Recently in the news, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) fined Johnny Sauter, one of their drivers, $10,000 as well as charging him 25 points for “inappropriate” comments made after a BUSCH race in Las Vegas. The words said were at the conclusion of a race in which the driver had been putting his life on the line at over 200 mph. Fueled with adrenaline, the words spoken were not words ordinarily used by Sauter, however, NASCAR legislated just the same (McCormick). This case is the most recent of many that censorship has become a major battleground. Since first the shootings of April 1999 in Columbine Colorado, and most recently, the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show in which singer Justin Timberlake exposed the breast of fellow singer Janet Jackson, the government has made it its priority to influence the entertainment industry to put into place new rules, such as the one in NASCAR, to regulate “inappropriate” material, therefore increasing censorship. On top of this, the industry itself has begun to attempt a type of self-censorship. Although censorship has been around for ages, what is it and why does it exist? Censorship in today’s era is a higher power attempting to prevent disturbing or painful sights, sounds, or any other information form from reaching the public in order to keep a feeling of well moral being. However, the main question in today’s times is whether or not censorship is necessary in today’s world, and if the government should be able to force censorship on the entertainment industry.
Though the case involving the NASCAR driver is the most recent ridiculous form of censorship, it has taken place throughout the history of entertainment itself. However, in the past ten years, after censorship laws had begun to loosen, the media and the government has once again begun to pull tighter on the censorship blindfold, covering society’s eyes. After the shootings in Colorado, many wrongfully took up arms against the entertainment industry, convincing society that the blame for the teen’s actions should fall on the violence they viewed in movies and on TV. Therefore, following the shootings, the House of Representatives held a hearing to help determine any new bills that should be put into place to restrict the entertainment industry. As written by Virginia Postrel in an article for Reason magazine, “The agenda was to make popular art into the equivalent of cigarettes: a demon drug sold by greedy liars to corrupt our youth. Joe Camel has, sadly, not gone away,’ said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (R-Conn.), the committee’s most eager attacker. He’s gone into the entertainment business'” (Postrel).
After the hearings, the House put down two bills that would have restricted the rights of the entertainment industry. However, the Clinton administration had a different view of the matter. As the magazine article reads, “It acted unilaterally to appease the soccer-mom gods.” The Clinton administration then ordered the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether or not violent movies and video games effect American youth. By putting these investigations into effect, the Clinton administration influenced victims to attack the entertainment industry with suits in hopes that their response would be the censorship of their own material. (Postrel)
Now, since the controversial halftime show during Super Bowl XXXVII, the entertainment industry has reopened its eyes towards its material, this time looking more toward its sexual content. After the incident, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was sent in to investigate to find out whether or not the broadcast violated federal indecency laws. However, unlike the case involving Columbine, the majority of the American population was not behind this investigation. As shown by an online poll done for the Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs, published on CBSNEWS.com, nearly 80 percent of respondents said it was a waste of money to investigate, and only 18 percent felt that the actions during the halftime show were illegal. However, the fact that the investigation took place shows once again that the government has already and continues to tighten its censorship regulations as if all of a sudden it is the responsibility of the industry to instill a moral change in society.
There are many arguments to why censorship should be allowed. The first reason is that the mass media is the main source of the education of today’s society. Second, the affect of the media on society is apparently harmful. The third is the supposed dysfunctional society raised by modern media not being able to respect a “civilized republic.” The last is that the government and the government only has the ability to censor uncouth material (Lowenthal).
Although these arguments may seem as if they have some ground, they do not. First of all it is no doubt that the mass media is the main education source for society. However, this education is not for all ages of society and it is a parent’s responsibility to enforce social norms as to what minors should or should not watch. Although some television may be viewed as destructive to young minds, not all television is destructive to all minds. By allowing government to censor the mass media not only is the First Amendment being impinged upon, but also, the government would be given unlimited control over what society watches. In doing this, the government is given power over the “main source of the education,” which would allow it the future ability to show any of its own propaganda, therefore giving the government the ability to brainwash America’s youth.
There have been many nations in the past that have used government censorship in order to shield the eyes of its population. One of these nations is one of the most infamous in the minds of the American public. From the mid to late 30’s to the end of World War II, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party used the media in order to persuade its masses into one of history’s bloodiest wars. Although the media now is, in theory, unbiased, when one gives any government the ability to pass laws that will censor the mass media, it gives that government the ability to control the masses themselves. As shown prior to WWII, Hitler was able to blame struggles of the German economy and society on the Jewish population. One must not give any government this power of control.
Many who do not wish for the government to have control to censor have come up with a new idea called self-censorship. This is the idea that the entertainment industry itself should be required to censor its own material. Although this may keep the government away from the ability to censor and not impinge on the First Amendment, one must see that this form of censorship is just as wrong. Although it is not unconstitutional for the entertainment industry to do so, by promoting self-censorship, artists, directors, and all other contributors to modern media are still being kept from expressing themselves. This is true because, although the government would not keep one from creating their own art, the industry which would be responsible for having one’s art viewed would simply not show it. Therefore it would be nearly impossible for the creator’s art to ever be seen. In an article for the Wall Street Journal promoting self-censorship, Michael Eisner wrote, “Citizens fighting like hockey players over sexual infidelities and worse; rock groups advocating violence against women and police – these are permissible under the First Amendment. But they are not desirable if we aspire to call ourselves civilized” (Eisner). While one may agree that these are uncivilized matters, one still must not censor the material. Rather, one must leave it up to the free individual what them, themselves, perceives as either right or wrong. While the news feels it is responsible to live up to the “community standard of taste,” the entertainment industry should not. The Industry must only be allowed to inform the public of material, it is the job of the parents or adults themselves to choose to view it or not.
When one stops and looks at society today one can see that it is morally bankrupt. However, allowing the government to censor the media is not the answer, nor is it to allow the entertainment industry to censor its artists. Society today must find a way to own up to its own moral disgrace. By putting blame else ware, parents, as well as other authority figures, are not solving the problem, rather, they are throwing dry wood on a fire which is already beginning to burn out of control. Censorship is not, nor has it ever been an answer. It is simply another way to cover up this modern reality, and though at times it may be harsh, it is what is real that makes one into who he or she shall become. By allowing censorship, one is hurting both those who create media art and the audience for whom the art is meant. Therefore, as quoted from Postrel’s article “Creative Matrix,” “Curbing new ideas hurts not only individual creators but the audience for which they create and the posterity that inherits their legacy.”
Lowenthal, David. “Why the Mass Media Must Be Censored.” Furist October 1998.
Eisner, Michael E. “A Little Restraint, Please.” The Wall Street Journal 24 April 1998.
Postrel, Virginia. “Creative Matrix.” Reason August/September 1999.
McCormick, Steve. “Nascar Censorship Reaching New Heights.” 28 Nov 2004
Associated Press. “Poll: Janet’s Revelation No Crime.” 21 Feb 2004. 28 Nov 2004