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Trillian's avatar

Are we being censored in America?

Asked by Trillian (21064 points ) June 3rd, 2012

I noticed quite some time ago that the lyrics of a Peter Gabriel song were being edited to cut out the phrase ”...see the doorways, of a thousand churches.” I may even have asked about it on this site. I can’t remember. Anyway, I know I mentioned it to people and no one really seemed concerned besides me. I’m fairly used to that.
But recently I was downloading some music to burn a disk for my mom, and one of them was an Edwin McCain song; “I’ll be”, I think is the name of it. Anyway, it’s kind of a nice, easy to sing along with type of sone, but a lyric had been cropped; “I’ll be – love suicide.” I didn’t realize until after I had downloaded and burned it. I went back and tried to get a different version, but they all have that phrase missing, and the resulting ediding job sounds horrible.
So I got to wondering; What other songs are being censored? Who is responsible for this? Whether or not you like the actual music, isn’t it some cause for alarm that music is being censored to not mention topics like religion and suicide? What else is on the taboo list, and who is making the list. Even more frightening, who has the clout to remove parts of songs from music stations across the country?
Am I just imagining things?

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23 Answers

PhiNotPi's avatar

Here’s my hypothesis:

As for who is doing the censorship, it is most likely the music company itself. Radio stations often choose to not broadcast potentially offensive material in case it causes outrage towards the station, especially if the station’s audience is families. The stations do want to play the music, however, just without the offensive line. So, the music company makes an edited edition that has been censored. This allows those music stations to be potential customers, bringing in more money for the music company.

Philosophile's avatar

Of course we are. Especially within the government, we are not told things “for our own good,” which is a dangerous situation. Who knows if their reasons for secrets ARE good, and how are we supposed to tell if we don’t know until it’s too late?

marinelife's avatar

I am not sure you have presented enough evidence to make the case for censoring of music.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I don’t think that there is a lot of government censorship – like there is in China or Thailand, for example. There’s a lot of government spying, but not that much censorship. The last nig attempt at censorship was with Wikileaks a couple years, and that fell flat on its ass. There are some attempts to do more in the USA – SOPA and CISPA and ACTA and stuff like that.

There is a lot of commercially motivated censorship. When Wal-mart and Target won’t sell R or X-rated movies or CDs, that is pressure group censorship. And there is a lot of that from the Family Council and other religiously motivated organizations..

And of course the TV networks are afraid to show material that would appeal to the age level of a 15 year old because of pressure from those same organizations. So we are all dumbed down to that level because of the religious right.

josie's avatar

See above . There is plenty of self imposed censorship, for the sake of appealing to a marketplace or to conform to social pressure (everybody says “n-word”, nobody says “retarded” etc). Some of that has made people look a little silly I suppose.
But it is only CENSORSHIP if the government does it or forces you to do it.

zenvelo's avatar

There are movies and CDs that are censored to sell at WalMart or Target. There is a “Mormon” version of movies that Blockbuster carries (where they still have stores). The same version is used for in-flight movies.

But there isn’t really censorship by the government. But they sure withhold a lot of information.

bookish1's avatar

The only time I really noticed something like this was right after september 11th—radio stations (or more likely, their parent broadcast companies) started self-censoring so as not to play songs that might be traumatic. For instance, “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters and “Speed Kills” by Bush had recently come out as singles but they just disappeared.

cazzie's avatar

My English text book in high school was censored where I grew up in Wisconsin in the 1980’s. They sensored SHAKESPEARE for heavens sake! We were meant to be learning McBeth, but they edited out a section of one scene. Being the rebel that I am, I bought in an unedited version and shared it with the class. Yeah, that’s me. Bad to the bone. That’s how I roll.

jerv's avatar

Yes. And it’s only going to get worse, especially if people like Rick “Ban pornography and homosexuality will disappear within months!” Santorum are in office.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I remember first noticing that in Paul Simon’s song Kodachrome . There seemed to be a skip in the opening sentence. “When I look back on all the “skip” I learned in high school…”
Later I heard it was the word “crap”.
I figure it is the radio and TV station’s prerogative to censor if that is the decency standard they want to hold. It is my prerogative to change the channel.

FutureMemory's avatar

Censorship in music is quite common these days, so much so that they don’t really refer to it as censorship anymore, but “editing”. Many rap songs have the explicit/unedited version, and then a cleaned up version of it, often called radio edit or edited, which is used for broadcasting. I’ve seen Snoop Dog and other rap artists have videos on MTV where they used the word “brothers” instead of “niggas”, and “hell” instead of “fuck” (“So what the hell you wanna do?” instead of “So what the fuck you wanna do?), for example. It’s all about having a version of your product ‘clean’ enough for certain audiences.

Trillian's avatar

^^ I wasn’t actually making a case so much as asking a question..
I was picturing some religious groups who have a lot of pull. But as I also stated, I don’t know if I’m imagining things.
The commercial motivation makes sense. It could also be a regional thing, as I now live in Kentucky. But then again, the song that I downloaded was itunes, so…
I thought of another one which was kind of stupid; A om Petty’s song says something about let’s roll another joint, and at some point he had to change it to ”...roll another down.” which sounded extremely silly.
Still, people who get offended by life really shouldn’t be allowed to dictate policy.
IMO

bolwerk's avatar

Little* of what the OP mentions is censorship, strictly speaking. It’s editorial discretion, the same discretion that gives a newspaper the right to print letters its editors agree with and not print ones it doesn’t or that gives the prigs who unnamed QA sites the right to delete whatever posts offend them without a second thought. It may suck that it’s happening, but I’m not sure it’s happening because record companies are afraid of being censored by the government.

More likely, it happens because of pressure from authoritarian groups like the Amerikan Family Association. The record companies are happy to go along with it because this is a part of the political spectrum with disproportionate political pull, and probably at least some money – they are actually willing to buy the “clean” products, so it makes financial sense to offer them.

Actual censorship, where the government (usually proactively) prevents the publication of content, is unusual in the U.S.. Thus far, the two-party duopoly has managed to stay in power without resorting to outright censorship, so for now censorship is probably not high on their radars. Why? For whatever reason, no matter what you say in U.S. politics, you’re impotent to effect change, so there is largely no harm in letting you say or sing about whatever you want. More democratic countries tend to have more powerful censorial regimes because proportional representation in government actually means revolutionaries, good or bad, can get in.

Of course, there are other ways to chill your opponents. Let the justice department know what books people are checking out. Or, under the guise of a “free market,” put the mass media entirely into the hands of cronies of the duopoly. Some future U.S. Congress will brazenly pass SOPA, or something like it.

* The one thing that arguably is censorship is when lyrics are changed so they can be played on the radio. In this case, the government is suppressing content. It literally might be happening under duress.

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Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Four words: Freedom of Speech Zones.

jerv's avatar

@bolwerk Doesn’t prohibitng the teaching of the Theory of Evolution and editing textbooks accordingly count, at least if it is done so in accordance with bills that passed through the Legislative branch and became law after the Executive branch signed off on it?

As for Chiiling, that is where CISPA comes in. So long as the RIAA and MPAA exist, the ‘net is at risk of being both chilled and censored.

bolwerk's avatar

@jerv: good question, but my personal view is probably not. It’s stupid, ignorant, scientifically illiterate, etc.. As long as the people pushing those policies sincerely think that evolution doesn’t belong in a biology curriculum, I would say, dumb as they are, it is not censorship.

But I can see an argument the other way too.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m sure they make these edits for business reasons. They think it will help them sell more recordings.

There was a piece on NPR today about the things movie studios do now so that they can have access to the Chinese market. There’s a movie—Red Storm 2012, I think, that was going to have the Chinese Army invading the US. Then they went back and digitally edited it to turn them into the North Korean Army. They changed the language spoken and everything. All so they could get permission to show the movie in China.

The politicians may hate the Chinese, but businessmen seem not to care. If they can get bodies in seats, they don’t care what nationality, and they don’t care how much they have to bowdlerize the product to get those bodies in the seats.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Does anyone really believe that Freedom of Speech is actually tolerated in the USA. It is a sweet but naive notion. The influence of religious zealots is to scare the majority into self-censorship. Try exercising free speech in the presence of police of other agents of governmental power and see what adverse outcomes occur!

bolwerk's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence: it generally is tolerated, officially. The United States figured out how to have perhaps the most permissive speech/press regime in the world, while making sure exercising it has little chance of changing anything. It’s a step up from the Chinese model, where exercising your right to speak gets you a royal beating, I guess.

laurenkem's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence I agree that the self-censorship that is going on lately is rampant. We all must watch what we say on a minute-by-minute basis, but not because we have to fear being jailed for saying the wrong thing. It’s more that we’ll be ostracized by the people who are vigilant about all of us adhering to the self-censoring rule.

If you say the wrong thing in front of certain “friends”, you’re sure to either be told that your position is inappropriate or lose them as friends altogether.

fremen_warrior's avatar

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