Should I or Should I Not Say?: The Censorship of Words

Backstory

Last summer, I realized Eve released a new album. Eve being one of the few artists I listen to that when I see that little "E" next to the album, I actually wonder if every song is going to sound like $#&! %$#* @*$!.  But I noticed Missy Elliott was featured in a song and was so excited to see two of favorite female MCs back at it, I bought it.

The "E," which denotes explicit content, is the MP3 equivalent of the parental advisory labels that appear on CDs. Except, nothing stops me from buying the explicit content online. I'm sure there are switches parents can check, but I'm also pretty sure their kids know more about getting around that than the parents know about actually setting the feature...

Anyway, I give the album a listen and am shocked when I hear the b word in the middle of the chorus. Immediately, I assume I downloaded the wrong version by accident, but when I double check, it is in fact the clean version! To prove to myself I wasn't crazy, I searched my music for an older Eve song--"Gangsta B's (featuring Da Brat and Trina)"--from her Scorpion album which was released in 2001. As I surmised, the b word is bleeped out every time on the edited song. I've notice lately, the only words record labels consider explicit now are apparently the n word and the f word. O_o

A large number of my Christian friends are against the idea of listening to secular music in general. Two of those friends have already written well thought out posts on the topic:

  1. Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil -- by FantasticFo
  2. Beware the evils lurking in our music -- by Danyelle Davis

I agree with every thing these ladies have said, but as a writer my ideas on censorship of words get a little more complex. 

Music Lyrics vs. Poetry vs. Censorship

Music and poetry go hand in hand, after all lyric is a type of poetry and thus lyrics to a song are a poem (though often with mainstream music it doesn't feel like it).

I've often been caught at a standstill on the topic of censorship and boycotting secular music, solely because I find there are a decent amount of songs that are labeled explicit that are actually really good poetry. The conservative voice in my head may be yelling bloody murder at the artists, but the writer in me definitely sees where they were going artistically. Below are some examples (click the song title for full lyrics):

Violence

Song: "Russian Roulette"     Album: Rated R     Artist: Rihanna

Yes, this song is violent. It's about playing with your life, and gambling—all things that as my friends and grandfather (who's a preacher) point out as anti-Christian. However, it's a brilliant analogy of her personal situation: falling in love with the wrong person. I don't know Rihanna personally, so I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure she did not know that Chris Brown was a woman beater when she began dating him. I think her actions post-incident are not necessarily in her best interest, but that doesn't change what happened before he hit her: she took a chance and fell in love with him. The song expresses this perfectly; you can't always predict when the risk you take is going to backfire vs. turn out in your favor. In some instances there are warning signs and indicators a person can and should pick up on that should steer them away from unfavorable situations. This is even expressed in the lyric:

And then I get a scary thought, That he's here--means he's never lostRihanna

When I think about the possibilities of what the lyrics may mean to her or for other people who've been in that situation, it's hard for me to classify the song as "vulgar," "explicit," and "bad." It's hard for me to say "Oh, Rihanna, you should have walked away from that song. That shouldn't be playing on our radio!" To me that's like saying books like Roots, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Hunger Games shouldn't have been written...

Curse Words

Song: "White America"     Album: The Eminem Show     Artist: Eminem

It's no secret that Eminem songs are laden with curse words. He caused a major controversy when he came on the rap scene. His lyrics aren't any worse than other rappers of his heyday, though. So why the controversy? Because Eminem took hip-hop and rap from the 'hood, to mainstream white America. That's exactly what the song is about. Suddenly, people were worried about hip-hop and rap now that their kids were listening to it. Everything he says in the song is pure truth. Yeah, he drops the f bomb not once, not twice, but a couple times. But the question is, could he have created the same tone without it? Would you still feel the anger and tension? That's the poetic question to censorship, isn't it?

Sex

Song: "S.E.X."     Album: The Phoenix     Artist: Lyfe Jennings ft. Lala

Like the name of the song implies, the song is about sex--but it's not sexual. It's a conversation from a grown man to a young girl about thinking before she acts, respecting herself, and not letting sex control her decisions.
"You say that you're not ready for sex, but you're in love
He says if you really loved him, you would give it up
Momma says that's just a line guys use to get yo' stuff
Which one will you trust?Life Jennings
Now, I'm not saying you should be out listening to every song about sex, but this one... If I had a daughter, I'd definitely make her listen to it (along with A Rose is Still A Rose by Aretha Franklin). Sometimes, you gotta talk about tough topics. As I said earlier, I agree with the ladies above that you don't want to fill your head with garbage, but it's hard for me to say that in every case you should cut the violence, cut the curse words, and avoid topics such as sex.

Conclusion

I guess my overall stance is that "explicit" content should be viewed on a case by case basis, and taken in doses (you definitely don't want to end up talking like DMX or thinking like the garbage playing on the radio now).

Where do you stand on censorship? Do you think the truth, though not conforming to certain standards, should always be heard? Or do you think ugly truths should be sugar coated?

5 comments :

  1. To me, music is purely an expression and shouldn't always be taken literally. I think, today, many artists "coat" their music with metaphors and hidden meanings, that the listener cannot catch-up on.... but to the artist, it means something, even if it sounds like garbage to us. The main theme of "mainstream" music today (such as the radio) is "the come up" or "something from nothing," so I will pick on it among the many topics out there.... To me, there is a certain hidden power in these songs.... not to the listener (unless he/she is on his/her own journey to reach some type of goal), but to the artist who wrote it. Often, because of the language involved, many of these songs get dismissed, but I think it's all about perception.

    Obviously, each person will see a certain type of music (or the idea of music in general) differently. To me, music should make you think, reflect and feel. A good song will take you to places, memories or moments in life, whether good or bad... sometimes curse words ARE indeed necessary to reach those deep emotions.

    Lastly, to answer your Q: truth should never be censored. Ever.

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    1. Definitely agree that lyrics should not always be taken literally. As for songs that sound like garbage to us but meaning something to the artist, I can think of a lot songs that probably sound like garbage to the artist as well. I think there's a major difference when the artist has a hand in writing/producing their own album than just taking songs given to them. In some cases we definitely don't know how profound the song may be to the artist (or other people) At the same time, I agree with the bloggers I mentioned that if you are striving to uphold Christian values songs like "Bandz A Make Her Dance" are 99.9% likely to be garbage to you. I would side with you that truth should never be censored. My question was more of how should truth be expressed. For instance, if someone said "do I look fat?" you don't necessarily need to respond with "yes, you look like a hippo," something a little more tactful may get the point across just as well lol. This is the gray area I find with words.

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    2. Well, of course there will always be songs like that, that have no point or meaning whatsoever.... just "club music" that serve no purpose but to excite those that have had a drink too many.

      As far as how should truth be communicated, I believe in being blunt, but always within certain respect boundaries... but for an artist, that gray area is huge because of the different audiences they are A) trying to reach, or B) reaching, regardless of their intent.

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  2. I've never looked at it from an artist's stand point...using metaphors to express emotion. So, I never interpreted Russian Roulette in that manner. I just remembered the video and hoping she didn't shoot herself lol. Anyway, I just take the lyrics for face value-- and I'm steered away by the language in most. Everyone should definitely have the right to say what they wish, but I think the radios should monitor what's played in respect of children. If you want to hear explicit versions, I think you should do it in you on private space. Just my two cents.

    Thanks for the shoutout too!

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely! I was mad that the left the b word on my Eve CD--I paid for "clean" lyrics!

      And of course! Loved that post :-)

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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