Limiting the freedom of expression of adults is justified by society's interest in protecting children.
Many politicians believe that it is in the best interest of the American society to “limit the freedom of expression of adults,” which is just a spun version of saying “censor,” in order to protect the innocence of the children in the country. There are several ways that they seek to accomplish this: not allowing certain books to be sold, limiting the Internet, censoring the language that is permitted on television, and, worst of all, not allowing the “sale of records containing lyrics that are violent, sexually explicit or perverse” (Nuzum 2003). This censorship, in any form, is not in the best interest of the American society, but rather is contributing to the destruction of American ideals, and should be stopped at all costs. The Constitution itself states, in its first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” For a politician, such as Sam Brownback, senator from Kansas, to try and impede the freedoms of anyone cannot only be seen as anti-constitutional, but also as an attempt to force ideals onto citizens, in a similar fashion to The Party in Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984. Though this may be an example of an extreme case, it just goes to show how limiting expression can cause conformity, which is an enemy of the free market capitalistic society that we live in.
This push towards conformity is my biggest objection to the government limiting the freedom of expression of adults, despite using the excuse of “protecting the children.” Ironically, it is also one of the least argued issues when confronting censorship in America. Indeed, the first idea that the majority of debaters bring up when discussing the effects of censoring the media is the interest of the future of the country, namely the children. I, however, disagree that this should be our primary concern as a society, because it is impossible to keep children pure and innocent forever, because inevitably they will be exposed to the sexuality, violence, and drugs that have become a part of the American society. And when their sheltered minds are finally brought to see the reality, it can be quite the reality check, and also very detrimental to their young mind. How can one be expected to make good decisions, or at least ones beneficial to one’s well being, when not exposed to these variables due to censorship in the media? This flood of stimulation can ultimately lead to abuse, both drug and sexually related, which everyone can agree is counterproductive to establishing a working society. A better suggestion then not allowing certain material to be seen, such as violence or explicit lyrics, is to put the responsibility of “limiting freedoms” on the parents of the children, and not using the children as an excuse to censor what everyone is exposed to. For the government to tell a 19 year old male that he isn’t allowed to listen to Bad Religion, or watch violence on television, simply because some children might see it and, I emphasize “and,” be influenced to do something illegal due to parental neglect is simply not constitutional. I believe that if the American society exposes children gradually to such “controversial” topics like sex, drugs, and violence, and are guided to make better decisions by their parents, as opposed to being thrown in front of the television while mom and dad go about their own business, then they will be better prepared to handle the “real world” and all of its nuances.
Since the excuse of “protecting the children” seems to be ill advised, then there must be another reason why the government would want to limit the freedom of expression of adults. It has been suggested that politicians use censorship of the people, and the media, to discourage civil unrest. This idea can be seen in many government actions: from the abuse given to protesters during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, to the bills passed in the 1990s banning explicit lyrics and artwork in 20 states (Nuzum 2003), to the more recent shutting down of at least 20 antiwar websites by the FBI (World Socialists Web Site 2004). The later example proved to be particularly interesting, since the United States government used one of its agencies to not only censor its own people, but those of other nations as well. To be exact, “at least 20 national web sites, including those for Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Uruguay were taken down when the hard drives for the servers were given to the FBI. Most of the sites were restored to service by the end of the weekend, but they may have lost significant digital content because of the removal of the hardware” (World Socialists Web Site 2004). To have the audacity to remove the content from the sites of other countries seems to be stepping out of bounds in an attempt to subdue the unrest that such a website can create. Subduing this unrest is an attempt to “force” the people to agree with the viewpoints that coincide with the governmental ideal, or, in simpler terms, a push towards conformity. This use of force, although subtle and nonviolent, can become a gateway to more overt acts, such as explicit limitations of a person’s rights, violence against protestors such as in the Civil Rights Movements, or to the extreme case, a state of martial law declared, similar to the one in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. The college students were peacefully demonstrating against government corruption, and demanding democratic reform, and in response, the government of the People’s Republic of China exerted military force on the demonstrators, creating what has become known as one of the biggest massacres in recent history, with a death total of almost 7000 (GNU Free 2005).
Another more explicit form of the governments attempt to limit the freedoms of the people came to a head in the 1990s, when politicians from around the nation decided to focus on the music industry, specifically the lyrics used by the musicians. Several states passed bills through their legislature banning “lyrics that are violent, sexually explicit or perverse” (Nuzum 2003). The major problem with the bills is the lack of a commonly accepted definition of explicit; for one individual, lyrics may be completely acceptable, while to another they are down right offensive. To limit someone’s right to express his or her ideas just because it may be offensive to another is not constitutional. However, this was exactly the case when the records of the 2 Live Crew, Jane’s Addiction, NWA, and others were banned from being sold in stores across America. Still others were not permitted to wear the clothing of bands such as Korn and Bad Religion because it was deemed to be “in bad taste” (Nuzum 2003). Even parents got in on the act, marching in protest against albums being released with lyrics that depicted murder, sexuality, and drug use, using the excuse that as long as the music was available, their children would have access to it. This objection caused an uproar in the music industry, with musicians going on trial to defend their lyrics against angry parents and politicians such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and John McCain of Arizona. Unbelievably, many of the musician’s were forced to edit their artwork, their lyrics, and their ideals because they were ruled “detrimental to society and the youth of the nation” (Nuzum 2003). Ultimately, there was an agreement between artists and politicians that there would be standards agency created to monitor the content of the albums and determine who can purchase the material. Though this decision was commonly accepted as fair, I still believe it is wrong to censor an artist’s vision because some people do not want to be exposed to it. If they truly don’t want to listen to lyrics about violence, sex, or drugs, then it is very easy to turn off the radio, and simply not listen, but to force someone such as myself to not have access to the material is just wrong. It is a violation of the first amendment of the Constitution, and, in my opinion, an attempt to force people to think, or act, a certain way in order to fit into a preconceived ideal of utopian society. Conforming to the standard can be thought of as a way to avoid confrontation, but over a long period of time, this conformity will lead to a loss of original thought, causing everyone to be like everyone else. If this happens, the result will be no new products entering the capitalist markets, no new artwork being developed, in fact, no new ideas at all. Progress in general will be impeded, and new thinkers will be thought as outcasts in society, similar to the world in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Again, this is an example of an extreme case, but it serves to show what the effects of conformity can be if allowed to persist.
Clearly, censoring certain individuals in order to protect others, while successful in theory, proves to be an exercise in futility when applied to the real world. It is impossible to shelter someone from the realities of the American society forever, and it is more beneficial to introduce the temptations of sex, drugs, and violence early on in the developmental stage, in order to better prepare the child for how life outside of the home will be. I believe the responsibility of limiting freedom of expression should be placed on the parents, not on government officials who can take the freedom away from everyone. When parents start passing these responsibilities onto others, while trying to force their viewpoints onto the nation, it creates a mechanism for conformity, which can lead to the breakdown of society. Not allowing someone to speak out against the government, or to express the violence and drug abuse all around them, is merely an attempt to hide reality from the listening public, an action which is considered unconstitutional, so, stop accepting the push towards conformity, reject the censorship of the bureaucracy of the American government, and embrace individuality.
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