Going Down the Rabbit Hole: A Short Exploration of the Human Cause of Music Censorship
“The need for free artistic expression far outweighs the supposed benefits of censoring whatever offends certain people.”
This got me thinking about art and censorship. I have had to see many forms of music (plus other art forms) I love be subjected to demonization, being blamed for the ills of society. We saw such occurrences in the PMRC witch-hunt of metal and hard rock musicians in 80’s at the hands of political gatekeepers, bands being blamed for suicides and murders, and so much more. What I was thinking about, however, was also the root causes for these reactions. This is a music blog, not a political or law blog, so I do not intend to talk about the legality of censorship. Additionally many individuals have made far more coherent arguments against artistic censorship than I ever could (these individuals include Frank Zappa, who makes this wonderful argument against censorship proponents in this heated discussion here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9856_xv8gc).
What is the source of censorship, namely artistic (more specifically music) censorship? Music seems to, at least in the last 50 years, have been a lightning rod for criticism. Why music and not painting or sculpture? My feeling is that people tend to be afraid of what they do not understand, and since music is always changing, people fail to grasp what it is. Music is a living breathing entity that, quite often, is stagnant in the mainstream. As I explored in this post:
(https://mixolydianblog.com/2013/12/19/mainstream-music-and-the-death-of-creativity/), music is not readily accepted by society because powerful groups make it that way. To quote that article:
“I am inclined to blame more than anyone else the media. It is the media that, on a nearly daily basis, promotes these artists. They may say “oh, we’re just reporting the current trends.” I ask though, who is creating these trends? Only a small percentage of acts spread like wildfire via actions of the people (i.e. Youtube), and even then, such acts require corporate promotion to sustain a lucrative career. Whether we realize it or not, in many ways the powers that be (i.e. record labels, corporations, media outlets etc. etc.) control what is popular. Unfortunately, through implicit and explicit messages through advertising and a cooperation between the media (print/internet/television) and corporate powers (especially record labels), we are told what music will be the future.”
Add in government and anybody else you want to the fray and you will see how certain music is feared, controlled, and indirectly (as well as directly) prevented from reaching the populace. Sure it is present in the underground, in the edges of society, but you won’t see it on TV anytime soon.
Rather than going in a “fuck society” direction, we have to understand that society is made up of individuals. As much as I’d like to believe sometimes that those in charge are cyborgs…they are in fact human beings (…I think), and they are making human choices. Music, really good music, sometimes is so powerful that people don’t know what to do with it. Ideas are dangerous, and music is that much more dangerous due to its ties to all emotional and logical functions of the mind. Music elicits a response that no other art form can even come close to creating.
The thing is everyone has their ethical guidelines, their areas of comfort. My challenge to people is that, when a piece of music challenges your ethics, examine the reasons behind the reasons you give for being offended. Why do you logically feel that this music is so abhorrent that legal action must be taken to stop the listening of this music? Does it expose you to truths you may not be willing to entertain? Whatever the case is, ask yourself, does this music have an audience? Why do you think that is? Do these audience members deserve to have their interests destroyed? You do not have to like the music, but to ask for it to disappear or be forced truly to the darkest corners is far too extreme. Essentially by asking for music (or any art) to be controlled by the powerful is to dilute the mission of art. Art is supposed to make you FEEL, even if that feeling is a visceral reaction.
I will end this post with the hopes that this will generate productive discourse, which I look forward to. In parting I share the words of Kurt Cobain reacting to Nirvana’s In Utero being censored by Walmart and other big retailers.
“I just feel bad for all the kids who are forced to buy their music from big chain stores and have to have the edited music.”