• Maya Chavez

Censorship: Restricting Freedom of Speech or Regulating

Censoring certain content or profanity in music has always been controversial. As many officials and some parents worry about their kids listening to explicit lyrics, censorship teeters on the verge of restricting freedom of speech and an artist’s ability to truly express themselves.

During the 1950s, music was typically censored for featuring suggestive content. Many musicians, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, often changed their lyrics to be allowed to be streamed on radio stations. Another infamous example of censorship regarding music was in 1957 when Elvis Presley was recorded from the waist up to obscure his “provocative” dancing. Presley’s performance on television led to a group of women protesting against Presley’s performance on television, citing that his movements were “vulgar, suggestive and disgusting.”

Rock and roll, in the '50s which was often viewed as disturbing and volatile, came to be censored as well. In the '80s, the use of profanity became a “problem” among overly concerned parents and even some government officials. In 1985 a group of 4 women who were married to politicians, coined the “Washington Wives,” created the Parental Music Resource Center (PMRC) which hoped to grant parents more control over the music their children listened to.

The band of parents, in an attempt of regaining control over the music their kids listened to, demanded that television shows and radio stations stopped streaming explicit songs, and pressured the contracts of musicians to be reconsidered if it was thought that, that respective artist was producing “inappropriate” music.

The PMRC is a contribution of the Parental Advisory Label that is now present on many albums containing profanity.

Some instances of music censorship are unbelievable, with radio stations refusing to play certain songs since the 50s and even stories of arrest due to music in the ‘80s. In Florida in 1987, for example, a worker at a record store was arrested for selling a 14-year-old boy the album 2 Live is What We Are by the 2 Live Crew. In 1990, a Missouri law even banned all sale of records that were “violent, sexually explicit or ‘perverse’.” Even as recently as 2000 a Louisiana sheriff confiscated songs by Britney Spears, Snoop Dog, and Disney's Tarzan soundtrack because he declared that they were songs that cause a fight outside of an establishment.

In a modern context, music containing profanity and explicit content won’t make many people even think twice about listening to a song. Yes, certain words are still censored out, but oftentimes it is still clearly discernible what words are being said. Though many musicians still make alternate versions of their songs where certain phrases are replaced with more “PG” content.

When considering the necessity of an artist's usage of profanity, it is important to acknowledge that the musicians use words intentionally and that they most likely serve a purpose in the song. Sophomore Emma Hall explains, “Coming from a musician’s point of view I feel like a lot of curse words can be utilized to prove a strong point or to further enhance your song.” It is crucial to remember too that artists shouldn’t be forced to reign in their own artistic style just in case certain audiences are listening. Harrison Wilmot agrees to say, “The artists shouldn’t be limited by what they produce based on the words they use in thinking about kids. It’s definitely not their fault.” For many, the idea of music censorship and how much cursing should be allowed in a song is an individual opinion. Some think cursing in a song over a certain number of times takes away from the validity of the song and its message, while others believe that the repeated use of profanity adds to the message of a song.

Overall, it is important to remember that music is such a gigantic spectrum. This means that not everyone will enjoy or feel comfortable with the same song their close friends are listening to religiously. Hall explains, “I feel it’s kind of like whatever you feel. Like if you don’t mind the curse words, if it's not a big deal it's fine. But if you’re a middle-aged woman who doesn’t like hearing curse words every 2 seconds then whatever floats your boat. Music is supposed to be interpreted by the listener.”

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