Some words are better left unsung

Phil Schurrer and Phil Schurrer

Last week, Wal-Mart refused to stock the new Green Day album, ’21st Century Breakdown.’ Wal-Mart suggested that an abridged album, with objectionable language deleted, would be acceptable. The band accused Wal-Mart of censorship and refused.

Wal-Mart’s long-standing policy states that it will not stock any CD with a parental warning sticker. Presumably, Green Day knew of Wal-Mart’s policy. So, when the shouts of censorship went up from the band and its supporters, one can only wonder if it wasn’t a deliberate provocation on Green Day’s part to increase the controversy, the buzz – and the band’s sales. Perhaps, just a little self-serving.

This appears to be a classic battle of freedom of speech versus vested corporate interests of trying to increase sales. But appearances can be deceiving. What’s actually at issue is the legitimacy of censorship in the retail world, or in any other setting for that matter.

The common perception is that censorship, especially in the arts, is wrong, contrary to the First Amendment, and at odds with everything that freedom and our way of life represents.

But why can’t a point of view be stated and shared without resorting to objectionable material? Why can’t we as a society endorse articulate people to enunciate a position? In a nation with so many educational programs and institutions, do we really have to engage in a race toward the bottom in terms of cultural coarseness?

Some may point out that this isn’t the first time our nation has had a culture war or a squabble over lyrics or content. The line ”hellip;but now God knows’hellip;’ in Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ was replaced by ”hellip;but heaven knows’hellip;’ And his lyric ”hellip; some get a kick from cocaine’hellip;’ was replaced by ”hellip;some like the perfume from Spain’hellip;’ in ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’

So, we really have two questions to ponder. First, why is censorship perceived as being wrong? Second, why does vulgarity pass for art in our society?

News flash: there’s nothing inherently wrong with censorship. The First Amendment deals with the relationship of government with the citizenry, not with a corporation and its customers, suppliers or employees. Think otherwise? Try wearing a political button to work at a private employer who disagrees with your political point of view. You may soon face the choice of either removing the button or finding another job. And the employer would be within his or her rights.

The best censorship is self-censorship. Rather than asking Wal-Mart’s customers to approve the band’s art, why didn’t Green Day assume the responsibility of ensuring that the band’s lyrics would be acceptable to the world’s largest retailer and its customers? Two answers exist: either Green Day was unaware of the problem (hard to believe), or the band was engaged in a juvenile publicity stunt. It’s normal for young people to rebel, but’shy; – please – the band members are in their mid-thirties. One would have assumed that a little maturation had occurred.

If you think about it, if the first question was answered satisfactorily, there’d be no need to answer the second. Which brings us to the ultimate concept: ethics. We talk a great deal about ethics today, but forget the easiest way to practice it. It’s simple, but not always easy: the ethical person will do more than what is required, but less than what is allowed.

Seems that maybe, just maybe, Green Day was pushing the envelope with a display of juvenile rebellion just to gain a little cheap publicity.