The Art Of Rebellion - Historic Moments Of Media Censorship

The Art Of Rebellion - Historic Moments Of Media Censorship

Media censorship has been a long-standing issue in many countries throughout history. From books to films to music, censorship has been used to control the spread of information and ideas, often to the detriment of freedom of expression. In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most iconic moments of media censorship and explore how they have shaped our understanding of art and its ability to resist oppressive forces. From classic literature to modern-day films, we'll consider how these works of art have pushed boundaries and challenged the status quo. We'll also look at the implications of censorship for freedom of expression and how it continues to be used as a tool of control today. So let's dive in and take a look at some of the most interesting and inspiring examples of media censorship throughout history.

Censorship has had a long and daunting relationship in art and entertainment. The suppression of free speech—as deemed by the government, corporations and media outlets—is the very antithesis of the expression of art as the following examples show.

By censoring art, the authorities unequivocally end up catapulting the careers of the artists by creating a buzz in the media and, eventually, a cult following among fans from around the world. From naked wrestling to sadomasochistic photography to ultra violence, we’ve gathered some of our favorite and most controversial moments in media censorship.


“Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano, 1987

Source: The Glass

This particular photograph depicting a crucifix submerged in piss caused quite a stir within the art world.

“Piss Christ” won a Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts award which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA—which, in turn, is run by the US government). Despite the fact Serrano denies that the “Piss Christ” is a work of art that denounces religion—it is instead commenting on the commercialization of Christian icons in contemporary culture—he received death threats, hate mail, and lost preexisting funding from other art grants.

Source: Belfast Live

US Senators Al D’Amato and Jesse Helms were especially against Serrano and passed a law that forced the NEA to change their standards of artist funding by following rules of decency.

To this day, “Piss Christ” (the title not even used in print in the media until 1997) continues to cause controversy, the most recent from 2012 when lawmakers asked President Obama to denounce the photograph when it showed at an exhibition in New York City.


Robert Mapplethorpe, 1989

Source: V Magazine

Though Serrano started the NEA controversy, it’s correct to say that Mapplethorpe’s photography of the gay community in New York City with an emphasis on nudity and S&M, only enhanced the government’s war on censorship.

Mapplethorpe’s 1989 retrospective was to be held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC until conservatives threatened to take away all NEA funding unless it was canceled. The Corcoran obliged to the government’s wishes and canceled the show.

Source: Deadline

However, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio held a show of Mapplethorpe’s work in 1990 so aptly titled The Perfect Moment. The CAC was charged with obscenity by the state of Ohio and went to court for Mapplethorpe’s exhibition. Luckily for the CAC and artists everywhere, the verdict was not guilty—a major reaffirmation for the freedom of free speech. 


The Doors on the Ed Sullivan Show, September 17, 1967

Frontman Jim Morrison and The Doors’ first and only time on the nationally broadcast Ed Sullivan Show seemed like a good idea since their single “Light My Fire” was a number one hit on the charts. However, this performance caused them to be perpetually banned from the show.

Before going on stage, the producer of the show asked the band to change lyric “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” when performing it since it might suggest drugs—which was not acceptable for television at the time. And, true to form, Morrison sang the original line of the song instead of heeding to the producer’s request, thus ensuring they would never play Ed Sullivan again.


Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy’s show Today, December 1, 1976

One of the biggest controversies in British TV history was when the Sex Pistols joined Bill Grundy on his daytime TV show, Today. Their appearance wasn’t exactly planned as their label, EMI, originally had Queen appearing on the show but had canceled due to Freddie Mercury’s toothache. So what better choice than the punk rock pioneers the Sex Pistols?

Hysteria ensued when the Pistols’ guitarist, Steve Jones, said the word ‘fuck’ on television—marking it as only the 3rd time it has slipped out on British TV (the two times before raised outrage in the Parliament). Jones, who was egged on by Grundy, calls the Today show host “a fucking rotter” in response to his onscreen flirtation with then Pistols super fan, Siouxsie Sioux. This thrust the band into the spotlight while simultaneously destroying Grundy’s career. 


A Clockwork Orange, 1971

The cult classic film A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick—about a group of ultra-violent youth—found itself in the midst of change right when the 1960s were ending and the ideas of sex and violence were evolving within movie industry within the US and Britain. While older barriers were being broken down, fear arose that such displays of ornery acts on-screen would have an effect on the behavior of the youth.


In 1966, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) overhauled its regulations and, because of this, caused A Clockwork Orange to become a prime subject within the newly revised MPAA. Though the movie was never banned by the MPAA, it was suppressed and often removed from theaters around the United States with its X-rated content.

Britain, however, did ban the movie for nearly two decades, restricting the movie to be legally shown. 


“Girls on Film” music video by Duran Duran, 1981

Duran Duran - Girls On Film (Uncensored)

The new romantic band Duran Duran were still somewhat unknown when controversy was raised about their third single “Girls on Film”.

Mere weeks before MTV launched in the US, Duran Duran shot the “Girls on Film” video, not knowing what kind of impact MTV would have on the world. Originally intended to show at nightclubs or on the Playboy Channel, the music video full of beautiful models’ boobs, thongs and overtly sexual themes would be heavily edited for television viewing.

The scandal of “Girls on Film” gave Duran Duran their first top 10 breakthrough. Oddly enough, their 2011 video for “Girl Panic” was deemed too graphic and raunchy in its original form and was banned on music television. 

What are your favorite moments in media censorship? Comment below!

Title Image: QuilesArt via DeviantArt


About the Author

Andi Harriman