Of censorship and metal


Cannibal Corpse

The new Cannibal Corpse album has me thinking about censorship.

As anyone familiar with death metal history knows, the words “Cannibal Corpse” and “censorship” go together as readily as “peas” and “carrots.” Over their two decades in music, Cannibal Corpse has served as the whipping boy for conservative groups offended by the either the band’s lyrics, or by graphic art on most Corpse album covers.

The band has had material banned for a time in Germany and in Australia, and was pronounced morally abhorrent in 1995 by Republican Sen. Bob Dole (who, perhaps not coincidentally, was preparing to run for president). In 2006, an unsuccessful effort was made to prevent the band from performing in Perth, Australia.

Admittedly, some of Corpse’s material is pretty grotesque. The cover art on most the band’s albums is gory and the song titles and lyrics are “torture porn” nasty. A quick Wiki search calls up a number of unappetizing Corpse song titles, such as “Stripped, Raped and Strangled,” “Dismembered and Molested,” “Meat Hook Sodomy” and “Murder Worship.”

My goal here is not to defend Cannibal Corpse’s lyrical choices. They do a fine job defending themselves, so they don’t need me: In the documentary “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” band vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher describes the band’s music as art – and noted that other forms of art can be equally disturbing and violent.

But a recent debate on Blabbermouth.net, made me wonder: When does art become corrosive to society? Even if that line doesn’t exist, do we have an obligation to protect younger members of society from controversial art?

The first question has been debated, probably, for centuries – and art is often made a scapegoat when violent acts are committed. Marilyn Manson was handed the blame in 1999, when teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 students and injured 24 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. As it happened, neither Harris or Klebold were Marilyn Manson fans – a fact that did not prevent critics from blaming Manson for the massacre.

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

The problem with blaming Manson for Columbine, or Cannibal Corpse for any murder, is not only that it’s too simple, but that it singles out a specific genre of art while letting other, equally violent types of art skate past untouched.

Even if Harris and Klebold had been Marilyn Manson fans, why was Manson the only artist singled out for public persecution and media castigation? Had Harris and Klebold never seen a violent movie or television show?

By the standards that the media applied against Manson, the director of every movie and TV show Harris and Klebold had ever seen should have been blamed as well. But I don’t remember anyone attempting to pin the guilt on Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese.

The scape-goating of metal continues today. Blabbermouth.net, the “CNN of metal,” is good at scooping up stories from the mainstream media, and is quick to post articles where reporters mention a killer was a fan of, say, Slipknot or Disturbed … as if a killer has never been a country music or jazz fan.

The truth of the post-Columbine witch hunt, as Manson himself said in an article written for Rolling Stone magazine, is that people want easy, black and white answers to tragedies like school shootings. Nothing is easier than pointing a finger at someone else. Metal is a ready-made target, because of its less-than-mainstream status.

I think it’s convenient for certain segments of the media – and for religious or conservative groups – to blame Manson or Cannibal Corpse (or Ozzy or Judas Priest or Slipknot) for violence because those artists are part of a genre that is outside conventional culture – and, indeed, metal is a reaction against popular culture and conventional thinking. Not surprisingly, then, metal is misunderstood by the general public.

In other words, metal is already an “other” in the eyes of public – a fact that makes it easier to demonize.

But if conservatives are so shocked and horrified by “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” that they feel the need to ban the sale of Cannibal Corpse in Aussie, German and even American record stores, the question must be asked: Do they take the same offense over Shakespeare?

The comparison fits, so bear with me. While a song like “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” is certainly violent, it’s no more so than, say, Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” where Titus’ daughter Lavinia is raped, has her tongue cut out and her hands and feet cut off, just for good measure. And that’s not even the worst of the play’s violence (people getting baked into pies – that’s what I call “brutal”). Stabbings and killings abound in Shakespeare, from Caesar’s execution by multiple daggers to MacBeth’s severed head and Claudius’ death by both poison and blade.

What’s the difference between Shakespeare and Cannibal Corpse? In short, Shakespeare is considered “art” by the mainstream, while Corpse – as an “other” – is dangerous.

Banning Shakespeare sounds ludicrous … but I’d say, if Cannibal Corpse or any other metal band can be successfully removed from store shelves, than it’s only a matter of time before those same guardians of morality come for Shakespeare, too. People who want to ban Cannibal Corpse are people who will eventually call for removal of Shakespeare from school libraries. In both cases, they’ll cite the violent content and claim they are “protecting” children.

But, everyone will agree, children need to be protected. As a recent poster on Blabbermouth.net said, record labels should take care to cover up violent images on album covers, so children (who have eyes, and can easily see across the record store aisle to the metal section), aren’t subjected to scary images.

 That doesn’t mean album covers should be censored completely: Cannibal Corpse has demonstrated good sense on this issue, by encasing some of their albums in a disposable sleeve. The sleeve covers the art work, but can be easily removed when the buyer gets the album home. No one’s artistic expression is abridged: Rather, the art work ends up being appreciated by its intended audience, while not causing fright to small children.

As for violent lyrics, it would seem that the first line of defense is at home, with parents. I think Cannibal Corpse are talented musicians, but I wouldn’t let my kid listen to the band’s music – just as I wouldn’t let her watch “Halloween” or “Scarface.” Since there is no way for society-at-large to protect every single child from potentially “offensive” material without abridging the rights to adults, it really must be up to parents to limit their kids’ access to certain forms of art. That takes more effort than simply slapping a ban on an artist, but it’s the only workable solution.



  1. i agree that they shouldnt be censored, thats why we have the first amendment however modern depictions of shakespeare usually leave out certain gore that u mentioned
    u also have to remember that these plays were written a long time ago when society was far less advanced and less sensitive about violence and related subject matter
    and i dont think anyone has a play inwhich a dead woman is raped and then the evil child is born and consumes her, or inwhich a woman is disemboweled and stripped of the fetus while being raped afterwhich both the fetus and the mother are dismembered and mutilated.
    art? i dont know, i wouldnt presume to know what others see as art
    but im sure this speaks volumes about our culture
    and i know they sing these lyrics ‘because they are not real’
    but i definately dont want my kid broth (13) listening to this because im not sure he will understand its just make-believe

  2. Hello, I am using this page for my English 11 persuasive essay on the banning of music. I was hoping to find some information to put on my works cited page, but I’m not sure where to find it. I need the author, version number, publisher, and medium of publication. Thank you so much for helping!!

    • You need works cited for a Web page? can’t you just cite the page itself? As for author, version and medium of publication, put: Author, James Mayse, Publisher, Owensboro-Messenger-Inquirer, medium of publication, newspaper Web site.

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