Sounds of Silence: Freedom Slipping Into a Coma?

El Vaquero Staff Writer

“I wanna be sedated?” — The Ramones

If I wandered through the day in a haze, completely unaware of the dangers lurking outside my window, would I be happy? Living in a blissful oblivion — would I be safer? Imagine cruising in your car as the sounds of monotonous Muzak filter through, painting your world a neutral beige. The preset stations on your dial no longer offer a broad spectrum of music because programmers are dishing out spoon-fed listening pleasure. It’s one less decision you have to make — one less stress to worry about. Personally, I can’t fathom a more miserable existence.

During the past weeks, we’ve been forced to reassess the indulgences that fill our free time. Pop culture has been thrust under a microscope, scrutinized and tested for its appropriateness and relevance. Most of the decisions are rooted in newfound sensitivities following the realization that our country will never be safe again. As this new perspective on life continues to sink in, it’s crucial to recognize what truly matters.

Understanding that the nation might not want to be hit with more images of violence, marketing teams behind major motion pictures have held back on releasing certain films, mainly those depicting acts of terrorism, or even those simply containing images of New York.

Although their actions were partly motivated by concerns over lagging ticket sales, industry moguls proved that they too, had a compassionate side by understanding their influence on people’s emotions.

Another positive effect of these adjustments is that high-profile celebrities are taking a back seat to the heroic firefighters, police officers and volunteers who have sifted through the remains of destruction. Even Los Angeles Times gossip columnist Liz Smith has toned down her shallow observations, recognizing that her work may not matter at a time like this. But while it’s important to pause and take stock in our lives during crisis, we should avoid getting too carried away.

On the week of Sept. 17, Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s leading advertising company dealing with radio, television and outdoor displays, issued a memo to its subsidiaries. Executives had compiled a list of approximately 150 songs that, in light of the recent terrorist attacks, might be inappropriate. The company was careful not to issue any mandates and didn’t actually ban any of the songs from potential play lists. They left each radio station to use the list at their discretion. However, the implication was clear: Let’s shelter the members of our grieving population by blocking out the noise.

There are several problematic implications inherent in this list. Specifically, the fact that this situation is so unfamiliar to our population makes it difficult to determine who has the right to decree an ultimate method of coping. There’s nothing on which to base their qualifications — no previous experience available for comparison.

Another issue is that many of the bands that made the list appear to have earned spots based solely on their aggressive image. Heavy metal acts suffered much of the hyper-sensitive blow. Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains? Sure, their songs can be violent and may offend some listeners; however, the majority of their lyrics do not evoke images of any acts of terrorism, or even, New York. Our world has been rocked radically, but does that break in normalcy necessitate eliminating all radical rock?

On the other end of the pendulum sit a group of songs meant to inspire peace and love in the hearts of mankind. Their presence among more obvious choices (such as R.E.M’s, “It’s the End of the World as we Know It”), remains a mystery. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Dave Matthews’ “Crash Into Me.” That song indicates a collision; however, the forces involved are the bodies of lovers, rather than a tower and plane. How about Cat Stevens, who now goes by the name of Yusuf Islam, and his song, “Peace Train”? Heaven forbid people actually consider boarding a vessel of peace! Was Islam included because he’s Muslim? It may sound ridiculous, but it’s really not so far fetched.

I don’t want to come off as completely insensitive, but now is not the time to run away from pain and fear. Rather, it seems crucial for us to recognize the fact that we are not an invincible nation. Addressing unpleasant reality can actually be very positive if you have an outlet for expressing your emotions. Some people paint, others prefer working up a good sweat at the local gym. In times when my own emotions run rampant, I turn to the pen. And when I fill the pages in my journals, music runs parallel to my thoughts. Stacks of CDs form a jagged carpet on my floor and I relish in sorting through them to find just the right song to complement my mood. Music is a subjective experience. Different interpretations of the same song are based on personality. We should cultivate those differences rather than stifle them by watering down choice selection.

Keeping controversial material out of reach is akin to sedating the nation. The higher powers who try to withhold information from the public eye (or ears) are really only hurting the people they want to help. Blocking out unpleasant images only serves to perpetuate the myth that everything is fine.

This isn’t the first time that freedom of statement has suffered the wrath of various censorship proponents. Books have been banned in an attempt to keep people from questioning the establishment, paintings containing pornographic imagery have been stripped from museum walls? And so on. Yet art continues to endure. The alternative to that freedom of statement would make for a population of sullen conformists constantly holding back emotion. But I think our country is too proud to passively transform into a sedated nation. Our citizens have been blessed with the freedom to act as individuals, leaving them with minds that can think and question for themselves. We are strong enough to face the music head on — we will continue to rock.