Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

When is Censorship Appropriate?

In reading about Dangdut and its place in the national spotlight, we’ve read a lot about various times when the Indonesian Government has censored artists. Rhoma Irama was banned from television for 11 years, but later went on to support a movement to censor Inul, a movement that was supported by other devout followers of Islam in Indonesia. Weintraub tells us that Inul was often dressed much more revealingly for live performances than for television performances, because she was forced to be presentable for a national audience. Additionally, Weintraub contrasts “Oh My Dear,” a song which reinforces family values, with “Are You a Virgin or Not,” a song which deals with promiscuity and seduction. The Indonesian Government opposed the airing of the latter, due to the supposedly negative values which it promoted.

These cases cause one to wonder, when and to what extent is censorship justifiable? Most people are okay with censorship, even from the government, on some levels–in America, the FCC prevents things like nudity and excessive vulgarity from airing on cable television or during daytime hours. Additionally, we have move ratings which prevent children of too young an age from seeing certain movies deemed inappropriate for them. However, there is definitely a level at which censorship by the government is frowned upon; Americans often clutch dearly to the rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment in order to justify their actions and state that the government has no power to stop them. The vast majority of Americans would certainly oppose censorship that serves to block out values and beliefs which don’t serve the government, so the attempted censoring of “Are You a Virgin or Not” would likely be opposed by most Americans. The benefit of this is that artists have more freedom, the public can choose what they wish to support, and the government cannot solely advance its propaganda and move towards some type of dictatorship. One might argue that there are downsides, too, though, in disallowing censorship and thus letting certain types of messages through, which may have a negative influence on its audience. Either way, if this debate was happening in America, I’m sure the majority of participants would strongly oppose any attempts by the government to censor artists’ messages, regardless of what those messages might be. They might not be quite as opposed on forcing Inul to dress more conservatively for television than she does during live performances, though

While applying the Indonesian debates to American values just creates a made-up hypothetical situation, ideas on censorship are certainly debated in America, and apply to a great number of situations. People question the government’s ability to censor things on the internet or pornography of especially graphic/vile nature, and people believe very strongly in one side or the other. While it seems certain to me that the Indonesian government in the time period which Weintraub describes took censorship too far, I don’t believe all censorship is necessarily bad or unjustifiable, and deciding on an appropriate extent to which censorship can be applied is nigh on impossible in an ideologically diverse society like ours.

1 Comment

  1. It is interesting to compare the degrees by which censorship is tolerated in different places around the world. I think that religious influence predominantly dictates what people find to be inappropriate or offensive. Many of the world’s most popular religious systems, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, place restrictions on sexual activity and imagery and explicit language. Much of the opposition to suggestive dangdut music, such as that of Inul, comes from conservative Islamic voices. Additionally, fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity or Islam can include patriarchal stances that resist depictions of females in power positions. Inul’s embracing her own sexuality and disregard for the disapproval of some in her audience puts her in a place of power and agency that is not considered appropriate in a conservative Islamic context.

    I think that conservative Christian influence plays a similar role in censorship in the United States. However, with a trend away from organized religion, increased secularization and growing support for equality of the sexes through feminism, over time there may be a relaxation of censorship in the U.S. In many European countries, nudity is allowed on television, and this is an example of something I believe could shift in the future here. However, discussion of censorship in the U.S. has recently revolved around internet censorship. This topic often crosses over into debate about copyright infringement and the feasibility of censoring piracy websites. I personally think that some censorship is acceptable, but only in cases where material glorifies or encourages violent acts toward self or others.

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