Pop and Circumstance

Rudolph Giuliani made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, bearing the message that “It’s okay to laugh again.” If only it were that simple. The past couple of weeks have been painful; they have brought hurt to every American citizen. And with that hurt comes an increased sensitivity. So, while it may be time to laugh again, right now not everyone is going to laugh at something that reminds us of our pain.

Nowhere is this heightened sensitivity more evident than in the entertainment industry, where artists, executives, and advertisers are as we speak altering their products to make them more acceptable to post-World Trade Center America. Anything that may be even remotely construed as offensive in light of the events of Sept. 11 is ending up on the cutting room floor. Which begs the question: does sensitivity breed censorship? And if so, is this censorship positive or negative?

I think we all can agree that certain things are just inappropriate right now. For instance, the record label 75Ark decided to change the cover art for rap duo The Coup’s new album because the original cover depicted the rappers blowing up the World Trade Center with their hands on the detonator. Even though they designed the cover in July, that’s a pretty tasteless album cover. While I support the group’s rights to release that album, I applaud the label for stepping in and doing away with potentially harmful album artwork.

But what’s strange is that the hyper-sensitive entertainment industry is hell-bent on removing almost every single reference to terrorism, planes, the World Trade Center, or disasters from upcoming movies, TV, and music. An episode of Friends had to be re-shot because it was originally set in an airport. Movies such as the Die Hard trilogy cannot be shown on TV because their plots involve terrorism. Even the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to New York City has been pulled from syndication because it features the World Trade Center buildings. This can’t be necessary.

Most disconcerting of all is the list of pop songs marked as inappropriate by Clear Channel, a corporation that owns nearly all Top 40 radio stations in the country and 60 percent of the rock markets as well. There is some confusion as to whether they have actually banned the songs or simply recommended that stations not play them, but it’s a good bet that this is de facto censorship. Predictably, some of the songs listed are graphic and morbid (Megadeth, Metallica, et al.) and may very well be inappropriate, but others have no place on such a list (and I would agree that there is no place for the list itself). “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens are all banned, not for their offensiveness, but for their politically incorrect cries for peace as our country rolls toward war. “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Under the Bridge” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers – these songs have nothing to do with the terrorist attacks! The entire catalogue of Rage Against the Machine is on the list too, so this is clearly about politics, not healing a nation. If you want to take a look at the full list, go to http://www.michaelmoore.com/mirrors/banned_songs_list1.htm. Various local radio stations not under Clear Channel’s control, including Williams’ own WCFM, have made it clear that they have the right to play any song on the list.

Clear Channel’s forbidden song list illustrates sensitivity taken to its extreme: prohibiting any sentiment that diverges from a politically correct agenda. During wartime, First Amendment rights are often the first to go (see every American war in recent history), and I urge all of my readers to be aware of this. Since entertainment is probably the most visible component of American life, it has suffered the most. Bill Maher’s late night talk show lost some of its sponsors when Maher criticized Bush’s foreign policy. Maher was roasted in the press and forced to make an apology. When several television network news correspondents voiced their skepticism about the White House’s statement that Air Force One was a terrorist target, the White House refused to return their calls for a long time.

In what was the best speech I have heard to date about the terrorist attacks, Jon Stewart remarked that where he once saw the World Trade Center buildings from his apartment, he now sees the Statue of Liberty. Let’s not lose sight of it.

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