Censorship From "Obscene" Material

Today, in the 1990's, citizens in our society are being bombarded with
obscene material from every direction. From the hate lyrics of Gun's 'N Roses
to the satanic lyrics of Montley Crue and Marilyn Manson to the sexually
explicit graphical content of today's movies, the issue is how much society is
going to permit and where we, as a society, should we draw the line. The
freedom of speech has always been considered a right, but that doesn't mean that
you can shout, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater. The real question is whether
such material is harmful or dangerous to our society.
Many people are asking whether or not we should censor offensive
material. They believe that some material is too obscene for society to hear or
see. The advocates of censorship get riled up because the movie rating council
doesn't give a move an R-rating for having the occasional f-word. One rap group,
2 Live Crew, has already had one of their albums banned because in one song they
used explicit references to male genitals and 87 references to oral sex. They
used the word "bitch" more than 100 times and the f-word more than 200 times.
Although most people agree that we are being overwhelmed with offensive
material, there is no consensus on how to deal with the problem. There are
three possible solutions. The first is the possibility of government censorship,
which would include laws and penalties for breaking these laws. The second
solution is self-imposed censorship by individuals and corporations. The third
solution is total free speech with no censorship.
The first possible solution is government censorship. In the past
government legal actions have been taken to control offensive messages. For
example, in 1988, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to appear on a Kansas City, Missouri
public access cable channel. The city council decided that it would be better
to shut the public access cable channel down instead of letting the KKK air
their show. Later, under the pressure of being sued, the city council reversed
their decision.
Critics of this sort of action agree that these offensive messages do
exist, but legal action is not the way to deal with them. They believe that no
individual acts the way the messages portray just because the messages exist.
Another belief is that legal actions will intimidate creative people because it
makes them afraid of having to pay a fine to the government for violating
obscenity laws.
The second possible solution is private-sector censorship. While some
people feel that government officials are the best way to restrict offensive
messages, others feel that self- censorship is a more effective method. A
recent series of incidents suggests that executives in many private firms have
begun doing just that. Book publishers, TV stations, and others have drawn the
line when faced with words or images that are tasteless or offensive. For
example, in 1990, Andy Rooney, a CBS news correspondent, was suspended for his
racist remark, "Blacks have watered down their genes because the less
intelligent ones... have the most children."
Another episode of self-imposed censorship is when George Michael
released his song "I Want Your Sex." In 1987, AIDS and other sexual diseases
were rampantly spreading and his song condoned casual sex. The MTV executives
also sent the video for this song back because of the explicit, sexual images.
A third incident happened when MTV drew the line again, this time with
Madonna's video for "Justify My Love." They said that the video illustrates
Madonna's erotic fantasies. It was said to be "too hot to handle."
The advocates of the second solution agree that America is suffering
from a deluge of offensive messages, but they feel that the best way of dealing
with the problem is not government censorship, but private-sector censorship.
The critics of this point of view think that private-sector censorship
will not be enough. They believe that the entertainment industry will not be
able to control itself. Private-sector restrictions do not have the authority
of the law, therefore they cannot successfully draw the line between what can
and cannot be said in public.
The third and final possible solution is no censorship at all. While
many Americans are troubled by what they feel is offensive speech, and feel that
it should be restricted by law, advocates of the third solution disagree. They
feel that there is more harm in restricting free speech than by the offensive
speech itself. In the bill of rights, the first amendment says, "Congress shall
make no long abridging the freedom of speech." The first amendment was intended
to protect the