The Uncensored History of Music Censorship

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Music is a creative outlet that allows people to express themselves freely. To some people, music and life are one in the same. I have chosen to write an article on the topic of censorship in music, because I have noticed that while it seems television shows are becoming more lax with what can be said on air, music on the radio is becoming less lyrics and more blurred words.

Censorship is when the government suppresses content or lyrics that are viewed as inappropriate or objectionable. What are listeners and artists allowed to hear, say, sing, or write if they cannot express their opinions without restrictions?  The act of censorship is an attempt to enforce morality.  It is not a recent concept and is not limited to music alone but also affects the content of books, movies, television, radio programs, and news reports.

The first notion of censorship is believed to have been an idea conceived by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. Republic, a book authored by Plato around 375 BC, holds the first written account of the idea through a conversation between the philosopher’s older brother, Adeimantus, and his mentor, Socrates, that goes on about what “musical modes he would eliminate” and specifically stating, “then we can reject them….even women, if they are respectable, have no use for them, let alone men”.

Censorship was approached with a stricter attitude due to “generational value gaps” in the 1950’s and 60’s as the rock n’ roll era increased in popularity. The prior generation seeks out respect from the younger generation and some of the lyrics of today’s popular music come across as crude and disrespectful toward them. The concept of what is acceptable and what is not has changed from generation to generation and the shift in music throughout the years reflects those moral changes. In 1985 Tipper Gore, the wife of politician, Al Gore was concerned that her children would be influenced by the content in music videos and lyrics, so she co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center or PRMC. The PRMC are responsible for the creation of the black and white parental warning labels that can be found on music containing explicit content.

The act of censoring music is impacted by more than just a difference in generation, but the events of the world we live in can determine what is appropriate to voice through music. September 11th, 2001 was a great tragedy for our nation and the precautions that were taken afterward also affected music because of harsher restrictions on what could be shown and said in the media. Marie Korpe, author of Shoot the Singer: Music Censorship Today, explains some of the said restrictions by saying, “many artists and music companies felt the need to display some new found sensitivity: Dave Mathews nixed plans to release “When the Worlds Ends” as his next single, Bush changed the title of their new single “Speed Kills” to “The People That We Love”, the Cranberries pulled their video for “Analyse” because of the repeated images of skyscrapers and aircraft, and Dream Theater changed the artwork from their three-disc live album to remove its renditions of burning New York buildings”.

I am fascinated by the changes that American society has undergone from generation to generation and I believe that censorship is a touchy subject, because some people agree with it and some people do not. Many Americans believe that censorship is an infringement on the first amendment right that grants United States citizens the freedom of speech, but there are just as many that believe censorship is necessary to prevent them from having to hear messages in music that they find offensive or inappropriate.


  1. Isabelle Carter was here.

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