Today, in the 1990's, citizens in our society are being bombarded with obscene material from every direction. From the hate lyrics of Gun's 'N Roses to the satanic lyrics of Montley Crue and Marilyn Manson to the sexually explicit graphical content of today's movies, the issue is how much society is going to permit and where we, as a society, should we draw the line. The freedom of speech has always been considered a right, but that doesn't mean that you can shout, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater. The real question is whether such material is harmful or dangerous to our society.
Many people are asking whether or not we should censor offensive material. They believe that some material is too obscene for society to hear or see. The advocates of censorship get riled up because the movie rating council doesn't give a move an R-rating for having the occasional f-word. One rap group, 2 Live Crew, has already had one of their albums banned because in one song they used explicit references to male genitals and 87 references to oral sex. They used the word "bitch" more than 100 times and the f-word more than 200 times.
Although most people agree that we are being overwhelmed with offensive material, there is no consensus on how to deal with the problem. There are three possible solutions. The first is the possibility of government censorship, which would include laws and penalties for breaking these laws. The second solution is self-imposed censorship by individuals and corporations. The third solution is total free speech with no censorship.
The first possible solution is government censorship. In the past government legal actions have been taken to control offensive messages. For example, in 1988, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to appear on a Kansas City, Missouri public access cable channel. The city council decided that it would be better to shut the public access cable channel down instead of letting the KKK air their show. Later, under the pressure of being sued, the city council reversed their decision.
Critics of this sort of action agree that these offensive messages do exist, but legal action is not the way to deal with them. They believe that no individual acts the way the messages portray just because the messages exist. Another belief is that legal actions will intimidate creative people because it makes them afraid of having to pay a fine to the government for violating obscenity laws.
The second possible solution is private-sector censorship. While some people feel that government officials are the best way to restrict offensive messages, others feel that self- censorship is a more effective method. A recent series of incidents suggests that executives in many private firms have begun doing just that. Book publishers, TV stations, and others have drawn the line when faced with words or images that are tasteless or offensive. For example, in 1990, Andy Rooney, a CBS news correspondent, was suspended for his racist remark, "Blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones... have the most children."
Another episode of self-imposed censorship is when George Michael released his song "I Want Your Sex." In 1987, AIDS and other sexual diseases were rampantly spreading and his song condoned casual sex. The MTV executives also sent the video for this song back because of the explicit, sexual images.
A third incident happened when MTV drew the line again, this time with Madonna's video for "Justify My Love." They said that the video illustrates Madonna's erotic fantasies. It was said to be "too hot to handle."
The advocates of the second solution agree that America is suffering from a deluge of offensive messages, but they feel that the best way of dealing with the problem is not government censorship, but private-sector censorship.
The critics of this point of view think that private-sector censorship will not be enough. They believe that the entertainment industry will not be able to control itself. Private-sector restrictions do not have the authority of the law, therefore they cannot successfully draw the line between what can and cannot be said in public.
The third and final possible solution is no censorship at all. While many Americans are troubled by what they feel is offensive speech, and feel that it should be restricted by law, advocates of the third solution disagree. They feel that there is more harm in restricting free speech than by the offensive speech itself. In the bill of rights, the first amendment says, "Congress shall make no long abridging the freedom of speech." The first amendment was intended to protect the minorities from the tyranny of the majorities. The advocates of this view feel that the minority has a right to express themselves regardless of the opinion of the majority.
Free speech matters because it encourages creativity. Without the freedom of speech, America would probably be dull and drab like a communist country such as the former USSR. For example, the comedy of Andrew Dice Clay, considered offensive by some, shouldn't be censored from those who find him humorous
Freedom of speech is an important part of any democratic country. While some people may find Rush Limbaugh's portrayal of President Clinton offensive, his show should not be censored. This is the price that we pay to live freely in a democratic society.
Censorship does not have to be the solution. You always have the right to change the channel or put down a book. You have control over what you hear, see, or read. You are not forced to see or hear the offensive speech.
Opponents of the "first amendment view" believe that "just saying no" is not enough. For example, children most likely will not say no. This is why these people believe that the government should at least have the right to censor what children see.
Some people believe that censorship is the answer, others do not. I believe that this issue will be left up to the courts to decide. I fear that the media may become a swamp of regulations with no more entertainment value whatsoever, and I hope that this never happens. I think that the first amendment is a great right and that we should never abridge it.
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