This morning on BBC Radio Five Live the American band, “Rage Against the Machine” landed the BBC in trouble by repeating four times “Fuck you , I won’t do what you tell me” in their rendition of their song “killing in the name of”. There are a number of issues which make this event note worthy. In no particular order:
- Rage Against the Machine is widely tipped to become Christmas number one this year after a grass roots campaign to keep X-Factor off the top spot.
- Nicky Campbell was conducting the interview (which added to serious comedy value)
- The production team had asked the band not to swear, were surprised when they did and then deemed it so problematic that they did swear that they decided to cut them off before the end of the song
I will briefly take up this last point.
Firstly, did they seriously expect a band (even if you knew nothing about the bands history could you not guess from the name) to not go against the orders and swear on live radio? Anyone (even Nicky) must have seen that one coming. Apparently not, check out the surprise and panic in the reaction (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/dec/17/rage-agains-machine-singer-swears).
Secondly, why are we so upset to hear swear words on radio? All you have to do is jump into a London cab or watch some football on the stands to hear some good old fashioned swearing! In fact, you have to do well to avoid swearing these days. Fuck it…I would go as far as to say it’s almost impossible to go a day in an urban environment without hearing some “offensive” language. Why do we insist on representing an alternative reality in our media and suppressing the charms of everyday life?
Let’s clarify something, I believe strongly in mediating what slips onto our TV’s and radio’s. There is some stuff out there which is plain nasty. What I am suggesting however, is that we have got our morals confused with tradition. Why do we allow so much grotesque violence (for no reason other than historically violence was considered ok) and yet blackout swearing and sex? We can see this moral puzzle played out in film ratings. Hotel Rwanda for example, follows the story of the Rwandan Genocide (in some harrowing detail) and is considered OK for a 12 year old to watch (in the UK). If you added in some boobs and casual bit of swearing this would suddenly become unacceptable for a 12/13/14 year old to watch. Have you ever questioned why an erect penis is an absolute taboo in film, but there seems to be no limit to the levels of violence that can be portrayed in films? Now question which one is most “normal”? If I had a choice I would let my kids see and hear swearing and sex way before the levels of violence that are normalised in our society. I suggest the only difference is which morals have been historically acceptable?
The only shame about this whole story is that Rage and the advertising chiefs up at Sony BMG (who own epic records) know that swearing on radio will be a media money spinner!