Obscenity Essay, Research Paper

After killing you loudly with rhymes, beats, and rhythms, the music industry as a whole has gone through many trials and tribulations. It’s not just the average shock value of the shake rattle and roll of the 50’s and 60’s…the funk era of the 70’s…or even the new wave of the 80’s…it’s a new breed of musical turmoil. Society has shifted in such a manner that allows and encourages freethinking and abstract arts, and with those great things, we face the problem of censorship. From an artist’s perspective it’s their “work”; but from another’s point of view that same piece of “work” can be absolute garbage, to say the least. Now in the 21st century we face artistic crossroads…the question is, when is exactly too far; moreover, how do we measure too far. In addition, when we do go too far, do we censor? Censors are now disguised as retailers and distributors, special-interest groups, and (less influential but still passionate) religious and government authorities. Ultimately, when all is said, there remains one question…Does censorship conflict with the first amendment? This paper will examine artistic censorship all of its counterparts…??????

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Beahm, 1993, p. 79) The court, in FCC v. Pacifica, said that although the First Amendment protects indecent speech, the commission could regulate the airwaves with only a few exceptions. In Pacifica, the court ruled in the FCC’s favor, allowing it to curb utterances of the famous “seven words” that cannot be said on the air. The Pacifica case has remained substantially unchanged, despite a few lower court challenges and the Supreme Court’s decision in Reno v. ACLU striking down an indecency standard for the Internet but not for on-air broadcasts. The current ban on indecent broadcasts applies strictly to those between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be listening to the radio or watching television.

Many would say that buying a CD or an adult film is much different than having a medium that is easily accessible such as radio, and ultimately it has been proven soUnder authority of a warrant to search a man’s home for evidence of his alleged bookmaking activities, officers found some films in his bedroom. The films were projected and deemed to be obscene. The man was arrested for their possession. He was thereafter indicted, tried, and convicted for “knowingly having possession of . . . obscene matter” in violation of a Georgia law. (DOC) The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed, holding it not essential to an indictment charging one with possession of obscene matter that it be alleged that such possession was “with intent to sell, expose or circulate the same.” It was decided that the Georgia obscenity statute is unconstitutional insofar as it punishes mere private possession of obscene matter.

Although that case was looked upon as possessing personal material, many forms of entertainment have not been treated in the same manner. The owner of a Florida record store was convicted of obscenity charges for selling a recording by the rap group 2 Live Crew that had been declared obscene by a Federal judge. (DOC) As Nasty as They Wanna Be had 87 references to oral sex alone and was unquestionably offensive; however, that isn’t what proves to be important. According to the Constitution, all citizens are granted freedom of speech and freedom to express their own opinions. Why would the members of The 2 Live Crew be excluded from these rights? Who is to decide what is to be banned and what is not to be banned? If The 2 Live Crew’s music is indecent, shouldn’t Andrew Dice Clay’s comical tape be banned also? When Tipper Gore & Hillary Clinton’s Parent Music Resource Center got the major record labels like Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic, MCA, and Polydor to start record labeling with the ever noticable “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” stickers, they successfully censored many heavy metal and rap albums from large chain record stores. Still today, we see these “Tipper Stickers” on CD’s and cassettes. In my opinion, Luther Campbell and The 2 Live Crew have every right to produce or create any type of music that they choose. The only stipulation that remains is that if the material is in fact “obscene” then the first amendment will not protect it.. This is where the two lines cross; for between those lines are very gray, oxymoronic areas, areas in which we still have trouble with today. So…is there really such thing as free speech?

The Law of Obscenity

With the forthcomings of Roth and Miller, material is obscene if and only if, “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interests.” The problem asks one question…who is the “average” person. What is prurient to one may not be prurient to another. “Obscene” things and their effects on people vary by gender, race, religion, economic status, and education just to name a few. Therefore, with such a definition, obscenity is not refined.

History and Censorship of Music

In 1926, Ernst Krenek, composer of Jonny Speilt Auf was targeted by the Nazis as an “outrageous introduction of Jewish-Nigger filth” by the “half-Jewish Czech” (although Krenek was neither). The title character is a black violinist/jazz band leader, and the opera combines aspects of the 19th century Wagnerian tradition with elements of jazz, operetta, spirituals, Broadway musicals, and big-city noises. Performances continued during the late 1920’s, despite continued defiant actions by the National Socialists, but the opera was eventually banned. (DOC).The official Nazi logo for Entartete Musik, a 1938 exhibition of “degenerate music” produced by Jewish composers, used a grotesque caricature of the original poster for Jonny spielt auf, in which the saxophonist wears a star of David instead of a carnation in his tuxedo lapel .( DOC) This is just one of the many examples of censorship early on. Although still significant, there was not much of a challenge for censorship at that time. It would be over 25 years until artist and their supporters would start fighting back. Throughout the history of music, would-be censors have primarily targeted controversial lyrics as a problem, but there have been efforts to blame the actual music for causing society’s ills. Every unusual advancement has met with disputes, whether it is Johan Sebastian Bach’s music or heavy metal’s distorted guitars. In this past century, jazz, bebop, swing, rock n’ roll, and rap have all had its hard critics. Such attacks have usually (most-often) been initiated by adults ready to attribute juvenile delinquency on a musical form that appeals almost exclusively to young people and which “few of its detractors comprehend” (DOC). Once Elvis’ pelvic gyration would not be televised, and it is now an accepted entertainment technique as Ricky Martin shakes his “Bon Bon” on his sold out international shows. (DOC) So basically we have a society that has shifted in its view of “bad things”; however, much of society are still turned of by what some others may find acceptable.

Censorship Today

The problem with censorship today is that the percentage of the population that may find something interesting that someone else may not is on the short end of the stick. Moreover, we think we believe in freedom of speech but, when push comes to shove, we don’ t.

In a 1997 poll sponsored by the Virginia-based Freedom Forum and conducted by University of Connecticut professor Kenneth Dautrich, 1,026 American adults were asked their opinions on various freedoms protected by the First Amendment. The results proved that the public likes the idea of the First Amendment more than its reality. When read the text of the First Amendment, 93 percent of respondents said they would ratify it. But when asked about specific applications of expressive freedoms, many Americans showed they simply don’ t have the stomach for it: 75 percent would not allow people to publicly say things that might be deemed offensive to a racial group. 72 percent oppose the posting of sexually explicitly material on the Internet; 71 percent oppose the broadcast of photos of nude or semi-nude persons; 47 percent think that musicians should not be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that some might find offensive; 78 percent oppose the right of people to burn or deface the American flag as a political statement; 70 percent think that books that show terrorists how to build bombs should be banned from public libraries; and 44 percent say that tobacco ads should be prohibited. So what does this say, perhaps that we like the idea of having free speech, but we don’t want to buy into it.


Beahm, George. War of Words: The Censorship Debate. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1993.

Carter, T. Barton. Mass Communication Law In a Nutshell. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group, 2000.

Creech, Kenneth. Electronic Media Law and Regulation. Boston: Focal Press 2000.

Daily, Jay E. The Anatomy of Censorship. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1973.

Menconi, Al. Today’s Music: A Window To Your Child’s Soul. Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co. 1990

Perkins, Erin. Droppin’ Science: Critcial Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1996

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