I want to talk about censorship for a little bit. For most of us it seems to be a thing of the past. We heard stories growing up of rampant book burnings and bannings (usually with religious motivation – more on that in a few days, I promise) and some of us may be old enough to remember when titles such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were absent from library shelves (it uses the dreaded “n” word rather freely), but many of us are not and may even have had the book as required reading sometime over the course of our primary education.
Yet it was just a few months ago that a “new” version of Twain’s immortal tale of a boy and an escaped slave rafting along the Mississippi was announced – with the offensive slur removed and the word “slave” used in its place. You can read all about it at NPR. While we’re at it, I propose a new version of The Diary of Anne Frank with the terms “Jew” and “Nazi” removed and replaced with something more palatable. Even at the age of twelve when I read Huck Finn for the first time, I realized that Twain’s liberal use of the word nigger (did I just say that out loud?) was intended to prove a point and hammer home the message that the author warned no one should find in the pages.
The point is, censorship still rears its ugly head even in this day and age. It was over two hundred years ago when Voltaire wrote, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And then the Founding Fathers of the United States of America saw fit to include the Freedom of Speech in the Bill of Rights. And we’re still second guessing it.
What got me thinking about this was a recent experience I had when (legally, for a change) downloading music.
I recently started working for a major telecommunications company which I won’t name although I will say it is not Verizon or T-Mobile or AT&T. Oh, and the name rhymes with “hint.” Anyway, I learned all about our Music Store service and decided I would give a little love back to my employer and one of my favorite artists by actually purchasing some music. I did a quick search and within moments was downloading Eminem’sThe Slim Shady LP to my mobile phone (which has pretty much replaced my iPod these days). I popped in my ear buds, pressed play, and waited to hear the familiar lines of the album’s opening track My Name Is. And I heard it… sort of.
Now, back in 2000, when someone bought The Slim Shady LP, they may not have known just what they were in for. Since then, however, Eminem’s raunchy lyrics have become the stuff of modern (urban?) legend. The song that was playing in my head was not the one that Em recorded all those years ago, at least not completely.
“Hey, kids,” Em rapped. “Do you like Primus? Wanna see me stick Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids?”
Wait a second… did he say Primus? The line originally was “do you like violence?” As the song went on, I heard a lot more bastardized lyrics. “I just drank a fifth of vodka – dare me to drive?” magically became “I just drank a fifth of Kool-Aid.” What the hell is a fifth of Kool Aid? “I ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off” became “I ripped Pamela Lee’s lips off.” Now I understand that many consider Em offensive at the least and misogynistic at his worst, but really, would the ladies really prefer to have their lips forcibly removed as opposed to their breasts? Either sounds pretty uncomfortable. I went back and checked the music store entry. Nowhere did it warn that this was an edited version of the album. I wound up listening to all of it and was astounded at the hack job that was done. I really would have preferred the obtrusive electronic bleeps we usually hear when something is edited for radio play in the US. No such luck. Through the entire album, on nearly every track, lyrics were changed to be less challenging or replaced with Adobe Soundbooth audio tricks like losing a word or two in a haphazardly inserted needle scratch sound. I can honestly say that it was the first time I was ever offended listening to an Eminem album. After all I don’t really agree with most of what Em has to say, but I love the way he says it and I’ll defend to the death my right to hear it.
I wound up calling the company’s customer service line to express my distaste at having been duped into buying something I did not want. To my employer’s credit, they happily agreed to refund my money. And I will continue to buy music from Sprint now and again. I’ll just stay away from anything that carries a Parental Advisory label. After all, even I have standards and I don’t want to listen to that filth.