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September 10, 1990 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-09-10

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The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 10, 1990 -- Page 17

IM

OBSCENITY
Continued from page 1

and I think that is most
unfortunate."

Censorship stifles
the revolution
by F±rrest Green 111
As lce-T preached in his timely "Freedom of Speech" from the album
Just Watch What You Say, "we've only got one right in the world today/
lIc oe Inve it, or throw the Constitution away," certain politicians and
o0W1; a s1E i convinced that they have a new enemy to destroy - the
First Amendment. From the furor over the Mapplethorpe exhibit in
Cincinnati to the harassment of rap figures NWA on the West coast, the
freedoms of expression and speech have become something debatable at
best. Concerned groups exhort us to write our local politicians, to speak
out in dissent of these recent attacks on artistic expression. But
realistically, we, the freakish, everyday people Frank Zappa championed
with the Mothers of Invention, actually have very little power even in that
sense. Who's to say that my letter won't make it past the trash bin?
The recent political stance taken by rap group 2 Live Crew isn't very
short of hilarious. "Banned in the USA" was a ludicrous thing that
could've single-hrndedly destroyed rap's recent formatting as a militant
medium. Quite possibly the biggest reason for the group's indulgence in
pseudo-political Pablum puking is that rebellion sells well. Rumor and
suspicion have it that the 2 Live Crew set themselves up for arrest by
playing the most conservative venues in Florida, taking notes from Public
Enemy's 1989 controversy regarding ex-member Professor Griff.
Certainly, attacking particular groups can only be construed as
offensive. Griff's paranoid diatribes directed toward Jews were both
slanderous and inexcusable. While his earlier position as an opponent of
the slandering and stereotyping of the black race gave him a justifiable
right to the title Minister of Information, Griff's L.A. Times interview
was downright pathetic. And Guns-n-Roses, who ironically have Slash, a
mulatto, playing guitar for brutally racist "songs" like "One In a Million,"
have walled themselves in through sheer desperation and stupidity. G 'n
R's method is shamelessly clear; by offending people in their possible
audience they hope to cram their rebellious image down America's throat.
The biggest irony to 2 Live Crew's "offensiveness" was the ruling
given by a federal judge who happened to be Black. This proved that
justice isn't necessarily color-blind, just conservative. L.A. rapper Ice
Cube explains the situation very succinctly with his tune, "Turn Off the
Radio" from Amerikkka's Most Wanted, "when you're out there kickin'
it with the brothers/. you don't care about lovers." The track basically
attacks the old school, rhythm and blues, then vilifies black radio for its
restrictive love song format. Rap is a music for the young and wild at
heart, whether white or Black.
The 2 Live Crew ruling sets a precedent that will hopefully shake up
the rappers, making them think before they go militant again. Quite
possibly, the greatest example of such is the identity of rap supergroup
Public Enemy. The aptly named act has had its share of criticism, outside
of music journalism, and this summer were refused security at some of
their shows. But in PE's context it seems very fitting. Chuck D. calls
himself a revolutionary, but his rhymes are designed to uplift, not to
destroy. "When I get mad, I put it down in a pad/give you something that
you never had," he says on "Welcome to the Terrordome" from Fear of a
Black Planet. PE's revolution will not be televised, because theirs is a
revolution of the mind.
While many recording "rebels" find it very cool to tweak conservative
noses, often the end is hardly worth the means. Another 2 Live Crew.
album might actually merit record-burning. As the crackdown ensues, it is
definitely important that we realize that Hitler started in much the same
way. However, it may be just as important to recognize when these attacks
have a definite underlying meaning to them. It may start with an end to
"Me So Horny," but who knows when relevant songs like "Fight the
Power" will follow?

deemed obscene a work must pass a
strict series of tests which includes:
not having any artistic value, having
to appeal to prurient interests, and
surpassing the boundaries of
"community standards."
"There's nothing obscene about
those pictures [the Mapplethorpe
exhibit]... I don't think any jury
would find it obscene," Lynn said.
"I even, frankly, don't believe the
2 Live Crew case, once it gets to
court in Florida, once a jury listens
to that, I don't think they can
honestly say that it's so far out of
touch with community standards that
it's obscene," he added.
,And we felt, like any
other law, these laws
should be enforced
regardless of whether
I don't like it or
someone else doesn't
like it.'
- Alan Wildmon
PR director of the
American Family
Association
While many say the debate is
based more on politics than
obscenity, Walser notes that "when
you start talking about censorship,
it's usually put in terms of
obscenity, and the way obscenity is
usually understood is something that
lacks political or artistic value and is
just ridiculously offensive. I find it
just about impossible to disentangle
political intent from obscenity."
Rackham Dean John D'Arms, a
member of the National Humanities
Alliance who testified at
Congressional hearings for the
National Endowment for the
Humanities, said he too believes
politics and obscenity are becoming
entangled. However, he said, this
should not be the case.
"France and other countries have
long regarded the support of culture,
including the arts, as a natural and
correct extension of politics," he
said, "Here we are exploiting politics
to reduce federal support for the arts,

Many supporters of the arts say
the effects of "anti-obscenity"
actions could affect the very basis of
self-expression. In fact, they may
already have had an effect because
self-censorship is becoming a worry
among artists. The threat of being
denied an NEA grant or being
arrested for a performance, many
fear, will lead to a chilling effect.
Rock critic Marshanoted, "A lot of
people in a lot of places quite
correctly feel threatened."
Walser elaborated further. "What
you really have to be afraid of, more
than legislation, more than being
arrested, although that's a real fear,
is being dropped from your record
label and that's where the censorship
especially takes place because the
record labels have been very
cowardly about speaking out against
any kind of censorship."

'Most of the stuff is
happening at the local
level. County sheriffsM
decide to get some
political points from a
piece of their
community by busting
the clerk at a porno
book store, the clerk
at a record store for
selling 2 Live Crew
tapes as if 2 Live
Crew does anything
other than reflect
what's really going on
in the culture.'
--Barry Lynn
legislative director of the
ACLU

Blumner describes this fear as
something which is spilling over
into the retail side of consumption.
"You see chain stores taking certain
videos and certain records off the
shelves making them unavailable. I
have received phone calls from video
store owners and record store owners
concerned about some of the things
they sell. There's quite a bit of self-
censorship occurring."
While self-censorship may
remain a legitimate threat, Lynn
predicts arrests and attempts at
prosecution will taper off. "The
culture in America just has moved to
the point, whether one likes it or
not, where things are said, images
are expressed, ideas are espoused that
are simply offensive to some people,
to lots of people, but they're also
expressed by lots of other people and
in that kind of a context, I don't
think you're going to find 2 Live
Crew's lyric to be legally obscene,"
he said. "Not in the state of Florida,
not anywhere else."
Tomorrow: obscenity legislation in
Michigan

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