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Censorship in America


When you censor someone, you potentially censor their ability to freely express themselves. However, there are many who take it upon themselves to incessantly scrutinize and block that which doesn't appeal to them. It may be for religious, moral, or other personal reasons. Those who enjoy the material are censored from it themselves. Do we really need to be censored in a country that allows us the freedom of speech?

One of the more famous examples of censorship got the United States Supreme Court involved. George Carlin, a comedian whose material is usually edgy and not accepted by certain audiences, was involved in a case in 1978 (FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation, April 18, 1978) stating that indecent material should not be played on the radio or television. A man was riding in the car with his son when the routine "Filthy Words," a routine which discusses the seven dirty words you can't say on television, was on the air. He heard the routine and complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) They then, in turn, issued a sanction against the radio station that played it for "airing indecent material." Pacifica filed an order with the Supreme Court asking for the sanction to be upheld, but the Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of the FCC.

After this case, the FCC was granted the power to censor that which they found indecent or obscene. It formally established regulation on indecent material on radio and television. Why couldn't the man have simply changed the station? It was obviously something he didn't enjoy, so why not do without and listen to something more suitable? Does a government run body really need to regulate what we see and hear?

Some will say yes, as children could be exposed to such coarse material. However, with the advent of child blocks and parental controls, parents have the choice to block out that which is considered unsuitable for them. Parents can also teach their children proper manners and inform them as to when certain words and phrases are deemed acceptable. Parental concerns are greatly understandable; they don't want the younger generation exposed to filth. Yet, by imposing an appointed body which censors media, you assume that people don't have the logic to watch what they say among mixed company, or in other places where coarse material would be considered unnecessary. You also assume that they don't have the capacity to choose what they want to watch or hear in accordance with their convictions.

Others say that freedom of expression is directly correlated with freedom of speech, which is granted to us by the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution. They believe their opinions should be able to be freely expressed, as well as their artistic and creative ways. Censorship undoubtedly constricts creative expression, as you must limit what you put in your material in accordance with the FCC. However, degree is a different story. You can still entertain people without obscenity - that has been proven since the advent of TV and radio.

One of the more famous forms of failed censorship was the "wardrobe malfunction" on February 1, 2004 during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII. At the end of the song, a portion of Janet Jackson's top was ripped off, revealing her breast. Soon, 500,000 complaints rained over CBS. The FCC, naturally, sprang into action, fining the network $500,000 - a fine that was later contested, dropped and now being reconsidered.

Soon after, things got a bit more PG on the television. Rear male nudity on soap operas - which was considered appropriate - was edited out. Halftime shows and performances for other sporting events were cleaned up and stripped of any sexual innuendo or references, including lyrics. My favorite rock radio station in Michigan changed their format to soft rock in the wake of the controversy. Laura Bush said that "our kids don't need to see that on TV." Millions in the US echoed that sentiment. Thanks to Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and her star-adorned breast, TV and radio became even more unbearably restricted. All the uproar over a breast that flashed for two seconds. Nah, we didn't have a conflict in Iraq to worry about or other injustices and things of pertinence to put higher in the queue - just a two-second shot of a breast. Your kids will probably see one every now and then.

That's where the "right from wrong" thing comes in. Parents could always explain what happened at that moment. They could tell them that sort of thing isn't SUPPOSED to happen; just like in life, unexpected things happen. I'd like to meet a parent like that. Judging by the number of complaints, these kids were swiftly whisked away to bed and told never to speak of it.

The September 11 attacks also called for censorship. Clear Channel Communications released a list of songs that radio stations shouldn't play. The list included "Hells Bells" by AC/DC, "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins, or any song that had a title or subject matter dealing with fire, the sky, air, tickets, ducking and running, rockets, etc. I found it to be pretty ridiculous. I guess the nation needs more censorship after a traumatic event? Do we become more sensitive? Obviously, because there was no major uproar following the release of that list. I find that sad.

The censorship debate will continue for years to come, but don't let it make you stop enjoying the entertainment you seek today. And remember kids, once you hit 18, the adults can't censor everything that might interest you or make you think anymore. That's Censorship in America!

John Danz Jr. is a work in progress, who enjoys the freedom of writing. Read more by John Danz Jr.. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter:

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