James Evans, a 31-year-old American living in Greenville, Kentucky decided that he would post some lyrics from a song by the band Exodus on his Facebook wall. The song is called Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer) and contains the following lyrics: "Student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood splattered treatise of hate, class dismissed is my hypothesis, gun fire ends in debate". Apparently, Mr Evans often posts the lyrics to songs he listens to on his Facebook wall. Unfortunately, this time a fellow Greenville resident was unimpressed by this and decided to alert local school officials and two days later Mr Evans was arrested.
He spent a total of eight days in jail and his arrest warrant stated that he threatened to kill students and or staff at school. He appeared in court on 27 August and was charged with a class 'C' felony for "terrorist threatenings" (there's a new word for you: "threatenings") and faces the possibility of between five and 10 years in prison. However we may feel about the lyrics - the band claims that "the song was written as a view through the eyes of as madman and in no way endorses that f**ked up behaviour" - this is an outrageous example of over-reaction and paranoia by the Kentucky police.
Clearly, for many people, censorship is a subjective thing. On the same day that I read about the unfortunate Mr Evans, I also read about the ongoing dispute between the estate of the late Marvin Gaye, and the writers (and I use that term loosely) of the massive worldwide hit Blurred Lines. In evidence given to the court dealing with the alleged plagiarism of Gaye's Got To Give It Up the singer of Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke, has claimed that although he has a 20% share of the publishing, he didn't actually play any part - other than simply being present - in the writing of the song and that he was high on a mix of drugs and alcohol at the time that the song was written. You really couldn't make this stuff up. But, for me, the most interesting thing about this story is that if Thicke didn't play any part in the writing of Blurred Lines then it must have been written almost exclusively by Pharell Williams. In other words, the genius who gave us the wonderfully life affirming and joyful Happy also gave us a dark and disturbing song that many have claimed is a justification for non-consensual sex.
I have written before about the inexorable drift of many pop videos towards hard core porn and many have called for pop videos to be regulated in the same way as movies. Last year Annie Lennox called for regulation of music videos saying "I'm all for freedom of expression but this is clearly one step beyond, and it's clearly into the realm of porn. How do you stop your kids being exposed to it?"
She has a point. For me, art and freedom of expression go hand in hand. I might find the lyrics to the Exodus song abhorrent but I would defend the bands right to explore their art form and challenge perceptions, and locking up a fan for posting lyrics on a Facebook wall is clearly bonkers.
Let's be honest, pop music has always, to a lesser or greater degree, been about sex and sexual attraction. What people call R and B today - I'm too old to think this is a good term for this style of music, R and B is what I grew up loving and it bears little resemblance to the music produced by the likes of Thicke, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Chris Brown and their ilk - is highly sexual in its lyrical content and I guess there is no reason why this shouldn't be reflected in the videos these artists make. So, how do we bring about a balanced approach? Who decides what is acceptable and what is not?
From 1 October, UK-based internet users will be subject to a three-month pilot scheme that will see UK-produced music videos (and attendant hard copy releases of videos via DVDs and CDs) stamped with 12, 15, 18 or R18 certificates. The music video trial (the brain child of David Cameron) is being led by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), working with Google, BPI (the body representing the UK music industry), two major video platforms (Vevo and YouTube) and three major labels: Sony, Warner and Universal. Of course, initially, it will only apply to videos produced in the UK and not to all the US based artists mentioned above. However, the plan is to roll it out to all music videos in time. We will have to see whether this approach will be effective or not but I can't help but think that this is a case of shoving a bucket under a leaky roof rather than fixing the leak. I live in hope that the highly talented people who create this stuff will wake up (grow up?) and realise that, great as sex is, there is more to life than a little bit of bump and grind.