Sirens of the Sonic Age

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Music and Censorship ©


Artists should be given free reign in the creation and display of their works regardless if

these said pieces of work offend or disparage some – or even – all persons’ beliefs and

values. Artists should be able to create, write and perform and use whatever it is that

drives them to accomplish the works that they do. Sometimes artists choose to use their

work as a forum for their political and religious beliefs and ideas. This is no different

than politicians and religious leaders using their positions to promote their ideologies.

There is no reason why an artist cannot use their freedom of expression in their songs,

books, or art. Suppressing freedom is damaging to the individual freedoms that are the

basic civil rights of all citizens. If even just one person is allowed to voice his/her

opinions and concerns – regardless of what form they choose to use – then every person

shall be able to do the same if he/she so desires. There is no guarantee that anyone else

will pay attention if the message is not appealing. However, it is the right of every

American citizen to practice free speech including various forms of artistic expression.

After the United States Constitution had been written, some of the Founding Fathers

wanted to ratify it to exclude such items as the Bill of Rights – including the first

amendment – to guarantee rights to all of its citizens. Not all Americans approved of the

new Constitution, arguing that it gave too much power to a centralized, federal

government and that it lacked a bill of rights to protect citizens against the coercive

powers of the state. The Federalist Papers were started by Alexander Hamilton and

James Madison to argue for these ratifications to the United States Constitution. These

publications attempted to finesse the country towards their way of thinking. Eventually

the desire for a stable federal government and the promise of the prompt addition of the

bill of rights, brought ratification from the required majority of states.

With that said, this is still a country comprised of “We the people” and artists are

certainly a part of that citizenry. Every voice shall be heard no matter how that voice is

parlayed whether it is via a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., a novel by Mark Twain, a

photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe or a song by Green Day. In Rolling Stone

magazine’s issue 1039, Eddie Vedder was asked if free speech is in danger. He replied,

“Absolutely, at the hands of those in power – big corporations… It doesn’t seem like a

far stretch – that our daily communication and access to information can be controlled

and monitored…” In August 2007, Vedder’s band Pearl Jam performed in Chicago at

Lollapalooza which was being broadcasted by AT&T. While playing their song

“Daughter,” they interjected riffs from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” altering

lyrics to criticize President George Bush. No one who saw the broadcast heard more than

the first line because AT&T had censored the rest of it. After receiving a lot of flack, the

company apologized for its action, stating that it had made a mistake and changed current

company policy to respect freedom of expression and “believes it is a foundation of our

free society to express differing points of view.” AT&T stated they will not terminate,

disconnect or suspend service because of the views anyone expresses on public policy

matters, political issues or political campaigns.

Madonna is an artist who is no stranger to controversy with her work. Her video for

“Like a Prayer” caused a commotion with the Catholic Church. The video contained

images of stigmata, burning crosses and a rape scene which offended many Catholics.

Madonna should have the right to articulate how she wants to show the meaning of her

music. The American government and society ought not to interfere with her dalliances.

Their responsibility to artists as well as the rest of its inhabitants is to permit unalienable

natural rights that it supposedly stands for. As Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong said,

“I’m a musician and I want to say positive things. If it’s about self-indulgent depression

or overthrowing the government, it’s gotta come from my heart.” Perhaps this freedom

enhances the artist’s ability to make his/her audience think. Without this right to free

speech, the country may never have changed and grown. Even if the message is one that

not everyone agrees with, it still put forth a new or different perspective worth at least a

second glance or listen. A country cannot prosper without respecting the diversity of its


Artists’ responsibility to society is to maintain their integrity with their work. No matter

what the message is from the artist, it should reflect the artist’s own beliefs and values. If

this message should attract an audience and inspire them to think or act differently, then

there should be no interference from the government or institutions that lead the country.

The only exception may be if a law was broken – unless of course – it is the law that is

being questioned. Even if the message repulses an audience, then maybe this is the intent

of the artist. Sometimes people need to see the reality in things even if those things are

ugly. That may be the only way to get people motivated to change. If they are not

inclined to do so, they have the option to turn it off or look away or create something in

protest of it.

July 7, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment