This paper is about the issue of rights in the topic of censorship in music.

Essay by IbedawzaCollege, UndergraduateA, September 2003

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"Each individual has the fundamental right, guaranteed under the constitution, to read (and by extension, to listen to) what he or she chooses" - A. Eaglen

The issue of rights is something that is bound to come up when anyone thinks of mentioning censorship, especially in music. There are many different groups of people that these musical artists are attempting to reach. This makes the issue of censorship a controversy because the audience has mixed opinions. Some say, including the artist, that censoring music directly infringes on their first amendment right of free speech. Some others, being on the other extreme of the issue, claim that these vulgar and explicit lyrics have no place being heard by the ears of America. These two groups each envision the world in different ways. The anti-censorship group, or the liberals, envisions a world where everyone can speak their mind freely at any given time through any given medium, in this case, music.

The other group, which we will call the censors, sees the world as a place where people should live their everyday life without having to themselves, or their loved ones, be influenced by any vulgar of explicit content. One thing that can be determined in this issue of censorship in music is that rights are the central issue. These two opposing groups with different values tackle the issue of censorship in music either as art or as a major problem in poorly influencing the minds of America.

The censors blame explicit artists such as Eminem for setting a bad example for his main demographic, young adults. They believe, by censoring vulgar lyrics that the youth will not get any violent ideas into their heads and everything will just be dandy. A key player on the side of the censors is Tipper Gore, wife of former vice-president Al Gore. She and a group of her colleagues have formed a group called the Parents Music Resource Center in order to ensure that all explicit material that "might conceivably offend the sensibilities of some adults" is labeled with a bright yellow, "Explicit Lyrics-Parental Advisory" sticker. She even goes as far as to forbid the sale of any album containing explicit material that does not bear the sticker. The government's own definition of "explicit material" are "lyrics advocating one or more of the following: suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, illegal use of drugs or alcohol."(Eaglen. A, 1) Tipper's main goal by ridding music of that kind of offensive material is to be a supposed guardian of the morals of America. The world she envisions is a world where parents do not have to worry about what their kids will be listening to. A world where kids will not look up to bad boy Eminem as a role model and go out and slap a woman and beat up a homosexual. Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Aginst Defamation states her view on the matter.

"I think it's pretty clear that someone who is perceived as a role model by young people is fostering a climate where it is OK to call people 'fag' and 'dyke'." This is what censors like Tipper are trying to prevent, the exploitation of morals. She defends these morals because she sees the children as the future of America. Instead of looking toward the future of America, liberals would say she should be looking toward the past, around the time when a document called the Constitution was written and recognize that the first amendment is a cornerstone of what America's principles are based on. This is where the liberals make their stand.

The liberal side of this issue recognizes the fact that they are entitled to freedom of speech, and they practice what they preach. Many liberals consider artists such as Eminem to be pioneers, blazing the trail for new prospective warriors in the battle for free speech. They see what Tipper is doing as directly infringing upon the first amendment and freedom itself. By labeling records, Tipper is performing an act of censorship, and since she is already labeling music, "why not label books and periodicals, software and every other medium that might transmit an idea to someone."(Eaglen.A, 2) Why only label music? Why not begin to put stickers on every form of artistic expression? These are questions that the liberals bring up to help assert their ideals. That is what these liberals believe in, the free flow of ideas; and the flow of ideas is the base of what communication is all about, if one censors that, it limits peoples' ability to get their message across. This notion of freedom of expression links back to the liberal's perfect world of having an uninhibited stream of thoughts and be able to connect those ideals with the rest of the world. The censors argue that they do not censor music for people who are smart enough to ignore the bad messages that some artists convey, but for the more impressionable who take those messages for their face value.

Those who do take these vulgar messages to the heart are those who are most impressionable, the children of the world. Tipper's greatest achievement would be to shape the youth of today to be the leaders of tomorrow, not have them worshiping super stars who rap about killing their wives and dumping them into a river with their daughter watching. But do these lyrics really make children do the things the lyrics say? A. Eaglen, author of the article on censorship titled Strictly Off the Records, discussed this topic with a group of kids and asked them, " Did all that terrible stuff make you into a debauchee or a druggie or murderer or a person who has sex with horses?" (Eaglen, A., 2) And the general response amongst the kids was unanimous, no. St. John, a gay D.J. who often plays songs by Eminem on his station, says that, "It doesn't seem like Eminem's message gets through to people. Kids just listen to him because it's got attitude, or whatever."(Billboard, Vol.113 Issue 8, p75) What the censors base this on is the behavioral components of Davidson's third person effect hypothesis which states, "that people perceive media content to have a greater impact on others than on themselves (perceptual component), and that these perceptions lead people to take actions, such as censorship, to prevent the impact (behavioral component)." (Communication Abstracts, Aug97, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p493) However, this hypothesis does have its flaws. The perceptual component was tested amongst college students and it was found to have no support behind it. The liberals make their stance here as well. If these lyrics are not influencing people to do something morally wrong, why censor them and infringe their freedom of speech?

Many different values come up in the debate over censorship and music. The liberals value the first amendment and freedom of speech in this case because they believe if that is limited or censored any further, that Americans may see their freedoms slowly diminish. Their perfect society of having a free flow of ideas will parish if their ideals are not upheld and fought for; if no one listens to their message, freedom itself may vanish. If their perspectives are upheld, society will have the opportunity to live a more free life. The censors value the preservation of good morals in society. If good morals are not upheld, society itself will slowly keep sliding downward until it hits rock bottom. The message needs to be communicated to the masses so that society can become closer to perfection as a whole. It is hard to determine if this battle of censorship in music will ever end. Since the two sides of this issue are both so equally important, it would be difficult to establish which direction to tip the scales in favor toward. Censorship tries to offer a medium between the ideals of both sides, but does not always please the masses when they go to far. Society may need to think about the fact that just because they may have this right to free speech, they should exploit it. That is why laws are established, to protect society from the explicit and vulgar people that reside within the public. In conclusion, the controversy in the issue of censorship affects society on many levels. It affects people's morals, ideals, and freedoms in one neatly sorted package. It is difficult to determine a victor in this battle because both arguments are equally valid. Will there ever be a consensus that can be reached on this topic? Only patience, determination, and strength in values can a possible solution arise.