific time or place in your life. In countries like Sudan, Afghanistan and China, violations of musician’s rights to freedom of expression are common practice. In the USA, lobbying groups have succeeded in keeping popular music off the concert stage and out of the media and retail according to their version of what musical expressionism should be allowed or disallowed. In more countries that could be imagined, musicians and composers are under threat of censorship and that threat continues to grow as musicians are often pawns in political dramas, and the possibility of free expression has been adversely affected. Although music censorship is imposed for various reasons, music is a form of artistic expression and censorship violates the artist’s human right of expression. Musicians have the right to express themselves freely just as the audience has the right to choose whether or not to listen. It is a human right to choose what type of music he or she wants to play, or what to sing and even what we choose to listen to in the privacy of our own homes. No one should have the power to take away the freedom of expression just because the message conveys a certain attitude or opinion.

References:

Crigger, L. (2007). The Usual Suspects, Games for Windows, (11), 24.

Freemuse.org (Nov. 1998) – Freedom of Musical Expression

Inglis, I. (2006). The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties, Journal of Popular Culture, 39(4), 558-575. Doi: 10.1111/j. 1540-5931 2006.

Rabkin, R. (2002). Do Kids Need Government Censors? Policy Review, (111), 27.

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