I was listening to the radio the other day when a gangsta rap song came on. It was the usual cacophony of blandly repetitive backbeats and thuggishly obnoxious lyrics. This particular rapper was describing all of the creative things he would do to anyone who crossed him, most of which involved guns or the antagonist’s family members. It was hard to follow though because many words had been replaced by a spliced-in silence or edited out of the song entirely. Good old radio, protecting the innocent ears of the youth.
The United States has always emphasized moral virtue, whether or not it acts in accordance with it. The government has traditionally been a fan of the “see no evil” strategy of vice – if we don’t see it, hear it or have it available to us, then we won’t do it ourselves. That’s what censorship policies are for. This strategy contrasts with the education theory of vice, which argues that if we understand a particular sin’s negative effects, we are less likely to deviate because we are rational agents. It’s like the difference between prohibition and Alcoholics Anonymous to solve a problem with drunkards.
So I found myself questioning the effectiveness of censorship policies as I listened to this song. It doesn’t make sense that we can hear all of these violent or crude stories, but God forbid we should hear a four-letter word. I am not sure what the purpose of language censorship is. What we don’t hear in rap songs on the radio, we hear in the eloquent and articulate vocabularies of the people around us, who speak almost exclusively in four-letter words. So much for protecting the ears of the innocent.
The fallacy of censorship continues into television. We can see countless representations of horrific and grotesque murders every day on hundreds of channels. Violence, drugs and death are OK, but no nudity, please; we must maintain our standards of decency. That won’t stop us from going as close as we possibly can to the line though. Just watch MTV. There are things already shown on TV that are more lewd, sexual or indecent than a naked body, yet that is still censored.
The biggest problem with censorship is that there doesn’t seem to be a point to it. It appears that right now, censorship is based on a moral justification. The problem with moral justifications is that they are far too subjective and relative to be useful as they are currently implemented. This results in a censorship policy that focuses on trivial things like swearing, negating any good reason for it.
Censorship has even moved beyond the moral purpose of its inception. It now tries to silence things that may be offensive to someone, which these days can be just about anything. It doesn’t stop there either. With the recent wave of patriotism and Patriot Acts, I can imagine a day when the government tries to censor anything that might be interpreted as dissent. Madonna had to fight to show her political music video, and a George Michael music video containing political commentary is banned in this country. These indicate that the censorship of dissent may not be too far off, after all.
As it exists right now, censorship is terribly ineffective. It protects us from nothing and is too morally presumptuous. And as anyone young knows, prohibiting or censoring something only increases its allure and mystique, which goes against the point of restricting it. I think the current version of censorship is useless, and I think people need to be a little less reactionary to things they don’t like. If you are easily offended by something, try avoiding it instead of censoring it. If you have a problem with swearing, change the fucking channel.
Brian Nolan is a very recent UCSB graduate.