Saturday, March 6, 2010

Music Censorship, Part I

The act of sneaking messages through the censorship of oppressors has been popular in music for generations. Spreading a controversial message under the seemingly unimposing form of music keeps oppressors from catching on. Songs like "Follow The Drinking Gourd," according to legends, were sung among slaves hoping to escape to freedom. Its seemingly vague lines offered to those who remembered its words geographical directions to a starting point on the Underground Railroad. They learned the safest season to embark on their journey and which rivers to follow or cross. Forbidden from learning to read, repeated singing embedded life-saving details in determined minds. The consequences of such a song being decoded by authorities would be so disastrous, that everyone involved set new records for being outrageously hardcore. I speculate many more musical numbers concealed massive burns against slave owners.

The abolition of slavery granted all the right to literacy, meaning dissidents could now spread ideas in writing. This took away music's usefulness for memorizing instructions, unless very small children are planning something devious. However, music still carried the burden of publicly spreading a message of change that newspaper or book publishers shied away from. Folk group The Weavers braved the Red Scare of the 1950's, trying to improve worker's rights through music. Even after diluting their political message to appeal to a wider audience, the FBI claimed they adhered to communist beliefs. The entertainment industry began blacklisting The Weavers and many other artists after scrutiny from The House Committee on Un-American Activities. Termination of their record contract and removal of their songs from radio play proved The Man still worried enough about the influence of music to censor it.

After the country came down from the bad trip that was McCarthyism, artists were finally free to speak their minds on subjects of political or cultural change. This of course leads us to the whiny, dirty hippy era of music, which I am gracefully skipping over on my way to gangster rap. NWA announced their hatred for cops and accusations of prejudice against the justice system with their hit single, "Hug* tha Police." Deciphering their top-secret message to listeners must have been difficult for those in power, with such ambiguous wordplay as, "I'm a sniper with a doozy* of a scope, taking out a cop or two." Things like this are generally frowned upon, so the government was understandably upset. However, the retribution only consisted of stern letters from the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI, which are probably framed with pride next to NWA's gold albums. Removal from a few concert venues and a short ban from Australian radio provided more publicity than financial harm. Despite the controversial and threatening statements, the group was never in any danger. The Man's interest in censoring messages that could damage him faded.

The invention of the Internet allows any and all contentious directives to be spread easily throughout the nation in secrecy. This has caused The Man's concern for scathing music lyrics to die completely. Even with messages of enjoyment in illegal activities, the oppressor of free thought, whoever you consider him to be, doesn't care anymore. Reggae artist Sean Paul seems to exclusively express his love of marijuana with such hits as "Ever Blazin," "We Be Burnin'," and in a new level of blatancy, "Legalize It." No one cares, and The Man probably hasn't noticed. At this point, a detailed, step-by-step single entitled "How To Overthrow The U.S. Government," could be released without consequence.

This once dangerously awesome theme in music has devolved to Green Day beating the dead horse of the Bush administration's popularity to increase their sales. Musicians no longer fight The Man, because The Man has exited the ring. I'm glad we are all literate and don't have an imposing government, but using music to secretly spread information concerning an uprising is infinitely cooler and more meaningful than political debate with instruments. Anyone who won't pay attention to a message of change unless it has a cool beat behind it isn't in any kind of mental shape to be voting anyway.

Since the voice of the oppressed no longer requires the mask of music to hide behind, protest music is dead. If you have a message to spread, ditch that mask and just write the message on your face. That would get people's attention.

*This word has been censored by The Man

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