Art Here and Now
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Rockstars Still Censored After All These Years

Any decent rockstar by nature is sexual and rebellious in one way or another. By nature this flies in the face of people who, for example, own tv or internet companies, or are heads of government big and small, and want to keep things nice and normal and non-rebellious. There is a history of censorship in all parts of the world. In some places it’s considered typical. Whatever you think of this in other cultures, the people and government of the United States pronounce boldly that Freedom of Speech is one of the things that sets it apart. But here too there is a long history of censorship that stretches up to this week, with AT&T’s censorship of a live Pearl Jam concert webcast. Censorship happens for all kinds of reasons — sexual, political, religious, financial. Here are a wide swath of examples.

One of the first was Elvis, filmed from the waist up by the Ed Sullivan show because we certainly couldn’t handle his gyrating hips.

Ed Sullivan strikes again, having The Rolling Stones sing “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”.

Which was much later parodied on The Simpsons with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

A lot of time passes with other incidents of censorship of many kinds, through The Summer of Love, the Vietnam War, the punk movement of the 70’s, and we hit upon Madonna, who has made a career of doing things to push people’s buttons. The Pepsi commercial she films is shown only once because of the controversy surrounding the catholic overtones in the video for Like A Prayer.

Years after this, Erotica is banned by MTV because it is too, well, erotic. Or maybe just odd.

and we come to the start of the Iraq War and the Dixie Chicks, who received death threats from their comments at a concert, and later turned this into a feature film documentary.

And this week, Pearl Jam makes similarly hot political lyric swaps during a live webcast, which is censored in the live feed by AT&T (or one of their contractors). I’m honestly not a big fan of Pearl Jam’s music (they are one of the first to popularize the Yarling vocal style, which to me sounds pretty terrible). As people though they seem to stand up for what they feel is right, such as their long fight with Ticketmaster (a topic for another post).

It’s probably no surprise that I believe in freedom of expression. But there is a long history of this kind of censorship, throughout the history of rock, and even before it with Swing, or Kurt Weill in pre-WWII Germany. Each time it happens, people seem to react with shock and surprise, like it’s the first time all over again. Then again I also think it’s strange that people in power (whether corporate, media, family or government) are still shocked by what rockstars do on stage. Elvis’s hips, Madonna’s religion, Janet Jackson’s breast, Pearl Jam’s two changed lyrics. Somehow with all that’s going on in the world, these simple acts are still taboo.

Get Pearl Jam, Elvis, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Simpsons, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, The Dixie Chicks or Kurt Weill.

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posted by Trout Monfalco