Music and Decency

Beat on the Street

Volume CVI, No. 4April, 2006

Last year, Congress came close to passing a law that would have fined musicians if they wrote “indecent” material that ended up on the air! (The AFM opposed the legislation.) As a musician, what’s your opinion on music and decency? Should the government protect people from exposure to indecency? If you are a parent, how do think that affects your answer? This has been Allegro’s most popular question yet; we received about 70 responses within a few short days.

I don’t think that it is the government’s job to protect the public from “indecency.” It is a parent’s job to protect their children. Who can define indecency? Every person has his or her own opinion about what is decent. Just look at which song won the Oscar this year! Let the government protect the public from floods and other natural disasters. Let them protect our civil rights and Constitutional freedoms and protect us from the greed of politicians and corporate executives!

–Bill Spilka

No, no, no. Does this mean that Stravinsky would have been fined for the “Rite of Spring”? You don’t edit or censor art.

–Larry Malin

I wish that the government could protect people from the junk we see on TV /and hear on recordings. However, there is a thin line between protecting and censoring. I really don’t have an answer. I think it’s better not to protect, to maintain our freedom of speech and expression.

–Joan Brill

Who is to say what constitutes decency or indecency in music? Is it merely the inclusion of foul language — or can it extend to a suggestive beat that leads to a suggestive dance? If we as a country go down that road I fear there is no end to where the censorship of artistic license might lead. What is offensive today may not appear so in another time and another context. Let’s not forget that at one time the waltz was considered offensive. If we censor the artist, we are losing more than just the potential for great provocative art. We are getting one step closer to losing that which makes us human.

I am a parent and a college professor who works with kids all the time. I think it’s the responsibility of parents to protect their children from exposure to what they consider “indecent” music or lyrics — not the government. We now have the option to buy the explicit version of a song or its cleaned-up counterpart, and radio stations continually bleep out explicit language, which is as far as we should go. While in many cases certain lyrics might be offensive just for mere shock or schlock value, in other cases the artists are trying to make a serious political or cultural statement and trying to push the boundaries of their art. Repressive regimes throughout history have been known for censoring art that is not in lock-step with their ideology. Is this really the path the United States of America wishes to take?

–Gena R. Greher

Being fined for composing “indecent” music reeks of censorship and is an assault on free speech.

–Ricky Quinones

I’m not for censorship, however I don’t agree with thuggish lyrics encouraging kids to be violent. The record companies who profit from this idiotic macho posturing should be held accountable. What’s the point of teaching kids that the biggest, toughest, most sub-intelligent baboon gets to be the leader? Many songs have always had suggestive or sexy words. I have no problem with that. Personally I’d prefer it to be in good taste but we don’t need legislation telling us how we may express ourselves.

–Keith Lentin

Attempting to legislate something as subjective as indecent material is pointless. It’s like the question, “What is art?” My opinion is that a parent’s responsibility is to be involved in their children’s lives so they can have their own rules on what is O.K.

–Mike Boschen

I think that music is best which offends least. If you create music that offends some portion of the populace, then you will limit your sales accordingly. At the same time, I would not support legislation to limit music products that are offensive. I would rather that we as consumers would simply not buy the product, or support it. If we all did that, sooner or later market economics would dry up the sales. We all vote with our dollars.

Politicians are the very last ones whom I would trust to make laws restricting the First Amendment. Having said that, I wish that “artists” would not make products that glorify killing cops, or the president, or entire races of people. Such products are out there in the world. Don’t buy them, don’t listen to them. Especially don’t let your kids get near them. Continued propagation of such offensive products would invite legislative remedies, which would, like all law, be flawed in some way or another.

–Rick Walsh

I don’t want the morality of the congressional majority imposed on me or my children. They have approved an immoral war, which disqualifies them from any further moral judgments.

–Bill Crow

I am opposed to indecency but don’t like censorship either. It is a real dilemma. I am a parent and felt it was my responsibility to steer my children in the right direction. It is more difficult now. Parents must be more responsible and so must musicians. I think it is interesting how artists who produced “indecent” recordings and videos seemed to mellow out when they became parents. More education and responsibility on both sides is the answer.

–Laura Taylor

Unfortunately, much of the indecent material out there is indecent by design. The indecency is used as a tool to sell product and is not a byproduct of art. It is “calculated indecency,” and I think that is what is offensive. That being said, I think if an artist chooses to use the language of the street to reach their audience then of course that choice should be protected under the umbrella of freedom of expression. I am a parent of three young children and I take that responsibility very seriously. It is my intention to provide my children with the tools and good sense to identify and sensibly deal with the “bad stuff” out there that I won’t always be able to protect them from. Penalizing the artists for airplay is, of course, ridiculous. Regardless, I think the government should focus its resources elsewhere.

–Mark Barden

What has happened to this country? It’s moved so far to the right, it’s pathetic. Indecent people will make indecent music and the industry will pimp anything profitable. What we can’t have is a clueless government evaluating creativity on any level, especially since their greed and lack of common humanity has created the “indecent” environment that people have to struggle so hard against. Happily we also have great music to inspire us.

–Paul Jacobs

I don’t believe there should be any censorship in someone’s art. There are enough safeguards in distribution, packaging and parenting to protect kids so artists can feel free to create what they wish. I’m getting very worried about the erosion of our civil liberties under this morally corrupt administration.

–Leo Traversa

As a father of two young daughters, it is my responsibility — not the government’s, the school system’s, or anyone else’s — to impart to them a sense of cultural awareness and personal morality through my actions and interactions with the world at large and with them. If we as a society spent more time educating our children to make better choices, there would be no issues of morality or decency. As parents and as citizens we need to take personal responsibility for our choices (and those of our children) and spend less time criticizing and policing our neighbors.

–John Isley

Why is it that the same people who clamor about how big government should not interfere with people’s lives are the same ones who also try and legislate “decency,” as well as a woman’s right to choose, not to mention access to birth control?

–Josh Rabinovich

If an “indecent” song gets on the air, it’s the responsibility of the program director or D.J., not the person who wrote it. Why does that even have to be explained? Obviously, this is an attempt by Congress to stop “questionable” material from being created in the first place and to erode the rights provided us in the First Amendment. My guess is that, pretty soon, the Republican party is going to declare the Constitution unconstitutional.

–Joel Gelpe

Most people automatically think of sex when they hear the word “indecency”, but I am sickened by the glorification of violence and killing that is the apparent raison d’etre for a lot of music that is popular with young people. I find this the real indecency. I was recently seated on an airplane behind a young boy who was with his mother, and he was wearing the most offensive garment I have ever seen. It was a jacket advertising some heavy metal rock band, and the entire back of the garment was a grisly, gory mess depicting a human skull with a dagger thrust into the eye socket, and blood dripping and spurting everywhere. I could not believe that his mother allowed him to wear that bit of horror anywhere at all, let alone sitting next to her in a public place. Apparently images like this, and names like “Megadeth” and “Kill ‘Em All” appeal to a large segment of our culture’s population, who I guess go around secretly wishing they were killing a lot of people.

Should the government do something about this? I don’t know. It shouldn’t really be the government’s job to, and it is a slippery slope. But aren’t there laws about incitement to violence? If violence in our society spirals more and more out of control, it may have to.

–Scott Robinson

Government shouldn’t protect people from exposure to indecency. People should be protected from exposure to indecent government.

–Pete Macnamara

The idea that a government can or should take the place of personal choice and parental responsibility is offensive to those of us who love freedom. A government should only be allowed to “protect” its citizens from the forced exposure to material that is generally considered to be indecent, and I can think of no occasion in today’s society other than visual images in public spaces where individuals could be forced to be exposed to what someone might consider “indecency.” In no case whatsoever should a government be allowed to fine musicians if they wrote something “indecent” that wound up on the radio or TV airwaves. That’s outrageous. I have three children, two of whom are teenagers, yet I have no tolerance for government censorship.

–Erick Storckman

I’m assuming here that a song’s “indecency” is probably determined by the lyrical content. No one seems to care about “obscene” instrumental content. How about fines for a lousy backing track, or bad voice leading? Over-compression?

Seriously, the idea that a law like this was considered by Congress is certainly a matter of over-reaching by special interest groups in the political arena who have a conservative social agenda. The Republicans reached out to those groups to secure their victory in the last two presidential elections, and they want their rewards now. I would worry much more about the general cultural chilling effect that Bush’s judicial appointments are going to have than these isolated examples of political grandstanding.

–Kevin Bents

The idea that musicians should be fined for writing music that some people consider indecent is absolutely absurd. If people don’t like it, then they shouldn’t buy the CD’s. If they don’t like the subject matter of a film, don’t see it. If it’s a book, don’t read it. Can we now fine Phillip Roth, Stanley Kubric, Erica Jung? How about Michelangelo? As a parent I have no problem with a rating and warning system for music. Nor would I have a problem with age requirements for certain material that might be unsuitable or confusing for young people much in the same way that there are restrictions for filmgoers depending on content. Though I would say that overall I find Marilyn Manson, Eminem, and others far less offensive and disturbing than what I often see in movies that are shown on TV at 7 p.m. in which people are shot, raped, and dismembered.

–David Finck

It depends on what decency means. I’m generally against censorship because sooner or later certain political views or labor organizing may end up with the label “indecent.”

–Mark McGowan

Legislating morality on any governmental level is a dangerous proposition. At any given point there are too many opinions regarding what is considered decent, and for what mass of people. There are segments of this country’s population that feel that entire musical genres are indecent, or “Satanic,” and if left to their judgment, the consequences become far reaching indeed. At one point both jazz and Beethoven were considered “of the devil.” Personally, I’d hate to do without either.

–Steven Bishop

It’s none of the government’s goddamned business! So-called “indecency” is just their lame way of attempting to control others’ expression because of their own uptight attitudes about sex. Those attitudes in no way give them the right to impose these artificial and very subjective standards onto the rest of us. The First Amendment still holds: if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it!

–Rob Scheps

Music is obviously a form of speech. I cannot imagine why it should not be protected and regulated in precisely the same manner as other forms of speech, including political speech and pornography. I am a parent of two musicians, and I ardently hope that their First Amendment rights will not be infringed upon by bigots and prudes.

–John Mark Rozendaal

If we let the current Congress decide what “indecency” is and impose fines on it, I may as well break up my band right now. I wish this country would get out of the Stone Age and deal with real problems like, say, Congressional corruption or war profiteering. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I’d make it my responsibility to bring up “decent” kids. I’d start by encouraging them to think for themselves. Then they can decide what decent is.

–Joel Shelton