After killing you loudly with rhymes, beats, and rhythms, the music industry as a whole has gone through many trials and tribulations. Society has shifted in such a manner that allows and encourages freethinking and abstract arts and with those great things we face the problem of censorship. From an artist's perspective it's their "work", but from another's point of view that same piece of "work" can be garbage to another. Now in the 21st century we face an artistic crossroads.
We are left with the question how far can an artist go? In addition, when we do go too far, do we censor? Censors are now disguised as retailers and distributors, special-interest groups, and less influential but passionate religious groups, and government authorities. Ultimately, when all is said, there remains one question and that question is does censorship conflict with the first amendment?
The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances". (Beahm, 1993, p. 79) The court, in FCC vs. Pacifica, said that although the First Amendment protects indecent speech, the commission could regulate the airwaves with only a few exceptions. In Pacifica, the court ruled in the FCC's favor, allowing it to curb utterances of the famous seven words that cannot be said on the air. The Pacifica case has remained substantially unchanged, despite a few lower court challenges and the Supreme Court's decision in Reno vs. ACLU striking down an indecency standard for the Internet but not for on-air broadcasts. The current ban on indecent broadcasts applies strictly to those between 6 a.m. and 10 p. m., when children are most likely to be listening to the radio or watching television. Many would say that buying a CD or an adult film is much different than having a medium that is easily accessible such as radio, but others would counter that censoring lyrics abridges freedom of speech and that if someone is offended by the music on a station, that they should change the station.
The owner of a Florida record store was convicted of obscenity charges for selling a recording by the rap group 2 Live Crew that had been declared obscene by a Federal judge. "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" had 87 references to oral sex alone and was unquestionably offensive. According to the Constitution, all citizens are granted freedom of speech and freedom to express their own opinions. Why would the members of The 2 Live Crew be excluded from these rights? If the 2 Live Crew's music is indecent, shouldn't Chris Rock's comical tapes be banned also?
When Tipper Gore & Hillary Clinton's Parent Music Resource Center got the major record labels like Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic, MCA, and Polydor to start record labeling with the ever noticeable Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics stickers, they successfully censored many heavy metal and rap albums from large chain record stores. Still today, we see these "Tipper Stickers" on CD's and cassettes. In my opinion, Luther Campbell and The 2 Live Crew have every right to produce or create any type of music that they choose if this label, created to warn of explicit lyrics, is on the CD. The explicit lyric sticker clearly indicates obscene material on a CD and thus this should allow the consumer to make a decision on if they want to purchase a CD deemed to have obscenities. In a 1997 poll sponsored by the Virginia-based Freedom Forum and conducted by University of Connecticut professor Kenneth Dautrich, 1,026 American adults were asked their opinions on various freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
The results proved that the public likes the idea of the First Amendment more than its reality. When read the text of the First Amendment, 93 percent of respondents said they would ratify it. But when asked about specific applications of expressive freedoms, many Americans showed they simply do not have the stomach for it: 75 percent would not allow people to publicly say things that might be deemed offensive to a racial group. 72 percent oppose the posting of sexually explicitly material on the Internet; 71 percent oppose the broadcast of photos of nude or semi-nude persons; 47 percent think that musicians should not be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that some might find offensive; 78 percent oppose the right of people to burn or deface the American flag as a political statement; 70 percent think that books that show terrorists how to build bombs should be banned from public libraries; and 44 percent say that tobacco ads should be prohibited. So what does this say, perhaps that we like the idea of having free speech, but we do not want to buy into it. From the insight received from multiple sources about censorship, it is clear that Americans are still having trouble grasping the idea of freedom of speech.
The poles done by the Virginia-based Freedom Forum showed that 93% of Americans would ratify the 1st Amendment, but far fewer people seemed as if they were true to the 1st Amendment as poles showed they would condemn certain actions that should be protected in the wording of the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment states "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech". If no law can be passed to abridge the freedom of speech then the words musicians incorporate into their lyrics should all be protected. From this, the banning of 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty As I Want To Be" should be an unconstitutional act. Also, with the implementation of the explicit lyric warning, the government has been able to warn the market of CD's with lyrics that some Americans may find obscene. With this warning, those people that are easily offended can see the warning then decide not to buy the CD.
The ruling in the case of the FCC vs. Pacifica to ban the 7 big obscenities from the radio should also be viewed as unconstitutional. This ruling calls for radio stations to play censored versions of recorded songs. This demeans the message the artist was initially trying to incorporate in their song. From many songs that I have heard on CD and then on radio, I have seen that just altering the obscene lyrics to other words can completely change the meaning of the song or at least the meaning of certain verses. I propose the government implement an explicit lyric warning on songs on the radio right before they play.
Those that are listening to the radio would hear the warning and then could change the station following the warning. This would allow those that want to hear the song in its actuality to listen on and those that are offended to change the station. From the wording of the 1st Amendment, all artists' lyrics should be protected and available for those that want to listen and buy their work. The CD of 2 Live Crew is no doubt a CD filled with obscenities and for many it is garbage that they have no desire to listen to.
If these people do not want to hear this music they can easily avoid it as the explicit lyric warning, found on every CD deemed to be obscene, warns them of the contents of the CD. Also, at this time, radio stations are censoring songs with obscene lyrics to be less obscene. This act of censorship should also be viewed as unconstitutional. Just as Americans can choose the CD they buy, they can choose the station they listen to. If the radio played uncensored songs, a simple warning of upcoming explicit lyrics would allow the radio listener to change the station or continue listening. The older America gets, it seems we understand the 1st Amendment less and less.
If the American government wants Americans to be sparred from obscenities in movies, TV, CD's, and milder obscenities on the censored radios, they should alter the wording of the 1st Amendment to allow for blocking of obscenities when the government deems necessary. As the 1st Amendment states now, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech". That means no law can be passed that abridges of the freedom of speech and freedom of speech entails that Americans can say as they please. Anything calling for someone not to be able to say as they please abridges the principle of the 1st Amendment.
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Carter, T. Barton. Mass Communication Law In a Nutshell. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group, 2000.
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Daily, Jay E. The Anatomy of Censorship. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1973.
Men coni, Al. Today's Music: A Window To Your Child's Soul. Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co. 1990 Perkins, Erin.
Droppin's cience: Crit cial Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1996.