NOV 2001

Imagine There’s No Censor

On September 11th, besides the instant shock I felt about the demise of all the people in the World Trade Center, I also had a very nervous feeling. First, I felt that George W would immediately react to the disaster without pausing to properly assess the larger global situation or to understand some possible motives for the incident. I felt that Bush’s "people" would push him—since he’s hardly a leader—into directions that would escalate the entire situation up into even meaner one-way streets. With these thoughts I quickly started to feel sorry for the innocent victims, both for those who were already dead and, anticipating Bush’s reasoning, for those who would surely be so in quick order.

The more I thought about the entire ordeal, the more I felt that those who were dead deserved something in recognition, a positive pronouncement affirming our American values of tolerance, empathy and forgiveness. I didn’t want a vainglorious war that would only lead to more death and terror. I wanted a memento that would show a sense of humanity and kindness, virtues at the core of the "Americanism" that I fought for more than 30 years ago. I felt if we could avoid war, death, impersonal destruction and irrational unreflecting thinking, then the people in New York City, Arlington, and Pennsylvania would be properly honored. But to see their deaths as a justification for more death means that instead of remembering them with honor and sadness, these dead become tainted with hatred, which dishonors them more than any terrorist act.

Once George W et al. took the easy road—and it is indeed all too easy to make war and to support it than it is to assess and reflect on the situations that led to that conclusion—it became all too clear why Bush’s rhetoric—with its wild-west bang-bang shoot-’em-up, love-it-or-leave-it, "are you bluish; you don’t look bluish" harangues—struck such a responsive chord with so many. His rhetoric of revenge is so easy for Americans to follow. Because of our dominant Judeo-Christian moral scheme, where there is only one way to heaven—"my way" —and our dominant capitalistic socio-economic scheme, where money is first and foremost and always "right", the "righteous" immediately assume the rhetorical advantage. To take just one local instance, WEMU deejay Thayone ranted on the air that "Usama has to be a stain on the floor… they want to take your wife and…beat her in the streets …. There’s no talking to these people…. They hate you!", while WEMU’s station manager and news director expressed surprise that this is "controversial". This rhetoric becomes downright dangerous when the President, the dominant social gatekeepers, and the media all insist that revenge is the only proper view for Americans to have, a view that must be adhered to no matter what or else there will be consequences, severe permanent personal consequences.

This threat is not only felt in the abuse many non-white, non-European Americans have taken since the September 11th incident, but it is also felt by anyone who even hints at the possibility that the dominant conclusion reached by Bush et al. might need re-assessing. And it has gone even further. These gatekeepers, who demand that their point of view be strictly followed, go so far as to see censorship and the denial of constitutional civil liberties as perfectly appropriate. The politicos quickly write laws that force us to become homogenous ideologues just like themselves, while those who dominate the marketplace make it even harder for resistant points of view and products to ever reach an audience. And in no place does this pressure exert itself more than in the media. Positions counter to Bush’s foolhardy view of international affairs never see the light of the boob tube. Critics who suggest that alternatives to war and death might be available are shunned and in some cases fired from positions where they might make a stand. The vise-grip of political and capitalistic fanaticism has gone so far as to now reach the realm of aesthetics. Today if your musical recording merely mentions New York, or airplanes, or even imagining world peace, it will not get on any of the 1150 or so radio stations controlled by Clear Channel Communications of San Antonio, Texas.

Prior to the mid-1990s radio companies were prevented by the FCC from owning more than four radio stations. The long-standing thinking was that given that the airwaves are public, the only way the diversity of opinions found in local communities could be safeguarded was by restricting the number of stations any one owner could have. This all changed when Clinton under severe pressure from the Republican-controlled congress signed the Telecommunication Act, which essentially got rid of all ownership restrictions. Today one out of every ten radio stations in the country is controlled by Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel owns and programs four stations in Ann Arbor—WCAS-1290am (Oldies), WQKL-FM 107.1 (Adult Contemporary), WTKM-1050am (Sports), WWWW-FM 102.9 (Country)—and seven in Detroit—including the number one Urban programming station, WJLB-FM, and Adult Contemporary leader WNIC-FM.

By "controlled" I mean that playlists are standardized from Clear Channel’s Covington, KY office, and that deejay positions are eliminated in favor of automated recorded programming. Programming focusing on local issues has disappeared. And it doesn’t take much digging to see how far-reaching the influence of Clear Channel is: they’ve pressured the FCC to eliminate the introduction of low-powered local stations, they’ve lobbied against the college-station free-form radio format, they’ve insisted that recording artists sign with their concert promotions wing if they want to get airplay and public service announcements. And now, after the September 11th incident, Clear Channel personnel released a list of potentially "inappropriate songs" which they feel you should not hear.

Many of the over 150 songs on this list are downright silly (for the entire list check out The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian," and Bobby Darin’s "Mack the Knife" apparently are too un-American for airplay. Similarly, Frank Sinatra’s "New York, New York" and Louis Armstrong’s "It’s a Wonderful" are filled with too much irony to be handled by adult listeners. It seems that virtually any song that Clear Channel finds vaguely "insensitive" made the list: AC/DC’s "Dirty Deeds," disco diva Fontella Bass’ "Rescue Me," Neil Diamond’s "America," Bob Dylan’s "Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door," Elton John’s "Benny and the Jets," (jets, get it?), Steve Miller’s "Jet Airliner," Alanis Morissette’s "Ironic," and of course Cat Steven’s "Peace Train" (he’s a Muslim you know), The Youngbloods’ "Get Together," and John Lennon’s "Imagine."

The appalling thing about such a list is the presumption by Clear Channel that they are the arbiters of cultural appropriateness. Besides offering no explanation for the inclusion of any song on this list—much less the entire musical catalog of progressive rockers Rage Against the Machine—such a reactionary infringement on free speech is at best scary, at worst… un-American. But there is something we can do about it: email Clear Channel through their web site and demand that they abandon such an arbitrary list; contact the local stations and tell them how you feel about the inappropriateness of this list (and then request one of the songs on the list); and tune Clear Channel out. Finally, spread the word about Clear Channel’s atrocious practice. It’s the American thing to do!

NOV 2001


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