Online College Courses for Credit

Music as Media 8: Censorship

Music as Media 8: Censorship

Author: Amee Wittbrodt
  • Understand, analyze, evaluate, and use different types of print, digital, and multimodal media.
  • Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.
  • Gain an understanding of censorship.
  • Create a personal definition of censorship.
  • Consider whether or not Walmart openly censors music.
  • Explain what happened to The Dixie Chicks and how censorship affected their music career.

This packet is 8th in a series about music as media.

In this packet sudents will gain an understanding of censorship and view a short video that explains how censorship affected The Dixie Chicks. Students will also take a close look at Walmart and decide if they are openly censoring music and if they are personally okay with this.

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Shut up and Sing

"Shut Up And Sing" travels with the Dixie Chicks, from the peak of their popularity as the national-anthem-singing darlings of country music and top-selling female recording artists of all time, through the now infamous anti-Bush comment made by the group's lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003.

Background Information

"Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive, as determined by a censor."

Imagine the world without music. Or imagine a world where we are told what to play, what to sing and even what we may listen to in the privacy of our own homes. That world already exists. In more countries that you might imagine, musicians and composers are under threat. And that threat is growing.In countries like Sudan, Afghanistan and China, violations of musician’s rights to freedom of expression are commonplace. In the USA and Algeria, lobbying groups have succeeded in keeping popular music off the concert stage, and out of the media and retail. In ex-Yugoslavia musicians are often pawns in political dramas, and the possibility of free expression has been aversely affected.

You may wonder why music is being censored. Why havemusicians been tortured, jailed, exiled and even killed. Why have certain forms of music been silenced?

It may be as simple as South African musician Johnny Clegg has said: "Censorship is based on fear."

Music is a free expression of the ideas, traditions and emotions of individuals and of peoples. It may express musicians’ hopes and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their very identity as a culture. Yet these expressions may conflict with those of people in power. The ideas themselves may simply be unpopular or outside the current thinking or practices of a regime or special interest group. For there are those the world over who are threatened by the very nature of a free exchange of ideas. There are those who will stop at nothing to stifle them.

Music censorship has been implemented by states, religions, educational systems, families, retailers and lobbying groups – and in most cases they violate international conventions of human rights.

Walmart and Censorship

Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer, selling over $200 billion worth of merchandise each year. Wal-Mart also sells more music recordings than any other retailer in the United States. Because of the company's power in the marketplace, some recordings or their cover art have been changed at Wal-Mart's request. For example, Nirvana changed the lyrics of its song "Rape Me" to "Waif Me," and also changed the back cover of the album "In Utero." Similarly, the covers of recordings by the Black Crowes, White Zombie, John Mellencamp, and others have been changed so that they could be sold in Wal-Mart stores. If a recording company does not make the requested changes, Wal-Mart may refuse to sell its recording.

In one instance, Wal-Mart asked Sheryl Crow to change part of her song "Love is a Good Thing." The company objected to the lyric "Watch our children while they kill each other with a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores." When Crow would not change the song, Wal-Mart refused to sell the recording.

In addition, Wal-Mart decided several years ago not to sell recordings that carried parental warning stickers. The company's web site discusses this policy:

"Wal-Mart will not stock music with parental guidance stickers. While Wal-Mart sets high standards, it would not be possible to eliminate every image, word or topic that an individual might find objectionable. And the goal is not to eliminate the need for parents to review the merchandise their children buy. The policy simply helps eliminate the most objectionable material from Wal-Mart's shelves."

People who support Wal-Mart's position point out that the courts have said the freedom of speech includes freedom not to speak. In other words, there is no law that Wal-Mart has to sell a recording unless it wants to. Wal-Mart is free to decide what types of music it sells, and if it dislikes some music, it can decide not to carry that music, or ask the musician to change it. Some people say that because Wal-Mart is a private company rather than a government agency, Wal-Mart should be allowed to sell or not to sell whichever music recordings it wants to.

Other people say that because Wal-Mart is such a huge company, it is bullying musicians to do what Wal-Mart wants them to do, or suffer the consequences of not having their recordings sold in the nation's largest retail chain. These people say that Wal-Mart, a multibillion-dollar corporation, is doing what the government is not allowed to do: censor music.


Answer the questions below based upon your knowledge of:

The Dixie Chicks' video
Censorship Information
Parental Advisory- Website
Wal-Mart and Censorship

Discussion Questions

  1. What is censorship? Define it.
  2. T/F? In countries like China and Sudan, violations of musician's rights to freedom of expression are commonplace.
  3. T/F? In the United States, lobbying groups have succeeded in keeping popular music off the concert stage, and out of the media and retail.
  4. T/F? Musicians in the United States have never been tortured, jailed, killed or exiled for their music.
  5. T/F? The Dixie Chicks were "censored" for speaking out against President Bush.
  6. T/F? During The Dixie Chicks controversy, the American Red Cross graciously accepted a one million dollar donation from them.
  7. T/F? The Dixie Chicks received death threats for their comments about President Bush.
  8. T/F? If a recording company does not make the requested changes, Wal-Mart may refuse to sell its recording.
  9. T/F? Sheryl Crow willingly changed part of her song "Love is a Good Thing" so Wal-Mart would sell her CD.
  10. The South African musician Johnny Clegg has said that: "Censorship is based on______________."
  11. Ironically, what group is responsible for the uproar against The Dixie Chicks?
  12. Wal-Mart chooses not to sell recordings that carry parental warning stickers because ____________________.
  13. "The Dixie Chicks had the hottest song in the country and it died." Explain what happened.
  14. Wal-Mart and Censorship- You decide. What is your opinion of Wal-Mart? Are they openly censoring music?  Explain.
  15. According to these web sites, list 5 musicans who have been censored in the United States during the 21st century.  Censored Artists    Airplay Censorship