Government Censorship of Music Misguided

Government Censorship of Music Misguided

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Government Censorship of Music Misguided


Granted, there are entertainers in the music business who, as Tipper Gore says in "Curbing the Sexploitation Industry," want to send the message that "sadomasochism is the essence of sex," so that they can make a not-so-honest dollar. As Charlene Choy says in "Romantic Rot," some performers will scream about anything, including "suicide, sadism, incest, [and] bestiality," if it will make them stand out and turn a bigger profit than another musician.


Still, Gore and Choy are missing the essence of modern rock. To explain which aspect of modern rock Gore and Choy have overlooked, I will define rock in a broader sense than many people use in their day-to-day conversation: for the purposes of this argument, I will define "rock music" to mean any form of music which has emerged since the 1940's which has had enough popularity to allow people to identify themselves as a member of a group based on the type of music to which they listen. Therefore, types of music as diverse as disco, heavy metal, rap, classic rock (from the 1950's through the 1970's), "grunge," pop, industrial rock, and country-western will be covered under this definition.


What Gore and Choy have misunderstood is the way that music can create bonds between people, both between individual fans of a particular group and between the singer and an individual fan. People can learn how others think and can learn more about themselves through the sometimes-brutal reality of modern musical lyrics. Nirvana's song "Dumb" can show popular people how it feels to go through high school as a social outcast. The music of Garbage and L7 can give men a glimpse of the female mind. The music of Nine Inch Nails and the Gin Blossoms can take sane people on a trip through the mind of someone who is losing his (or her) sanity.


Music can also help people, particularly those going through painful times (such as adolescence) to understand that they are not alone and that other people have the same feelings that they do. After grunge-rock superstar Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994, one fan wrote to Rolling Stone magazine describing how the music of Cobain's band, Nirvana, made her feel. "I could be feeling like total shit," wrote Carrie Loy, "and hear a Nirvana song and end up feeling renewed afterward.

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. . . Maybe someone singing about anger and pain and confusion and loss and the shallowness of it all isn't supposed to make you feel better. But it always made me feel happy and alive again." The themes of loneliness, rejection, and alienation present in much of modern rock, particularly the lyrics of "industrial-rock" groups such as Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, and Marilyn Manson, can help people feeling lonely, rejected, or alienated to know that other people also feel the same way, and give depressed people strength.


Rock music also helps people to mature by exposing them to new and strange ideas. Whether or not they agree with the ideas is less important than the simple fact that they are exposed to those lyrics, and can think about why they agree or disagree with those ideas. When I attended a concert given by Marilyn Manson, an ordained minister in the Church of Satan, I went with one of my Christian friends. After the concert, as we were standing outside our motel, he spent ten minutes giving a remarkably well thought-out explanation of what aspects of Manson's lyrics and philosophy he agreed with, which aspects he disagreed with, and why he felt that way. Because he was exposed to ideas that he disagreed with in a forceful way that allowed him to understand why the author of that music felt and thought that way, my friend's faith was actually strengthened in a way it never could have been only through going to church.


Given all of the ways that music helps teenagers, preteens, and young adults through the often-painful trials of young life, to argue that we should censor music is like arguing that we should outlaw automobiles, despite their obvious benefits for society, because of the automobile-related deaths that occur; or like arguing that, because everyone who eats olives eventually dies, we should criminalize possession of olives and olive oil. It's utter and complete nonsense. Parents, not the government or the music industry, are responsible for determining what to expose their children to and what they are not yet ready for. To impose government or industry censorship of modern rock lyrics would be to deprive teenagers of one of their most important tools for bonding with each other and surviving adolescence, one of the most painful periods of their lives.


In this time where the complexity of life is increasing at a pace which is outstripping our ability to understand it, can we afford to do this to our children?
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