Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say


I like controversial music, there I said it but a lot of so-called controversial artists aren’t actually that controversial, its’ a subjective term. What might offend you might not offend me and vice versa. It still makes me chuckle when I look back and see what was considered dangerous.  Take a band like 2 Live Crew who were known for their sexually explicit lyrical content, videos and stage shows. As a kid I remember news reports of record shop owners going to prison for selling the album, that’s how much of a threat they were considered. Or take a look at the penis landscape poster designed by Alien creator HR Giger that was included with The Dead Kennedys ‘Frankenchrist’ album. You could say it was a metaphor for how Americans were being screwed by the system, which knowing The Kennedys political persuasions wouldn’t be that far off the mark. There are any number of reasons that can be used to explain the inclusion of said poster but whatever that might be the fallout of it led to The Dead Kennedys and Alternative Tentacles being dragged to court as well as the eventual dissolution of the band in 1986. Slayer was accused of inspiring 2 ‘fans’ to murder a young girl as part of some ritual satanic sacrifice. Marilyn Manson was blamed for The Columbine Massacre by influencing cowardly killers’ ‎Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favourite composer, who still to this day causes controversy in Israel whenever a performance of his music is scheduled. NWA and Bodycount’s songs about the police got them into a whole heap of trouble, with actor Charlton Heston trying to persuade Time Warner’s company executives into dropping Body Count’s S/T debut over the song ‘Cop Killer’. Ice-T eventually decided to release a version of the album replacing the track with ‘Freedom of Speech’, a collaborative effort with Jello Biafra featuring Jimi Hendrix providing background musical accompaniment (Foxy Lady I believe).

Some other notable examples that come to mind are Black Sabbath being seen as devil worshippers who frequently would have hardcore fundamentalist Christians at their shows trying to disrupt proceedings. Iron Maiden’s albums would be set on fire in public places by these same lunatics nearly a decade later. Despite those bands being harmless working class kids who enjoyed watching horror films and playing dark music they were seen as downright frightening and offensive by a group of unenlightened people. Look what happened with Stewart Lee who managed to royally piss off various Christian groups with Jerry Springer the Opera. So why is it that one band is considered ‘dangerous’ to one group of people yet relatively harmless to another? Its’ all a matter of interpretation to paraphrase Dee Snider during the infamous PMRC hearings, if you go looking to be offended then more than likely you will be. The irony about people being offended and trying to ban music, books, art and film is that it will only draw attention to said art form even more. This is often the result of well-meaning but ultimately misguided people trying to ban what they deem offensive.

We live in a democracy and people have a right to listen to what they choose. I grew up listening to Slayer, GG Allin, The Dwarves and The Mentors, very offensive outfits but they didn’t make me want to go out and rape, pillage, murder or sacrifice my first born to the devil. I have my own mind and am able to make my own personal choices as an intelligent and responsible adult. To ban any art form on the basis that it may corrupt people (the young and vulnerable in particular) is absurd, patronizing and ridiculous. It would be like banning all AC/DC records on the basis that their track ‘Night Prowler’ which allegedly inspired Richard Ramirez to murder innocent people may inspire potential killers in waiting to commit similar atrocities. Clearly the actions of such a minority of people would indicate that such troubled individuals already have unnatural latent thoughts brewing inside them as most of us who follow similar art forms wouldn’t behave in these ways. The wish to censor or ban perceived offensive or controversial art forms is a way of keeping people in control and has been done throughout the ages. There are countries in the middle-east that ban western music and we all know the Bible belt in America is less than tolerant of anything that appears to contradict the accepted wholesome Christian worldview. After all, anything that challenges existing beliefs is bound to prove a threat to the status quo. I understand protecting children from unsuitable material which isn’t age appropriate but the way to do this to start a dialogue not overreact and call for a nationwide or worldwide ban. Personally if I had a kid there is certain movies, books and music in my collection that I wouldn’t allow them to access until they were of an appropriate age, but that’s just plain common sense. I take offence at boy bands and R&B stars singing about making love than a few rock bands singing about the devil, but they have every right to exist. What am I going to do? Ask them to be banned because I don’t approve of how they are marketed to prepubescent girls? No, that is the responsibility of parents to determine what their kids should or shouldn’t be listening to, although I would be tempted to ask them to be banned for being shit, but that’s another matter altogether.

As you may have guessed from this piece, I am vehemently anti-censorship. My rights don’t end where your feelings begin. How can you make it an offence to be offended? This is about control and any system that restricts our freedom of speech and expression is to be viewed with extreme suspicion and distrust.