By Natasha Sinnet
Since it emerged in the 1970s, heavy metal music has been blamed for everything from inciting riots to murder. Earlier this year, the media blamed Australian teenage band Silverchair for allegedly instigating a triple murder in the USA, while the death of Nirvana band member Kurt Cobain in 1994 allegedly sparked a spate of youth suicides.
Censorship organisations, many led by religious groups, are now proliferating in Australia. The federal government is being pressured to pass legislation against "offensive" albums and bands, and "voluntary" parental advisory stickers have already been implemented.
The Australian Recording Industry Association's (ARIA) draft code of practice covers all Australian and imported bands recorded on major labels. In its three tier system, the first level classification is a general sticker warning about explicit lyrics, basically expletives. The second level may be a different coloured sticker warning that the album is suitable only for people 18 years and older. These albums include repeated use of expletives and gratuitous violence. The third level refers to material which might offend any reasonable adult and includes any album or song that advocates rape, bestiality or excessive violence. These will be banned from sale in Australia. One band, Cannibal Corpse, has already been removed from the shops.
This code of practice will allow retailers to sell albums at their own discretion, removing consumers' right to choose. If a person wants to purchase an album deemed offensive, they will either have to order it by mail (most major retailers will not stock it), or find a store that does stock it. In towns where there may only be one or two music outlets this will be extremely difficult. Australian bands will suffer.
Wollongong band Segression told Green Left Weekly that what is deemed offensive is based not only on lyrics, but also on the image of band members and album cover designs.
Although Segression assists charities and promotes awareness of sexually transmissible diseases, its lyrics involve brutal images so it faces censorship. Lead singer and bassist Chris Rand says that the band's cover themes are political, aimed at the government and judicial system from the perspective of victims of crime. This may be another reason the band is being targeted by ARIA.
Segression's major concern is that the method of expression in its lyrics is being limited. Rand said, "I feel as though my freedom of expression has been taken away. If people are living in ignorance as to what happens in society, they will be shocked when they are confronted with reality. We sing about what is part of everyday life. We are not offensive for the sake of being offensive; it is to express the atrocities of our society. The burden of decision should not be taken from the hands of those who listen to the music. Censorship takes away people's rights."
Each day, news reports present graphic images of war, famine and violence. This is considered acceptable, however, because it is in a context the government can control. It is ironic that 16 year olds are permitted to control a motor vehicle, but do not have the right to listen to music they wish to hear. People are more than capable of deciding whether they find something offensive and if they do then surely they will not listen to it.