Term Paper: Censorship in Music

Pages: 36 (12976 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] The Spanish-born Pablo Casals (1876-1973), who enjoyed a spectacular international career as a violin and cello virtuoso and conductor, was considered to be one of the finest musicians of his day. However, he had a rather harsh assessment of rock and roll in the early 1960s, one that should be viewed through the filter of a person whose life was devoted to European fine-art music.

You want to know what I think of that abomination, rock 'n' roll? I think it is a disgrace. Poison put to sound! When I hear it I feel very sad not only for music but for the people who are addicted to it. I am also very sorry for America-- that such a great country should have nothing better to pour into the expectant ear of mankind than this raucous distillation of the ugliness of our times, performed by juveniles for juveniles. It is a terrible and sardonic trick of fate that the children of the present century should have to grow up with their bodies under continual bombardment from atomic fall-out and their souls exposed to rock 'n' roll (Casals, 1961, p. 18).

It would seem that many observers of rock music were more than a little willing to attribute the sordid lifestyles of various rock musicians, as well as the untimely deaths of several others, to the music itself.

Rock and roll fans, if even a portion of what the critics have said was true, by now would be stone deaf, with their minds burnt out by drugs, and their bodies wasted by excessive fornication. That none of this is true has never bothered rock opponents nor caused them to pause in their attacks. Rock bashing has remained constant since the mid-1950s both in content and style (Martin & Segrave, 1993, p. vii).

No other musical genre in Western civilization has ever aroused more controversy and stronger emotions than rock and roll. No other type of music has attracted so many powerful and amazingly self-righteous opponents. No group of musicians has taken such self indulgent and downright self-destructive glee in merging the roles of entertainer/artist and social outlaw. Simply invoking the names of three identifiable strains of this music, "shock rock," "cock rock," and "schlock rock," gives some insight into the power of this music to send the protectors of American culture off on a tirade. The implications of this music, its identification with teenage thoughts and behaviors, have contributed to the overwrought reactions to its perceived menace (Budds, 1999).

Rock and roll has become a prime target for the censorship campaigns of a wide range of special interest lobbies, including religious, political, economic, and musical (Martin & Segrave, 1988; Cloonan, 1996). Such vehement opposition, whether well intentioned or cloaked in self-interest, has existed almost perpetually throughout rock music's rather short lifetime. Strangely, the passion and energy that have been used in attempts to either alter or suppress rock and roll music seem only to have spurred rock musicians to further flaunt whatever aspect of their music or behavior is considered to be objectionable in a show of defiant celebration.

At the heart of the issue is the fundamental departure of attitudes and practices from those that have characterized the power culture since the colonization of the United States. This change in taste is dramatic because it symbolizes widespread acceptance of the musical customs of black America and rural white America. These sectors of society had very little prestige and were dismissed as irrelevant to national standards and priorities. What was new in the 1950s was the appearance of an enthusiastic audience of middle-class teenagers from white America, coupled with a new designation for the music - "rock 'n' roll." Young people with a new fascination for minority music proved to be one of the major forces behind the reshaping of many social patterns in American society during the second half of the 1900s (Budds, 1999).

This transformation of American popular music became the source of violent debate simply because it was generated and given life by the youth of the power culture, without the blessing of their parents. There are few other musical movements in history that have been so clearly defined in terms of age. Once the music had been around long enough to establish itself as something more than just an irritating fad, it quickly achieved new status as the social emblem of rebellious youth.

Much of the negative reaction to rock and roll by establishment voices can be identified as both racist and elitist. In 1956, Time magazine, the most prominent current events periodical of record for American society at the time, fundamentally established the tone for the national debate. In a report on rock and roll, the magazine described the music in such negative terms as "jungle," "juvenile delinquency," and "Hitler mass meetings" (Time, 1956).

Entertainment music in America at this time was a very lucrative business, directly affecting the livelihood of many individuals. Suddenly, the music of young Southern upstarts began to flood the marketplace.

A serious loss of income and control caused industry executives go on the defense, going to far as to condemn the music of competitors as both socially irresponsible and morally corrupting.

The editors of Billboard and Variety, the trade magazines of their profession, raised the ugly image of government censorship as the ultimate solution to the dilemma (Billboard, 1954; Green, 1955).

It was not very long before the industry, lured by the obvious financial rewards, wholeheartedly embraced the world of rock and roll. This helped to solidify the music's hold on the American middle class, as well as introducing musical compromises that were dictated by financial concerns. In the view of many, by the end of the 1950s the industry itself had become a big part of the problem.

The most obvious target for censors has always been the lyrics of rock and roll songs, which were labeled from the very beginning as trivial, sexually suggestive, or obscene.

Song texts of mainstream America had for many years been influenced by the high culture of Europe, though watered down for middle-class listeners. Songs with texts that offended this sensibility were banned by radio stations or deleted from the musical scores of Broadway and Hollywood.

Rock and roll culture came to accept a premise already found in folk music and fine-art music, that the subject of music should be the entire spectrum of human experience (Budds, 1999).

While many proponents welcomed this spirit of uncensored expression as evidence of the rock music's "coming of age," opponents intensified their efforts, repeating their battle cry that the behavior of young Americans was influenced in the most negative way by experiencing rock and roll. A good deal of the criticism has been focused on a cult of violence that was originally associated with 1970s punk and heavy metal, and more recently with gangsta rap (Ro, 1996) and the "hate" rock of white supremacist groups. For decades, feminists had been vociferous in condemning misogynist words, images, and actions, many of which can be found in the male-dominated world of rock and roll (Meade, 1971).

There is no better record of what American teenagers in the second half of the twentieth century were all about than rock and roll. It remains music with an attitude, at odds with authority figures. These attitudes have regularly been shared, without apology or embarrassment, in the common language of teenagers who are intent on carving out a meaningful identity. The casual use of profanity, the explicit references to sexual behaviors and drug use, and the open attacks on other cultural "sacred cows" are not exclusive to rock and roll.

With the twenty-first century well under way, rock and roll is more complicated controversial than ever. There is one aspect of the tradition that remains unchanged. The music that was created by young Americans for young Americans continues to alarm, shock, and challenge the very fabric of society. Its opponents are just as ready as they have ever been to give voice to their own outrage, to wage what is effectively a holy war, and to fight for censorship (Budds, 1999).

Censorship Under the Guise of Protecting the Children

American parents have attempted to censor music by organizing and pressuring government and industry in the direction of control of youth-based music and youth culture. Much of the censorship by Caucasian adults has been done under the guise of protecting children. The fear is clearly that children might emulate the behavior of the rock and rap culture, as they become adults through new and increasingly shocking music and lyrics.

During the second half of this century, the reaction to rock 'n' roll and rap music has developed into a true clash of cultures.

Many biases play a role in the reaction. Because creativity goes all the way… [END OF PREVIEW]

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