On the radio the other day, I heard the censored version of Kanye West’s All of the Lights. Normally, I’m indifferent to censorship. I think it’s a bit absurd, but if people feel they need to build a wall between themselves and curse words, well, I feel bad enough for such people that I’m willing to overlook any minor inconveniences it has on my life. Lately, there have been a few song edits that have bothered me. The first is changing the lyric, “Fuck you” in Cee-lo’s Fuck you to “Forget you,” which messes up the rhythm of the chorus. The second is Malaysia’s garbling of “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I’m on the right track, baby” in Lady Gaga’s Born this Way, which Lady Gaga discusses in her Google interview. The last is, of course, the censoring of “I slap my girl” in All of the Lights.

The chorus, functionally the thesis of most pop songs, metaphorically explains that in order to begin to fix the problems in our society, we need to bring them into the light. The song discusses (in order) prison sentences, infidelity, a lack of father figures, custody battles, unemployment, poverty, and drug use through two first-person perspectives. In the context of the song, all of these problems are related, and they all stem from the narrator “slap[ping his] girl [who] call[s] the feds.” To censor an event in this song defeats the message the song is attempting to convey, and, moreover, perpetuates the major problem the song is discussing.

In order to begin solving these problems, we must begin a public conversation. The unwillingness to put this lyric out on the airwaves, only makes deniability of the problem easier, and further isolates women who are in such situations. Shrouding such a situation in silence gives it a type of power; the only route to solving this problem is through the education and openness that results from public admittance and discussion.

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The poorly thought out reasoning behind this censoring seems to be based either on the assumption that if domestic violence is mentioned in music the song is encouraging such acts, or that silence and ignorance will prevent listeners from committing such acts themselves. This thought process is somewhat reminiscent of abstinence only sex education, and is a mindset encountered frequently in the Bible Belt.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A fellow audience member asked his why his books are inappropriate for in-class high school reading, though high school aged readers make up his target audience. Diaz launched into an allocution about the separation of art and religion. He discussed our penchant for viewing all art through a religious/moral lens  and the various problems with such a mindset, mainly that art, the purest form of human expression, doesn’t subscribe to morality–just because it’s wrong to feel something, doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. Diaz theorized that morality and religion are based around struggles for power, which art is unconcerned with.

I don’t want to begin the argument of whether the music Kanye West makes is “art”. Regardless of your feelings, the argument can be applied to this song and situation. All of the Lights attempts to make a convincing argument in favor of morality, but that argument is censored to the point that the listener may not know what parts of the song are even about. When your morality is so extreme that it hinders an educated message in its favor, it’s no longer morality, it’s fear, and such a fear is far more dangerous than any topic it’s trying to censor.

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