Mentioning “censorship” to artists is like saying “milk” to the lactose intolerant, but sometimes you can get them to sneak a sip provided it’s to stave off osteoporosis and/or make headlines.
It seems like only yesterday that Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones were hesitant, but agreed to, have their Super Bowl halftime show very briefly censored, with the microphone volume being lowered at the appropriate lyrical moment during two songs.
The networks, still reeling from Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” a couple years ago, didn’t want to hear from any more of us who had our old-fashioned sense of decency compromised while we were trying to watch one of the world’s most violent sports.
Imagine this: What would have happened if, before the Super Bowl halftime show, President Bush or somebody from his administration called and asked Mick and the fellas to completely exclude entire songs from their set? All hell would have broken loose in the press, and “artists” of all stripes would have rallied for a fresh round of “Rock Against Bush“-style public floggings of this dangerously oppressive lying meanie of a president.
We’d still be hearing about a Bush administration effort to quell free speech and artistic expression. By now, there would have been an angrier sequel to the Stones’ anti-Bush song “Sweet Neocon.”
Mick Jagger has, like so many in the entertainment industry, been an outspoken critic of the president, and the song bashes the Bushies in all their evilness for being harbingers of murder, mayhem, wrongful imprisonment, and all manner of global misery in the quest for the almighty oil dollar.
Fast forward the tape to this past weekend, when the Rolling Stones performed in Shanghai. The Stones have a cult following in China, since their music was among the first rock-and-roll to be smuggled into the country. Plus, I think Charlie Watts was born the same year as Mao.
For many of us in the Western world, our knowledge of China is isolated to whatever’s in that small white cardboard box with the metal handle, but China knows a bit about the West, specifically the music and movies. Hence the invite to the Stones, with a few caveats.
What happened when the government that is a human-rights nightmare – and one of the most murderous regimes in modern times – asked the Rolling Stones to exclude a few songs from their repertoire? The Stones said “no problem.” Gee, that was easy. I wonder why Mick didn’t raise a fuss about it.
One of the songs the Stones agreed not to play is “Let’s spend the night together.” It’s too sexual, and leadership in Beijing was no doubt concerned that the tune could spur an overpopulation problem, leading to fetal genocide. With some help from the Stones, China sidestepped that landmine. Whew!
In China, when the government “asks” you to do something, it’s in the same way that a man holding a cinder block that is tied to his genitalia is “asked” not to drop it, but that only applies to citizens living in China. The Stones didn’t have to perform there.
It’s amazing, really. The Chinese government, Castro, or Kim Jong Il could “ask” certain performers to exclude part of their act, and chances are they’d gladly do it. If George W. Bush asked the same, he’d be burned in effigy at the next meeting of the Musicians Union, and the Screen Actors Guild would be distributing voodoo dolls in retribution for defecating on their L. Ron Hubbard-given right to free expression. That is, if they haven’t done that already.
Some of these entertainers are praised by their colleagues and segments of their audience for their bravery and courage in taking on the evil Bush-Cheney machine.
Is it brave to get into a limousine to go directly from the penthouse suite at your five-star hotel to take a stage, unimpeded by anyone, free to say anything, and take shots at the sheer oppressive nature of the Bush administration? Remember the famous picture of the student protester in Tiananmen Square standing in front of the tank? They’re like him, except without the tank.
You want brave? What if Mick and the boys were in Shanghai and broke into one of the songs they were “asked” to not play? That would be courageous.
By going to China and agreeing to performance terms with a historically murderous, oppressive, anti-free speech regime that is Communist China, the Rolling Stones contributed to – instead of defended from – that which they and their entertainment industry collegues say is the bane of their existence: censorship. No amount of Bush-is-evil relativist mumbo jumbo can distract from the irony.