Freedom of speech now endangered for every musician
“Amid the ongoing fallout from the violence that saw a civil rights activist killed, music subscription service Spotify began removing so-called white power music, flagged by the SPLC as racist ‘hate bands.’
“A Spotify spokesperson said: ‘Illegal content or material that favours hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like, is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention.
“We are glad to have been alerted to this content — and have already removed many of the bands identified, while urgently reviewing the remainder.” (“Apple denounces neo-Nazis as Spotify bans ‘white power’ tracks,” Guardian 8/17/2017)
This should be of concern to anyone who would write, play, and sell music without first considering the authoritarian prejudices of ideological overlords.
It should go without saying that ‘white power’ music (or anything at all complementary) is both morally repugnant and inherently hostile to the American, Constitutional equality ideal we commonly cherish.
Also, as private company, Spotify can set any participatory standards it chooses.
But the notion of suppressing articulation based on subjective assumptions of propriety is also contrary to traditional Constitutional guarantees. A censor’s red pencil can deny liberty even more effectively than an obscure Charlottesville lackwit with poison fancies and substandard grooming habits.
As witnessed with the 1980s LP-labeling craze, the movie rating system, and the comics code of the 1950s, private industry makes content decisions based on market calculations, not on high-minded, individual liberty priorities. And those dollar-conscious reckonings soon become the orthodoxy. Art is impacted.
Once a measure for speech’s ‘legitimacy’ has been adopted, all expression is threatened. And, whether noxious sloganeering or satirical, under-the-table advocacy of sensibleness (remember Randy Newman’s “Short People?”), any lyric containing officially proscribed verbiage would be automatically tossed away.
Rock and Roll itself evolved in wonderful defiance of racial mores.
The ability to consider ideas — positive and productive ones, as well as their negative, destructive counterparts — is crucial to intellectual development. By hearing contrasting perspectives, and judging them side by side, listeners are able to arrive at sufficiently thought-out and dependable conclusions.
(I’m not talking about Chaplinsky’s “Fighting words” standard, nor of “clear and present danger” yelling ‘fire!’ in some packed theater, or the health hazards demonstrable in unlabeled, improper product ingredients. Ideas can be either accepted or rejected; physical poisons have but one logical end.)
Given contemporary mania for toppling statues, ripping down plaques, renaming streets, and other ill-considered efforts at historical revisionism, do not be surprised when, in coming times, rockabilly bands ‘disappear’ the Confederate Stars and Bars and other southern iconography from presentations.
Such reinvention, though, may not be entirely of musicians’ conception. Owners of performance venues, record labels, and radio stations, not illogically apprehensive about adverse publicity and feel-good boycott campaigns, may soon present bands with a choice: Conform or die. Accommodate ideological fascism or be denied the ability to earn a living at your chosen profession.
That used to be called McCarthyism. Today, Spotify hails it as social justice.