Censorship for the Eyes – AND the Ears

I’m going to step out of my normal routine of posting photos of mine, sometimes with an explanation of how I made it, in favor of writing about something else: censorship.

I’ve been thinking this over today, and it seems to be that perhaps there are two types of censorship. One of those is where a particular type of expression is clearly and plainly prohibited. For example, in the Soviet Union, taking photos of soldiers on duty was prohibited. You may not agree with it, but at least you know exactly what the rule is. The line not to be crossed is clearly drawn.
Then there’s the type of censorship that’s harder to get a handle on. These are the types of prohibitions where the lines not to be crossed are not so clearly drawn, due to vague wording (sometimes intentionly so) of the rules.
In these cases, the question then becomes, “Where do I put that line in practice?” A lot of that depends on what the penalty is for crossing the line. In the case of Federal regulation 2257A (I wrote about it last year here and here), which is supposed to be about combating child pornography but is so vaguely worded that it can also include the work of legitimate artists among its banned works, the penalty is being labeled as a ‘sex offender’ and spending up to five years in the Federal pen.
Given that, can you blame artists for staying very clear not of the where the line actually is, but rather, where they imagine it to be?
I found out recently that this type of censorship extends beyond the visual arts. Earlier this week, while listening to the radio, I heard the Pink Floyd song “Money,” from the great album “Dark Side of the Moon.” One of the lines in the song is
“Money, it’s a hit,
don’t give me that goody good bullshit.”
Well, on this occasion, as on earlier recent occasions, the work “bullshit” was broadcast as “bull___.”
I decided that enough was enough, so I went to the station’s website and wrote this message:

I recently heard you play the Pink Floyd song “Money.”
Instead of the line “don’t give me that goody good bullshit,”
I heard “don’t give me that goody good bull____.”

This is the standard way you play this song now. Why? Is
the government forcing you to do this, or is it the work of
some corporate bluenoses? I certainly don’t think it was Pink Floyd’s idea.

So, let me suggest this: please DO NOT play this song at all
if you cannot play it properly. The same goes for “Who Are
You” by The Who and “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band.

I would rather not hear a song at all than hear a butchered
or censored version.

Otherwise, I may have to stop listening altogether.

The very next day, I received this reply from the station’s program director:

You and me both! Allow me to explain.

We almost never played edited versions of songs in the past. But a couple of years ago, thanks mainly to Janet Jackson’s boob, the powers that be in this country decided that a random swear word in a song on a radio station was just too terrible for the general public to hear. They raised the potential fine for such an utterance from $27,500 to over $300,000! Now our company’s corporate bigwigs pretty much left us alone on this issue in the old days. Well when it was raised to the current level of $325,000, they decided (and I can’t really blame them) that the risk wasn’t worth it and we were forced to remove the words or the songs altogether.

We’ve actually done the edits ourselves to try and keep as much of the original song intact as we can. It sucks. We hate it as much as you do. However, none of us have an extra 300K in our pockets to pay the fine ourselves which is what would happen if we ever did get nailed. My only suggestion would be to write your representatives in Congress and tell them how ridiculous this is. “Who the F*** are you?” is hardly going to bring down our great nation…

I hope that explains it. Thanks for writing and for listening!

Well, I guess that explained it! I answered him with this:

Thank you for your kind response. I appreciate your doing so.

Yes, I can understand why management would not want to chance risking a $325K fine. Like you said, though, the whole idea is really ridiculous. Still, I would rather you not play a great like that if it needs to be butchered for the government’s sake.

On that note, things are really getting out of hand in this country. I’m a fine art photographer, and one of my subjects is the fine art nude. Last year, the government instituted a new regulation (a parting shot from the Bush administration) that could have you sent to prison and labeled as a child pornographer/sex offender for failure to maintain identification documents and make them available 20 hours a week for government inspection, even if the youngest person you photograph is 60 years old!

Hopefully, one day, people in this country will grow up instead of acting childishly – and forcing everybody else to act the same way.

Have a good day.

His response, then, was:

Wow! That’s just ridiculous. I had no idea. Kind of goes with the places that proof everybody for alcohol, even if they are bald or grey and wrinkled and there with their grandkids!

We did debate long and hard about whether or not to play the edits and it wasn’t a decision we made lightly. Ultimately we felt that everyone knows what goes in those places anyway so your mind almost “fills in the blank”. If the Mona Lisa had a smudge in the corner we’d still want to look at it!

Thanks again for your input and here’s hoping we can all get over ourselves in this country! Take care.

So there you go. Our tax dollars at work, protecting the foundations of our great American society by prohibiting random swear words on the radio. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that you can simply go to cable TV (and satellite radio?) to hear all of the foul language (and see all the nudity) you want.

The photo at the top, by the way, was something I shot at the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan, in 2005. It’s the famous carving of the three monkeys in the “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” poses. I guess you can figure out why I chose to post it today.

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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2 Responses to Censorship for the Eyes – AND the Ears

  1. Bill Ballard says:

    Interesting…and disturbing. Thanks for sharing your correspondence with the radio station.Being a photographer of the nude, and living in the 'bible belt', these attitudes are something I confront everyday. Just recently, while assembling a gallery catalog, one of my photographs was rejected for the simple reason that the 'model's vulva was clearly visible'. The image in question was a contrasty shoulder to knees torso study in the classic contrapposto pose.This is censorship not from corporate America, not from the religious right, but from the board of directors of an art gallery!What was the reasoning behind the rejection? It was that families with children often come into the gallery. I'm sure the fact that a large percentage of the city's revenues are derived from tourist dollars had something to do with it as well.It must be mentioned the gallery director defended my work vigorously and loudly. However, the message is loud and clear and was instrumental in my own decision to pursue other markets for representation and exhibition opportunities.

  2. Thank you for the post, Dave. I struggle every day with the uncertainty as to whether some of my modeling work could be construed as in violation of 2257. I hope the lawsuit against it will be successful. Like Bill, I ran into the same Middle American bible belt mentality about a nude show I proposed last spring for two distinguished artists at the local art center. They didn't have then but do have now a No Nude rule. All nude art is sexual, right? I have to agree with Bill – galleries that hang nude photography are few and far between these days – unless you are Mapplethorpe or Newton, of course, although I don't think the local art center would even be interested in those artists. Those who run the place don't know who they are.

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