Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Thursday, 16 February 2017


Please take heed of the warning below - this post is about videos/music subjected to censorship, so view/read with caution and not with younger children in sight of your screen.
As I recently returned to this topic, I've added a few more examples below, and I'll develop this further when time permits, perhaps into an exam case study on the mediareg blog (where there are further resources on this). Use the censorship tag to find more on this blog.

Here's a fairly recent example that I've blogged on in detail over on the mediareg blog.

There are many interesting, highly readable books on the topic - I'll add details of some I've read as + when time permits, but you can find examples with a simple 'banned music' search (eg AmazonUK). I'll be reading Southall's book shortly - available on Kindle Unlimited if you're a subscriber.
Brian Southall’s history of the songs, performers, record covers BANNED by ‘the authorities’ includes the incredible facts behind stories such as…
Roger Daltrey trying to perfect Sonny Boy Williamson’s stuttering, Cliff Richard banning himself, the airbrushing out of Alice Cooper’s ‘penis’ on a record cover, and attempts by USA citizens to get Justin Bieber deported to his native Canada.

Did you know that Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus’ was the first single banned from UK’s Top of the Pops and that before that No.1 hit with Jane Birkin he’d completed an earlier version with Brigitte Bardot?
What was the real reason the Sex Pistols were prevented from topping the singles chart with ‘God Save The Queen’ in Silver Jubilee week 1977?
Why did a falling out between Terence Stamp and The Smiths create a collectors’ item in 1984?
Boycotted, banned and the subject of death threats – what exactly was The Dixie Chicks’ crime in 2003?

NB: we also discussed the economic context of the music industry: the concentration of ownership (one of Chomsky's five filters in his propaganda model; filters remove radical counter-hegemonic content before it can shape public discourse or opinion), or consolidation as free market apologists would prefer.

With such scale, the pressure from threats of boycott, often exerted through campaigners targeting advertisers who put ads on some other wing of a conglomerate, can be immense - advertiser power being another of Chomsky (and Herrmann's) propaganda model. Madonna lost a multi-million Pepsi sponsorship when she dared to depict a black Jesus in her Like a Prayer; Time-Warner famously pulled Ice-T's Cop Killer after facing high level political and police pressure, and threats from shareholders. Ice-T now claims the decision was his; he left the record label after the row over this - the Wiki is a short, informative read, but you can find further accounts easily.
When I started out, [Warner] never censored us. Everything we did, we had full control over. But what happened was when the cops moved on Body Count they issued pressure on the corporate division of Warner Bros., and that made the music division, they couldn't out-fight 'em in the battle, so even when you're in a business with somebody who might not wanna censor you, economically people can put restraints on 'em and cause 'em to be afraid. I learned that lesson in there, that you're never really safe as long as you're connected to any big corporation's money. [Wiki]

This was his musical response - featuring very strong language:

Thrash metal legend Dave Mustaine, no stranger to controversy, penned his own response to the PMRC:

Some further examples to add to those below then.

please bear in mind before viewing ANY of these that as most WERE banned or cut they obviously contain some challenging material

I still find this hard to believe many years later, even though I followed the story as it unravelled - record store owners in the US were arrested and jailed for selling a rap record! As rap began to reach far beyond its African-American/Hispanic core audience into the white suburbs and middle class, it, along with metal (similarly gaining mid-80s middle-class appeal, spreading far from its working-class base) faced high-level political censorship campaigns.

Albums, singles, videos and live performances were banned, and the PMRC got their way with the 'parental advisory' sticker becoming an established element of record distribution in the US. The absurdity of the system was seen with several instrumental metal albums getting this sticker - for explicit lyrics!!!

The establishment singled out 2 Live Crew, and they became the eye of the storm. The video below is their response:

You needn't go so far back to find such politically motivated hysteria. When the Dixie Chicks, a country band, dared apologise for George Bush (on stage in London, with huge anti-war protests over the illegal US/UK Iraq war/invasion), they faced something associated with the Beatles after John Lennon quipped they were "bigger than Jesus" - record burning. Or, in this case, CD burning.

Conservative, sometimes fundamentalist, Christian pressure groups thrive in the US, and they made the Dixie Chicks dead ducks, effectively banished from radio (the concentration of ownership of US radio leads to Clear Channel, with a long record of conservative, censorial policies, in control of much of that industry), TV and mainstream media generally. Like Sinead O'Connor (who criticised the pope on live TV), their US career was (burnt!)  toast. They eventually regained some footing, but haven't recovered their megastar status.

Now almost a national treasure in the UK after a successful reality TV show appearance and ads for margarine and insurance, Johnny Rotten was loathed by the establishment and viciously hounded by a furious press in 1977 when he dared attack the monarchy.

In reality he spoke for many who fervently disliked these symbols of privilege and extreme wealth, but the press and politicians' line was that his utterances were beyond the pale of polite society, and a lone, loathsome attack on a wonderful, universally adored institution. The video below, with a famous 'royal correspondent', gives a good flavour of how much of this tone still persists - although, this is a rare case where Murdoch's right-wing principles are dropped; his S*n paper has been influential in undermining public support for the monarchy in the UK. As an Aussie republican (now a US citizen, enabling him to legally buy up more US media!), inherited wealth doesn't sit so well with him - unless its that of his sons, or the Trumps, or the Bushes...

Read more here.

The Pistols also managed to get themselves kicked off a record label, keeping their advance, after shareholders and executives at the conservative label went into uproar, and threats of boycott emerged... The Pistols' response was subtle...

see which provides detail on each of these that were cut by MTV. Here's another not included in the quiz: Korn's "Right Now", which is animated but features self-harming.

The controversy over her X Factor final appearance is among the issues we explore for the exam topic of Media Regulation.
An amateur (and very sweary!) YouTuber here comments on her S&M vid being banned in 11 countries.

A classic example of 80s/90s glam/hair metal - the costume, hair, posturing, exaggerated performance, blatant sexism, focus on the vocalist, the element of narrative...

One of the most disappointing aspects of MTV was how little it cared for its audience - here was a lyric and a video quite directly intended to speak to the frustrated teen male that was MTV's core audience and they saw fit to cut it!

[This may cause problems: rather ironically given the topic of censorship, the track title is a banned keyword under the web filter in operation]
See the official Madonna YouTube site here.
Do note, the vid is explicitly sexually themed! You may find it interesting to read more about Madonna's chequered history, including the jawdropping Sex book, coinciding with her still notorious Justify My Love vid, which went far beyond this vid in its explicit depiction of bisexual sex and S&M.

This is the uncut version, flagged as 'age restricted' by YouTube - how (in)effective is regulation of online media? I also picked out Manson as he was hounded by the conservative media as somehow responsible for the Colombine shootings, a good example of a 'moral panic' whipped up by some sections of the media to create panic over other parts of the media. Similar events happened in the 1980s, when the British artists (same genre: heavy metal) found themselves in US courts facing accusations of responsibility for teen suicides. Conservative (often religious) pro-censorship groups utilise long-rejected media effects theories such as the 'hypodermic syringe' model to justify their claims around media effects, something to consider when thinking about audience.

Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit is perhaps one of the all-time great vids; their drummer went on to found and front the Foos...

You can see the official Madonna channel here.
We'll look at the controversy over the BBC's screening of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which saw an organised write-in campaign by a religious pressure group, for our exam work. The issues of religion, race and sex coalesce here in this still-controversial vid (the reasons for its banning remain as controversial, depending on how you look at things!).

Just too explicit to include on such a blog!

The 'clothing' remains iconic, and the vid to this day is listed as post-midnight only by MTV! She has made appearances again recently in the same outfit. She predated the intensive media PR campaign in both the US and UK to gain public support for the armed forces, launched after the invasion of Iraq caused great outcry on both sides of the Atlantic. The 'Help for Heroes' campaign exemplifies this, and very successfully used music video as part of its fund-raising campaign, also incorporating a tie-in with the X Factor; the music video, like all forms of media, is never free from ideological influences and considerations. Here Cher engages in behaviour which would have any Freudian blushing, cavorting on the long, extended artillery barrel (unsubtle phallic imagery alert!) before an appreciative assemblage of US naval personnel. As overtly sexual as this is, the video, and Cher in general, can be read as 'queer' or camp: she is performing gender, as Judith Butler, a key queer theorist, might argue.

One of our students last year, Chris Lawrence, did an interesting presentation on Cher and her videos, which you can find on his blog.

We will examine this vid in some detail next year, as it raises questions around the ideologies of feminism and post-feminism. The intertextual references to Madonna are central to this debate.

Cher, dressed in steaks, beside veggie Cher - holding the meat handbag

Any more suggestions you think make for interesting censorship case studies?

1 comment:

  1. Why this video by boyband Maroon 5 about a stalker's fantasy despite major backlash from feminist and anti-stalking sides (being called the Blurred Lines of 2014) and verging on sexual violence with blood dripping down during graphic sexual scenes, wasn't taken off youtube, and for example this video by David Bowie was briefly taken off youtube due to its offensiveness towards Christianity and moments of gore but not as intense as Maroon 5's vid. But the case of Bowie's vid is a sign of Christian hegemony still being evident in our society, as with Madonna losing the Pepsi deal due to her video showing a black Jesus among other things backlash against Sinead O'Connor for tearing up picture of pope in live performance and the story of Stephen Fry being called to arrested by some religious fundamentalists for Blasphemy.


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