Media censorship can send mixed messages

By Hayley Devitt

Many times this year have I heard the infectious pop groove Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People. However, a couple weeks ago I heard it in a way that shocked me—on the radio, with “gun” and “bullet” censored.

I couldn’t help thinking that to omit these two words is to brush off the very serious subject matter of Pumped Up Kicks.

The upbeat tone of the song is deceptive; the narrator is contemplating the homicide of his affluent peers, with the lyrics, “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun. …Better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

If you look at the history of school shootings in America, I think many wouldn’t have happened if the shooters’ mental instabilities had been noted and properly treated. Oftentimes, the problem is feelings of isolation and being ignored.

Ironically, many listeners of Pumped Up Kicks find it acceptable to dance and sing along while tuning out what the song is really about—violence among troubled youth.

MTV (which has no qualms about rampant, inexpedient sex in its programming) televised the video for the song also with the words “gun” and “bullet” removed. Songwriter Mark Foster expressed his thoughts on this in an interview with Time Out Chicago in June 2011.

“It does kind of make me upset. There’s two reasons why I think the song is getting censored. And one is that it hits close to home. But the other is that, I don’t think that there’ve been a lot of songs like this in this style of music,” Foster said. “So, it is a little bit surprising, because the song never actually talks about him doing anything. I never talk about a school. It’s about his thought process.”

I understand omitting swear words for public consumption; parents don’t want their children to hear explicit lyrics while riding in the car and repeat them later.

But children are obviously not shielded from gun violence in other entertainment genres. Crime and war are extremely typical of most video games and even cartoons. Why, then, shouldn’t we talk about guns rather than actual use of guns be heard, especially when in regard to a real problem our country faces?

Ken Misch, the program director at DeKalb radio station B95, said “generally, the record label provides radio-friendly versions of songs.” In other words, the station receives the tracks pre-censored, as seen fit by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC is a government agency that regulates all of the communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in the U.S.

This means that individual radio stations are not to blame for censorship, since they cannot by law air anything this government mandate deems “patently offensive.”

There’s no formula for determining what is “obscene,” “indecent” or “profane,” and so the agency considers all content on a case-by-case basis.

Still, I don’t understand why Pumped Up Kicks has been censored while others pass inspection. It does not encourage violence. Rather, it’s an important song for our times.

It appears that weapons in music are acceptable if they appear in a bedroom context. Right, Rihanna?