MTV bans Public Enemy
September 14, 2002 4:35 AM   Subscribe

MTV bans Public Enemy 's video "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need" because the video contains the lyric "Free Mumia and H Rap Brown". MTV are willing to air the video if the lyric is cut. Public Enemy front-man Chuck D is vocal in his response. Responsible action or censorship in its worst form?
posted by nthdegx (75 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(Heretofore unheard MTV) Responsible action.
posted by hama7 at 4:41 AM on September 14, 2002

I'd opt for the latter. From Chuck's response:

"In a climate where they’re playing the hell out of Nelly and Khia, dumbing American kids (17 and under... who else is gonna be fanatical about adult life requesting videos?) down to; 'its so hot i'ma take my clothes off down from my neck to the crack of my ass with a shot of courvosier.' No offense to the prior two artists, because I really don’t think they know any better. I’m pulling the race card here because MTV has admittedly reduced black faces to blackface."

I'm inclined to agree.

The video is presently available to view at rapstation.
posted by nthdegx at 4:56 AM on September 14, 2002

Obligatory apology for my careless apostrophising.
posted by nthdegx at 4:59 AM on September 14, 2002

MTV has been bowdlerizing videos for a long time. But it's not censorship -- no one is stopping Public Enemy from making or distributing the song.
posted by rcade at 5:03 AM on September 14, 2002

I agree 100% per cent with Chuck D (why still "Chuck D"?) about the dumbing down and courvosier remarks, but the advocation of freeing convicted felons does not equal "playing the race card". If you want irrational and insanely racist political commentary, there are a multitude of other venues.
posted by hama7 at 5:08 AM on September 14, 2002

I haven't heard any rap I've liked, but how isn't this an act of censorship on MTV's part? It's not unconstitutional censorship since it hasn't been done at the request of the government, but it is still censorship. What's wrong with advocating freeing a convicted felon? It doesn't mean that President Bush is suddenly going to say "Gosh... I'm going to free those poor boys Mumia and H Rap Brown".
posted by substrate at 5:46 AM on September 14, 2002

What? How is lobbying for the freeing of convicted murderers "insanely racist"? It's just MTV at it's "we're so hip in an incredibly safe and white way" best.
posted by yerfatma at 5:48 AM on September 14, 2002

People must really learn to define their terms. As Rcade said, it's not censorship...except that the fact that they objected to that chorus rather than just canning the whole song gives me pause.

My attitude towards MTV choosing to excise a chorus is the same as watching a Quentin Tarantino film on Turner Broadcasting and having Samuel L. Jackson say "I dare you to say 'what' again [voice that sounds nothing like Jackson] MetaFilter!" If you can't show it without messing with it, don't show it. Period.

A more fitting criticism would be just to explain to Public Enemy that Mumia Abul Jamal is as guilty as sin and to go on about freeing him shows that one is 1. At least as brain dead as a Kennedy Conspiracy theorist and possibly as wacky as an alien abduction paranoid and 2. Boring.

Mumia, and to a lesser extent Brown, have become lightening rods for the brain dead with a racial agenda who are too trendy and lazy to work towards freeing the multitude of black men in prison who are actually innocent. Both killed a cop, both were caught (literally in the case of Mumia) with a smoking gun in their hands and both rely on the "some other guy did it and then beamed into the 4th dimension" defense.

posted by Reverend Mykeru at 6:12 AM on September 14, 2002

Doesn't MTV reserve the right to play whatever it is they want to play? When we usually think of censorship we think of a situation in which the authors are not allowed to express their views. But PE can do whatever it is they want with their track. Why would they care about the "Big Evil Complex" anyway? It's almost hypocritical. MTV made PE, and now PE should realize they don't need them anymore.

However, I'm a little irked at Chuck D's Nelly diss, because that Neptunes track that he references ("It's getting hot in here, etc.") is saving hip-pop from itself. I don't exactly relate to the lyrics but give me some off-kilter samples of early electronic (IBM 360) Timbaland-style anyday versus that "I just discovered the quantize function on my MPC" 909 and murk crap that Chucky is soapboxing over.
posted by neustile at 6:19 AM on September 14, 2002

I haven't heard any rap I've liked, but how isn't this an act of censorship on MTV's part?

If you extend the word "censorship" beyond its most common meaning -- a government official interfering with the content of a work -- it gets misused in all kinds of circumstances where non-governmental parties are making decisions freely.

MTV is free to ask Public Enemy to edit its video. Public Enemy is free to change the video or reject MTV's request. When both parties are free to do what they please, how is it censorship?
posted by rcade at 6:20 AM on September 14, 2002

Of course it's censorship. Which is not necessarily an unreasonable thing, MTV has to walk the line with issues of socially acceptable standards, just like any other cable channel. However this is political censorship, which is reasonably described as censorship in its worst form.

Where are the other rap artists on this issue? Or are they content to rake in the dough and not rock the boat?
posted by norm29 at 6:24 AM on September 14, 2002

Like chocolate, even vanilla - chocolate, strawberry, sarsaparilla

After watching the video, I would venture that the cut was made because of the the series of newspaper front pages of "terror" escalating into a page of the twin towers. Obviously meant to bring the focus of the gov't back to our problems at home, but too near to dear and tender hearts.
posted by roboto at 6:30 AM on September 14, 2002

Obvious observation:

One group of people here think only governments can censor, the other doesn't. Both think their pov obvious.

Personally, I'm in the "censorship can be by anyone with power" camp. MTV certainly have power.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:35 AM on September 14, 2002


"official authorized to suppress or expurgate books, films, news, etc., on grounds of obscenity, threat to security, etc. v. 1 act as a censor of. 2 make deletions or changes in."

"make deletions or changes in" - hence if the cuts were to be made they would clearly constitute censorship. I don't think MTV would deny that.
posted by nthdegx at 7:07 AM on September 14, 2002

Andrew, that might be true if MTV were the only outlet for Public Enemy to have their work viewed (it's still not within the definition of 'censorship,' since there's no government action involved, but I'll concede that point). The fact is, MTV is only one of several television channels that might carry this video. Why don't they get BET to show it? How about Much? There are also shows on non-music channels that play music videos that would show it. MTV is to be sure the largest outlet, but it's certainly not the only outlet. Or are we going to dilute the meaning of 'censorship' to the level of calling Blockbuster Video's refusal to carry NC-17 rated films 'censorship' as well?
posted by JollyWanker at 7:09 AM on September 14, 2002

"Personally, I'm in the "censorship can be by anyone with power" camp. MTV certainly have power."

So, if I make my own tone-deaf rap song on my computer using Cool Edit and MTV refuses to play it, that constitutes censorship?

Excellent. I'm on it, man.

Incidentally, I have a number of t-shirts with socio-political messages on them like "Beer: Helping Ugly People Have Sex Since 1862" which I would like you to wear in order to aid me in my agenda. Your refusal will be considered an act of censorship.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 7:12 AM on September 14, 2002

This is NOT censorship! Any more so than when The Powers That Be here in MeFi shut down or prune a thread because of... waitaminute..!

Tongue in cheek there, as usual, but my point is censorship is not limited to government institutions. If you're in a bar and talking trash about the Bush family, and the bartender doesn't like your tone of voice or what you have to say, he's fully within his rights to have you forcibly removed from his establishment (provided he's either the owner or has the owner's full support). This is no different.

Public Enemy is free to speak their mind, just not on MTV's dime.

"I haven't heard any rap I've liked..."

I have. Early RunDMC. Rare Will Smith. I'm admittedly very white in that regard. I like it when rap is more pop-oriented, and filled with less hate and racist views. I like my rap with a spoonful of sugar. Under normal circumstances I'd never give Public Enemy the time of day.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2002

MTV? Wow, I didn't even know they played music videos anymore. I thought they switched to an "all reality/teen-angst talk" format years ago. Shows you how much I watch television.

That said, MTV is a private entity. As I loathe corporate media outlets, I have to remind the angry folks that MTV is not a public-access cable channel. They have the right to pick and choose and yes, even censor. (Unfortunately, those of us who are old enough to remember know the problems that black artists had getting on MTV -aka "W.E.T." - at it's inception.)

There are other outlets. Stations that actually play music videos. PE could press up a batch of DVDs of the video and give them away as promos - hell, it's not like DVD is an obscure format anymore. Co-opt to insert them in copies of music magazines. Drop freebies at Tower and/or indie hip-hop shops. Hell, a DVD would give them as much time as they wanted to say whatever they wanted. And people would watch them, guaranteed. DVD is still novel like that, give me a DVD for free and I guarantee you I'll pop it into my player and give it a look.

OTOH, if I were PE, I'd go ahead and fork over an edit of the video as well. Superimpose "POLITICAL MESSAGE CENSORED BY MTV" over the offending text. Of course MTV's not going to play it, but that makes for even more publicity for the video. And we all know that any publicity is good publicity.
posted by at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2002

And yes, it is censorship.

The definition of censorship hasn't changed simply because of the First Amendment to the American Constitution. It protects (Americans) against governmental censorship. But censorship is still censorship, whether it's by the government or a private media outlet. The difference is that the government can't while MTV can.
posted by at 7:29 AM on September 14, 2002

As rcade and others have noted, it is NOT censhorship unless it is the Government prohibiting it. Unlike the Government, MTV (and other broadcasters) do not have the rule of law and armed police & military forces to back up their decision/s. MTV is a corporation, owned & managed by regular people, who have the right to choose what and what NOT to air.

Having said that...I firmly believe that MTV (and music videos in general) are inherently "bad" and have contributed more to the degradation of civilization than anything else in the last 25 years. OK, maybe I'm being a bit extreme...but MTV still has the right to air (or not) whatever it chooses.
posted by davidmsc at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2002

MTV can do what they like..this is in no way censorship.
posted by Orange Goblin at 7:34 AM on September 14, 2002

Davidmc/Goblin: it's still censorship. The word has nothing to do with the government. Period. That's not to say they can't do it - they can. But that doesn't make it "not censorship" at all.
Main Entry: censor
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): cen·sored; cen·sor·ing ? /'sen(t)-s&-ri[ng], 'sen(t)s-ri[ng]/
Date: 1882
: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable
posted by benh57 at 7:39 AM on September 14, 2002

I'm sorry but where in the definition of censorship does it say that for it to be censorship it must be carried out by the government?

"to delete or make changes in" - it really is that simple.

I think that people that are claiming that this is not censorship are doing so because they don't see what MTV are doing as wrong, and that when someone does use the word censorship it is assumed they mean it with inherently negative connotations. This isn't necessarily the case. Whether censorship is inherently wrong or not, or whether this instance is wrong or not, it is undeniably an act of censorship.

Now, as for whether MTV are wrong to take this action, they are of course free to not play this video. Chuck said that had they said "we think your video stinks" he would have had no issues. The issue is the hypocrisy behind deleting this lyric when they will happily play eminem with his offensive content (even with curses deleted) and the pop-rap videos that are overtly sexist. To me, it just doesn't stack up.
posted by nthdegx at 7:46 AM on September 14, 2002

I'm glad this happened and hope it happens again. The more "rebel artists" like Chuck D and Ludacris get reminded that Mama Mainstream's teat has an off switch, the more committed they'll be to pumping life into alternative distribution methods. The sooner Viacom joins the RIAA in the pile of yesterday's discarded irrelevancies, the better for all of us.

rcade: it's not censorship -- no one is stopping Public Enemy from making or distributing the song.

I think what the "only governments censor" folks are saying is this is not a First Amendment issue. Agreed. But it most definitely is censorship on Viacom's part, and done rather slipperily, if Chuck D's account is accurate. And did you catch his claim that they backed down a bit and now just want the word "free" taken out? What a hoot.

I'm left wondering, rcade, what word would you use to describe a private company that tells its employees they can't pray in the building, even on their breaks? Why couldn't I call that censorship in the workplace? And if it is, why can't we call this censorship in the sphere of popular media? Why do we need a different word to capture the spirit of that kind of company move?

The point to using the word "censorship" here is to question where Viacom is drawing the line they have a right to draw. It's obvious Viacom is worried about a reaction like this, and so has circled the wagons around what it considers acceptable speech. That means it's not a company that's committed to free speech. *shrugs* "Censor" works for me.
posted by mediareport at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2002

that Neptunes track that he references ("It's getting hot in here, etc.") is saving hip-pop from itself

What does this mean? It's a fun track, granted, but saving hip hop from itself?

I haven't heard any rap I've liked...

Try Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, DoseOne, Motion Man & Kutmasta Kurt, early Kool Keith, '93-'95 Wu-Tang . . . running out of steam . . .
posted by mikrophon at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2002 [1 favorite]

Why can't it be censorship and MTV has the right to do it?

Of course it is censorship anytime an entity denies you the right to free speech. It's considered against the law if the government does it and smart business if the media practices it.

Why the fuss now though? MTV has censored artists since they started the channel. For a great example look to "This Buds for You" by Neil Young in 1989.

In the past the answer has always been "If you don't like what the newspapers print ...start your own." Chuck D has the ability now to get his video out to the people. He should do it. The more the public bypasses the the corporate media outlets the better I say.

You have the right to free
Speech as long as you're not
Dumb enough to actually try it.

-The Clash Know Your Rights

posted by ?! at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2002

A lot of people are confusing censorship with the first amendment of the U.S. constitution. If Metafilter decides that it won't allow any links with a pro-conservative bias then it has engaged in censorship. People who would have had offending links removed could say that they were censored. This of course would be fully within Metafilter's rights and the submitters would be able to find other venues to preach from, but they would have been censored and the censorship would have been done by Metafilter.

Now if the government or a government employee acting in service of the government were to state that statements critical will not be tolerated then its two things. First, its censorship but secondly, and more importantly, its a violation of the first amendment.
posted by substrate at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2002

mediareport: "And did you catch his claim that they backed down a bit and now just want the word "free" taken out?"

MTV simply proving what some of us in America have been suspecting for the past year. "Free" (as in liberation) is becoming a dirty and dangerous word in the USA and must be censored.
posted by at 8:06 AM on September 14, 2002

The fact remains that Chuck is 100% accurate in the hypocrisy that MTV are exhibiting by this action. I know someone who was at the filming of the video and it was nothing but love from all involved.

Given that other rap artists are now including product endorsements - nytimes 2 september " Pass the Courvoisier, and count the cash," ($2.50/pop, unfortunately) - i'd like to see eMpTy V start to disallow that.

Y'all should check out Mos Def.

As for PE being racist ZachsMind, (all Professor Griff aside) - care to qualify how chuck D is?
posted by grimley at 8:15 AM on September 14, 2002

For future reference, MTV should opt to not give reasons why they choose not to play videos. Just a flat yay or nay. They don't give opinions to thousands of videos sent to them every year either solicited or unsolicited. They probably get thousands of videos sent to them every DAY which get totally ignored. Why did they even feel inclined to give Public Enemy a reason?

I smell a publicity stunt, and we fell for it. The tail's wagging the dog here.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:19 AM on September 14, 2002

As for PE being racist . . . care to qualify how chuck D is?

To the extent that making blanket statements about a group of people based on skin color or national origin is racism, then yes, Chuck is a racist. Now, that's not saying anything as to the truth or falsity of his claims or his right to make them.
posted by mikrophon at 8:34 AM on September 14, 2002

An example of such a blanket statement being?
posted by nthdegx at 8:39 AM on September 14, 2002

forget about the censorship argument for a second.

i never would have seen this video if mtv didn't refuse to play it. mtv doesn't play videos anymore. right now there is a marathon real world 24-repeat thing on.

i saw the video. did any of you? it's hardly over-the-top. it's standard fair public enemy that mtv was playing 15 years ago. why the change?

i'm not a big fan of chuck d. but i'll agree with the 'blackface' that mtv seems to promote now. big piles of cash and 'dubs' and 'bling bling' is just a waste. public enemy does something that makes you think, regardless if you agree or not, and mtv says NO.

thank god for the real world.
posted by oliver_crunk at 9:00 AM on September 14, 2002

Here in Cincinnati, there are two major pop-radio stations. One is owned by Clear Channel, the other by Infinity Broadcasting.

The station owned by Clear Channel plays rap, hip-hop, and some pop. The station owned by Infinity plays pop-rock-type stuff. The Infinity stations motto for some time was "All of today's best music... without the rap and hip-hop" which of course, might be translated to "All of today's best white music."

The point? Rap has its outlets, as does pop-rock. And while I don't listen to either because the music industry puts out crap for everything new, and everything old I like I already have on CD; not everybody likes the same thing. If MTV wants to be the white music station, let them. They've chosen their demographic target, and more power to them. Not all white people listen to "white music", and not all black people listen to "black music". Look at the affluency of listeners based on charts. More affluent listeners prefer syrupy pop music, while poor people tend to listen to harcore rap and hip-hop (in general, yes, there are exceptions, as there are for everyting.) And then, some people are intelligent and don't listen to either, and support their local groups, which don't have to either sugar coat their message, or go for shock value.
posted by benjh at 9:07 AM on September 14, 2002

An example of such a blanket statement being?

I'm referring here to the basic world view (and I could only find one lyrical example from "Black Steel . . ." skimming their lyrics) that the "White Man" is out to keep the "Black Man" down. Now, I am not saying that this is not a fair statement, but as I am a white man that is not trying to keep anyone down (and a bit of a P.E. fan, no less), that is an untrue generalization based on presuppositions about persons of a specific racial background, or a racist statement.

Or something.
posted by mikrophon at 9:10 AM on September 14, 2002

Of course it's censorship, of a pretty bad kind since it's political, but not of the worst kind, since it's not government-sponsored. I just don't understand why MTV needs to exercise their right (as a privately owned entity) to censor. Haven't they learned YET that their greatest successes are achieved when they run stuff that's controversial (Beavis & Butthead, The Osbornes, Jackass) despite outside calls for censorship? If they're worried that some of the footage or language in the video might be disturbing, why not just run a brief warning before it like they do before all their other "disturbing" content?

I mean, were they getting death threats from John Ashcroft, or something?
posted by Raya at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2002

the lyric being?
posted by nthdegx at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2002

This is the lyric I found. I hadn't wanted to post any unless I had at least 3 or more to build a case, but also didn't want to spend my Saturday morning reading Public Enemy lyrics.

4 of us packed in a cell like slaves - oh well
The same motherfucker got us livin' is his hell
You have to realize - that its a form of slavery
Organized under a swarm of devils

posted by mikrophon at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2002

Stuff like that. It's making the claim that, solely by virtue of the color of their skin, white "devils" have certain attributes. This is an understandable viewpoint, but a racist one.
posted by mikrophon at 9:41 AM on September 14, 2002

devils being the government... not white people at large
posted by nthdegx at 9:41 AM on September 14, 2002

where was the word white? you're putting it in, not them. your initial claim remains unsubstantiated.
posted by nthdegx at 9:43 AM on September 14, 2002

Anyone know whether or not MTV ever aired Rage Against the Machine's "Freedom" video, which advocated the release of Leonard Peltier?
posted by poseur at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2002

Lyrics such as "Free Mumia and H Rap Brown" are nothing more than gratuitous pandering to the same type of a racist sense of entitlement which enabled OJ Simpson to be found not guilty of a double murder.
As far as 'censorship' on teevee, it happens 24/7/365. Probably why we won't see music videos with images of baby seals being beaten to death with baseball bats or babies being cut into pieces in abortion clinics, even though PETA and Falwell would probably finance crap like that to further their cause.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2002

Referring to white people as "Devils" is fairly common, isn't it? And weren't Public Enemy heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, who also frequently refer to the "white devil"? Listen, I'm not saying Chuck D. is a bad person. I think he is possibly the strongest and most important voice in the history of hip hop. But he does make statements that are at the very least racially prejudiced, if not outright racist.
posted by mikrophon at 10:35 AM on September 14, 2002

Anyone know whether or not MTV ever aired Rage Against the Machine's "Freedom" video, which advocated the release of Leonard Peltier?

I was pretty sure they did. According to this site, it would be a big fat yes:


MTV 120 Minutes premiere of "Freedom" video, directed by Peter Christopherson. Combines live performance footage with scenes from 1992 documentary Incident At Oglala and text from Peter Matthiessen's In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse.


"Freedom" is #1 video in the country, according to CVC Broadcast & Cable Top 50 chart.
posted by keli at 11:03 AM on September 14, 2002

mikrophon: I said 'hip-pop', not hip-hop. There hadn't been any good of the former before the Neptunes and Timbaland came 'round. As for the latter, I as well love Cannibal Ox and CoFlow but have other feelings about where that's going.
posted by neustile at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2002

Sounds like P.E. are using this little 'censorship' war to get lots of free press and sell lots of records. I applaud their capitalist business acumen- even if no one will admit that that's what's at the root of this. Hardly anyone would have noticed the video, or the silly 'Free Mumia' line if MTV had shown the video.

MTV is not required to show anything they don't want to show. Does CBS have to show commercials advocating 'white power'? Of course not. Private organizations are permitted and justified to refuse to distribute material they find politically odious, dangerous, illegal, etc. The problem that people have with the use of the word "censorship" to describe what is happening here is that the word has become so loaded with negative, Orwellian connotations (partly due to, if I remember correctly, MTV's "Anti-Censorship" campaigns back in the early 90's). while it may be correct to use the word in this case, it also has lots of baggage that may not apply.

There are limits to what constitutes free speech. For instance, mediareport once asked Matt to remove, or 'censor', some inflammatory MetaFilter posts on one occasion, which Matt subsequently did. Does that make him and Matt evil, Orwellian censors? No. There are limits here to what Matt and others will tolerate; cross those limits, and you have every right to call for their deletion, and Matt has every right to remove them. And, like Chuck D's pop promo, you can still find them in other places if you look hard enough
posted by evanizer at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2002

The biggest problem with calling editorial discretion "censorship" is that it dilutes the meaning of the word. As a result, heinous acts that meet the most common definition -- official government action to suppress or alter a work -- are lumped in with a bunch of inconsequential stuff like this, in which a millionaire is complaining that a vapid television network won't run his song, presumably as a publicity stunt to promote an album.

I don't need the word "censorship" to object to what MTV is doing. The network's longstanding editorial cowardice is one of the reasons I don't watch very often (though, frankly, I'm far too old for them to miss me).

Calling this censorship reminds me of the way that people cheapen the word rape by using it for any situation in which they feel violated -- such as the guy who invented the term "emotional rape" to elevate shitty breakups to syndrome status.

A quote from his book does a good job of demonstrating how you can cheapen the anguish associated with a real problem to make your own petty concerns seem important: "If you are emotionally raped, the single most important thing to do is to accept that you are a rape victim and treat yourself accordingly."
posted by rcade at 12:24 PM on September 14, 2002

The thing that I find absolutely hysterical (and maybe a little sad) about this is that the video is lame. It's a lame video. It's got the overused matrixy bullet-time thing going on, some space-warpy jump cuts, some color-saturation fiddling, and bunch of shots of Chuck D and friends. It's basically PE standing around being "photoshopped". Stupid. The rest? What is that? Looks mostly like concert footage with some police beatings thrown in for good measure. Where's the context? There's no....narrative.

As videos go, this one is crap. Standard fare for the genre, sadly, but still crap. I would have expected better from PE. What's sad is that depite being a lame video, it's now going to get even more exposure than it would have without MTV nixing it. People are going to call it "revolutionary" and stuff. Sheep. Baaa.

Regarding the censorship thing: It is censorship. It's also perfectly legal. Note that censorship doesn't have to be 100% effective to still qualify as censorship. If someone in "power" stifles speech due to it's content - that's censorship. It's only illegal when the govt. does it.
posted by jaded at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2002

evanizer, but in your example anyone has the right to object to mediareport's request and my decision.

Chuck D's questioning why MTV thought that one line was so inflammatory that it had to be dropped or the whole video banned from the channel, as is his right.
posted by mathowie at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2002

I have no problem admitting that I was asking Matt to "censor" by asking for an inappropriate comment to be deleted from a thread. Whether that's necessarily an "evil, Orwellian" move is another question entirely.

I don't see what we lose by using the word in its original, less emotional sense. It's a perfectly good descriptive term that allows us to judge each instance of censorship on its own merits (in this case, Viacom is caving to pressure in an embarrassing way and sacrificing political speech in the process, but that's just me). The idea that only governments can engage in "censorship" is absurd.
posted by mediareport at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2002

p.s. not sure why evanizer dug that one up when there were plenty of examples here already, and I figure you probably know this, but no hard feelings, clav
posted by mediareport at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2002

I don't see what we lose by using the word in its original, less emotional sense.

The original meaning of the term was governmental; a censor was a Roman official who kept the census, awarded public contracts, and supervised manners and morals.
posted by rcade at 1:36 PM on September 14, 2002

Oh yeah. Right. Ok, then, it's more recent original meaning. :)

But can you at least see my point, rcade? Right now the term is so loaded down with negative baggage it's almost useless. Freeing it from that and acknowledging there are various kinds of censorship that go beyond "editorial judgement" just seems to make sense.
posted by mediareport at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2002

So, to sum it all up:
Censorship should not be allowed in any shape or form.

Unless it's disgusting, racist, or goes against God.
posted by bradth27 at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2002

I demand that everyone who says it IS censorship and that's wrong, put in all of their posts on this forum the following musical quote:

" Although variety's the spice of life, a steady rythym is it's source; Simplicity's the crucial thing, systemic'lly, of course..." ~Brian Eno, "Seven Deadly Fins"

If you don't, I'm gonna scream censorship!!!! :)
posted by Blue Stone at 2:23 PM on September 14, 2002

Point of order, Chuck D is far from a millionaire - perhaps partly why he sometimes refers to Def Jam as "Def Scam".

"Referring to white people as "Devils" is fairly common, isn't it? And weren't Public Enemy heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, who also frequently refer to the "white devil"? Listen, I'm not saying Chuck D. is a bad person. I think he is possibly the strongest and most important voice in the history of hip hop. But he does make statements that are at the very least racially prejudiced, if not outright racist."

Mikrophon. Clutching. At. Straws. The lyric you refer to speaks of a swarm of devils that control the U.S. prison system. Do white people in general control the prison system? No. Yes, there are links with the N.O.I. but Chuck D is not a member to the best of my knowledge. You will not hear a single racist lyric from the group (notice - lyric, Griff's comments notwithstanding - he was expelled from the group for a decade as a result, remember) - let alone these blanket comments you speak of.

Also, this "watering down of the definition of censorship". I'm at a loss where to begin. Various definitions have been linked to - and all are very simple. OK, as has been pointed out this is not censorship of "the worst kind" but it is censorship all the same.

I also feel Chuck makes his reasons for objecting very clear - it isn't about not showing the video. I'm not a big fan of the video myself, but I do like the song.
posted by nthdegx at 2:25 PM on September 14, 2002

Right now the term is so loaded down with negative baggage it's almost useless. Freeing it from that and acknowledging there are various kinds of censorship that go beyond "editorial judgement" just seems to make sense.

Are you trying to censor me?

More than anything, restricting "censorship" to the governmental sense of the word takes it away from people with trivial complaints. After years of using it myself whenever an online forum exercised its discretion not to publish something, or a Web host decided to stop hosting something controversial, I decided that I was making a cheap shot. The freedom of a site publisher to choose not to publish my work is more important than my right to free expression on their dime.
posted by rcade at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2002

The freedom of a site publisher to choose not to publish my work is more important than my right to free expression on their dime.

No doubt. But I could just as easily put it like this: People who host online forums have a right to censor whatever they like. I'll frequent those sites that have a wide latitude of expression, but I'd never deny the host's right to censor.
posted by mediareport at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2002

Chanting "Free the word 'free'" just doesn't have the right ring to it.

By the way, where can I get me one of them oversized clocks that Flava' Flav used to wear?
posted by sharksandwich at 3:24 PM on September 14, 2002

I like my rap with a spoonful of sugar.

Settle for some vanilla instead?
posted by debralee at 4:14 PM on September 14, 2002

i'm curious - are all the people who think it's a good idea to use censorship only in relation to governments american? i ask for two reasons. first, as substrate says above, you may be confusing censorship (which is a global issue) with your own particular constitution. second, there's this weird (from a non-american viewpoint) obsession in american politics (especially on the 'net) of associating everything evil with government and then forgetting about things like multinationals that wield huge amounts of power. i (humbly!) suggest that this cultural bias is clouding your view - what really matters is power. governments have a lot of power, so when they censor things, it's important. but it's also important if any other very powerful group does the same. for example, if there are just two or three companies controlling all major media/news sources, and those companies restrict information, then that's a worrying case of censorship.

i don't understand responses like "i have a silly t-shirt that xxx refuses to print/wear". what's the point there? the government also refuses to print/wear your silly t-shirt - is it censorship in the case of the government's refusal? it seems to me that the argument is wrong because xxx doesn't normally print/wear other people's t-shirts anyway, not because xxx is/isn't the government.

in contrast, mtv does normally display videos. so they're making an active decision not to do so here. it's censorship. it's not illegal, afaik, nor does it raise american constitutional issues, but it may still be important. whether it's important or not depends on the issues involved, not on worrying about the definition of a word that is well defined in the dictionary...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:06 PM on September 14, 2002

Um...anyone have another source for this other than Infoshop? Infoshop is hardly the world's most reliable news: they don't fact-check and anyone can submit a story. They make absolutely no claim to even attempt to report facts objectively.

Don't get me wrong: partisan news sources care often vary valuable, and I am all for public participation in news gathering. I also despise MTV, and am all too ready to believe anything even vaguely negative about them. It's just that when something comes from a site with no fact-checking at all, we might want to see if we can find another source before so many people get so upset about what's supposedly happening.

Especially in this case. Take this quote from the Public Enemy website:

"MTV standards (whoever this roundtable of culture caretakers are all I got was a cat by the name of Tom Calderone who waffled so much on the issue I swore he was swimming in syrup) has clarified to my people, both at KOCH and SLAMjamz Records, that the �Gotta Give The Peeps What They Need� video would have to delete all affixed logos, in accordance with a policy to not promote gear. Although I�ve long thought this to be ridiculous... but whatever... I�ve conceded that this is their little thing to keep situations from making the money they make and the thing that has me going to war, and that�s to vanish ALL AUDIO AND VISUAL references to Mumia Abu Jamal... the Free Mumia lyric. " (the ellipses are in the original.)

This makes it sound suspiciously like the problem was more with including logos in the video and less with the pro-Mumia Abu Jamal content. This makes sense in light of both the above-mentioned Rage Against the Machine video and the silly controversy surrounding a Neil Young video several years ago. In that case a video was banned from MTV for containing logo parodies, and then won MTV's own best video award the following year.

Emphasizing the supposed political aspects of this might just be good marketing on PE's part.
posted by 23lemurs at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2002

mediareport- didn't mean to single you out for any specific reason other than your previous comments in this thread and the fact I ran across that MeTa thread today while searching for the word "moron" (don't ask), and it seemed to be a good, MeFi specific example of 'speech' being 'censored'. Sorry if it seemed like I was ragging on you.

Although it is fun.

Also, the "free Mumia" meme has been going stong for years, and I suspect many people have already heard of it, so it's not like Chuck D is the sole bearer of this message, and no one will hear it if he is "silenced". I also don't personally get my politics from music videos, so I'm always a bit suspicious of people who treat them like anything other than 3 minute commercials, which, at the MTV and Chuck D level is about all they are.
posted by evanizer at 6:24 PM on September 14, 2002

"Although it is fun."


added smiley face after that to emphasize that the statement is affectionate ribbing and not mean-spirited.

Also, is the style sheet for this page totally fubared for anyone else? (OS X/ IE 5.21 I don't know why this bothers me so much when it happens, but it does)

posted by evanizer at 6:29 PM on September 14, 2002

From the link: Evidently even the word free is not safe from censors these days.

EVERY station has censors. Its a career. MTV is a private corporation, not a government organization. To the angry and disenfrachised MTV fans out out there I just have to say: stop watching it. When MTV loses enough marketshare then they'll realize that public opinion could care less about the Mumia messages. Then the people at the top will tell the censors to change their policy. The protest and noise people are making over this is socially good, because it exposes MTVs policies, but MTV is a business first and a business last.

I think there are much larger issues which dictate what MTV, NBC, etc will and will not accept. The big religious lobbies, the moralists, etc. Many have argued that TV self-censors because its the best way for them not to be censored by the government. MTV, et al can call the shots, take risks, and keep control without the government being foced to take action because Father Smith and Mary Housewife started some 'save our children' campaign loud enough to carry political power. Sometimes even that doesn't work, Tipper Gore and the ASPCA really tried to break the boundries between private censorship and government censorship in the 80s.

Chuck D: The aftermath of the MTV Video Awards carries a ‘business as usual’ stench across the ever influenced cultural, uh, black planet. The new power elite in America…the selection board of MTV.

Oh spare me your populist rhetoric. We have a multi-millionaire musician calling others 'power-elites?' Seriously, Chuck you're in the top 20% of wealthy Americans. Compared to me you are the man. What I'm really seeing here is two elites fighting it out. A wealthy musician pushing his agenda vs a media outlet protecting theirs. This has absolutely little to do with the little guy or some black vs white, poor vs rich fight, but Chuck is quick to pull out those cards.

Another thing which bothers me is, "Who can afford to make videos nowadays?" Other then elite musicians like Chuck D and the rest of the top-40 gang? No one. Chuck is protecting his right to make a profit, he's one of the few musicians out of millions in this country who can call MTV up and get a video played. I listen to all sorts of music and the bands I see will never see the money Chuck spent on this video alone in their entire lives. They're the voiceless nobodies, not Chuck D.

Chuck D: Deep down, rap to these standard people, is disposable romper room sh#t that will never resonate to the LED ZEP, BEATLES, NIRVANA, AEROSMITH, FLEETWOOD MAC, BON JOVI status that they still uphold in their hearts and minds.

Oh give up the white-bashing already. This ain't 1958. Tom Petty wasn't even allowed to say 'joint' on the same network you're talking about and he's as white as they come, yet black musicians can make as many refrences to pot as they like. If there is a "M-A-N" in the 21st century, its you Chuck, and the other big label hiphop acts.

I think Chuck has forgetten how good he has it and is acting no different than any other corporation. This seems more like a business vs business issue than a the MAN vs a little guy issue. Personally, I don't think Chuck buys his own BS. If he believed any of this little guy rhetoric he probably would be too ethical to deal with MTV. I don't think he weeps when he cashes that HUGE check his label cuts him every month. Keep it real Chuck.
posted by skallas at 9:24 PM on September 14, 2002

Oh, blimey - once again Chuck D is not a millionaire. Have you seen the video? How much do you think it cost?
posted by nthdegx at 1:38 AM on September 15, 2002

The important word in the definition of "cencorship" given above is "suppress." A censor is someone who has the power to keep something from being expressed, in general.

MTV does not have the power to prevent Public Enemy from composing, playing, talking about, or marketing their song, or a video based on their song. They do have the right to decide on what to play on their own network. It's exactly the same as a publishing company deciding not to publish a book they find objectionable, or a newspaper deciding not to publish an editorial they find objectionable. It isn't censorship; it's judgement.

I mostly agree with andrew cooke's point above about the power of large non-governmental entities, such as multinational corporations. A government is not the only entity that can censor. But the important thing is that the entity in question has to be powerful enough to unilaterally prevent something from being expressed. If a group of powerful media conglomerates enter into an agreement to prevent a certain idea from being expressed in the media in a certain country, or even across the globe, and they are successful, then they have engaged in censorship.

That being said, I think MTV's decision is lame, and it can only be bad for them. With several other popular music video channels, plus the internet, plus video, DVD, and other available media, people are going to see it anyway...but MTV knows this, and probably doesn't care, because again, they are not censoring, they are deciding not to offer a certain product as part of their commercial lineup.
posted by bingo at 1:46 AM on September 15, 2002

Oh, blimey - once again Chuck D is not a millionaire.

Does anyone have basis for this claim other than Chuck D's non-specific grumbling about being screwed out of money by Def Jam Records? The guy has sold millions of records, started a record label and several Web sites such as RapStation, and makes lots of public appearances. I'm guessing his house alone would put him in the millionaires club.
posted by rcade at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2002

Millionaire or non-millionaire, Chuck D still has far more public notice given him than the average man, especially the average black man on the streets which he claims to be. He has other outlets for this video. He has now received even more publicity than he otherwise would've gotten had the video aired. So what are we arguing about, exactly?
posted by Dreama at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2002

Well, here's his testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business:

And I had a lawyer tell me, well, Chuck, you sold millions of records here, but you will never see a dime because you owe us. And I said, like hell I do.

So do you think I care about them? No. I am doing better in the digital system selling 10 copies, even if 100 people or 1,000 or 1,000,000 people get my music for free. If I know 1,000 that are coming my way, I will deal with that as opposed to somebody being shady.

posted by mediareport at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2002

Sorry if it seemed like I was ragging on you.

Although it is fun.

Well, if it keeps you off the streets...
posted by mediareport at 9:36 AM on September 15, 2002

So what are we arguing about, exactly?

The shift that's happened at MTV, a network that smiled and raked in the dough as PE fantasized about breaking Ollie North's neck and popping a female corrections officer during a prison breakout in 1988, but now refuses to air Chuck D's accusation that the justice system imprisoned a man he thinks was wrongly convicted of murder.

Something like that.
posted by mediareport at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2002

Okay, so what, because MTV once aired Chuck D's rantings, offensive as they may have been, they are obligated to continue to do so? That the climate of MTV should not have shifted along with the climate of our society at large, which is not nearly as forgiving of PE's style of stirring up controversy and outspoken disagreement with just about everything about our foundations of law and government as it may have once been?

By the way "Free Mumia and H. Rap Brown" isn't an accusation, it's a slogan. It's a lot of air. And insulting air at that. But even though far more Americans currently support eventual military intervention in Iraq, for instance, than believe that Abu-Jamal and Brown are the innocent victims of a corrupt legal system, I doubt that MTV would choose to air an unedited video by any artist who had "Bomb Iraq Now" or "Kick Saddam's Ass" imagery or lyrics, either.

MTV is now targetted toward a very limited demographic of very young kids, preteens even, and they're highly aware of that. They will shove suggestive images of sexuality down their viewers throats, but it is extraordinarily rare that they will overtly politicize them.
posted by Dreama at 11:06 AM on September 15, 2002

They will shove suggestive images of sexuality down their viewers throats, but it is extraordinarily rare that they will overtly politicize them.

Which, of course, is Chuck D's point. I think it's great that he's making it.
posted by mediareport at 12:38 AM on September 16, 2002

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