Today, in the 1990's, citizens in our society are being bombarded with obscene material from every direction. From the hate lyrics of Gun's 'N Roses to the satanic lyrics of Montley Crue and Marilyn Manson to the sexually explicit graphical content of today's movies, the issue is how much society is going to permit and where we, as a society, should we draw the line. The freedom of speech has always been considered a right, but that doesn't mean that you can shout, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater. The real question is whether such material is harmful or dangerous to our society.
Many people are asking whether or not we should censor offensive material. They believe that some material is too obscene for society to hear or see. The advocates of censorship get riled up because the movie rating council doesn't give a move an R-rating for having the occasional f-word. One rap group, 2 Live Crew, has already had one of their albums banned because in one song they used explicit references to male genitals and 87 references to oral sex. They used the word "bitch" more than 100 times and the f-word more than 200 times.
Although most people agree that we are being overwhelmed with offensive material, there is no consensus on how to deal with the problem. There are three possible solutions. The first is the possibility of government censorship, which would include laws and penalties for breaking these laws. The second solution is self-imposed censorship by individuals and corporations. The third solution is total free speech with no censorship.
The first possible solution is government censorship. In the past government legal actions have been taken to control offensive messages. For example, in 1988, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to appear on a Kansas City, Missouri public access cable channel. The city council decided that it would be better to shut the public access cable channel down instead of letting the KKK air their show. Later, under the pressure of being sued, the city council reversed their decision.
Critics of this sort of action agree that these offensive messages do exist, but legal action is not the way to deal with them. They believe that no individual acts the way the messages portray just because the messages exist. Another belief is that legal actions will intimidate creative people because it makes them afraid of having to pay a fine to the government for violating obscenity laws.
The second possible solution is private-sector censorship. While some people feel that government officials are the best way to restrict offensive messages, others feel that self- censorship is a more effective method. A recent series of incidents suggests that executives in many private firms have begun doing just that. Book publishers, TV stations, and others have drawn the line when faced with words or images that are tasteless or offensive. For example, in 1990, Andy Rooney, a CBS news...