Censorship - Is banning a song the answer?

Seán Kingston, the Miami-born, Jamaican-bred, teenage reggae singer, has a number one hit for the past five weeks in both Britain and Ireland with his debut single, Beautiful Girls. The record has now begun to spark controversy over its lyrics.

“Damn all these beautiful girls,” part of the chorus runs. “They’ll have you suicidal, suicidal when they say it’s over.”

The word “suicidal” is used four times in each of the four choruses. The lyrics are unlikely to win any prizes, but the words are set to catchy music, and it could leave a subliminal message on some disturbed young minds that suicide is a kind of norm.

Teresa Reid Williams, who lost her only daughter through suicide in March 2006, understandably feels that the record sends out the wrong message to vulnerable people, especially teenagers going through a difficult phase in their lives. She feels so strongly that she was campaigning yesterday outside Leinster House to have the song banned.

Many young people could be coming from nightclubs or discos with the lyrics reverberating in their minds. The combination of alcohol and drugs has already been blamed for the proliferation of suicide. Drugs with mind-altering capabilities are being abused by young people, oblivious to the dangers. The lyrics of such a song could be one more deadly ingredient in what is already a lethal cocktail.

The RTÉ pop station 2FM does not have the record on its playlist, so it only gets aired about once a day, whereas it would otherwise get around four times as much air time, according to John Clarke, the station’s programme director. He clearly believes that it would be impractical to ban the song just because of the word suicidal, even though it is used repeatedly. He pointed out that the hit song I Can’t Live Without You, was not banned, even though it also seemed to be suggesting suicide.

Only two records were banned by RTÉ, according to Mr Clarke. One was The Men Behind the Wire, which was glorifying the IRA during the Northern Troubles. The other was the rather innocuous Bing Crosby song, Slow Boat to China. It was banned because of the single line “I want to get you on a slow boat to China.”

When it comes to censorship, we have a rather ludicrous reputation, having made an international laughing stock of ourselves. Nearly all of our best writers had their works banned at some time or other. In addition to banning the two specific records, Radio Éireann effectively banned the playing of Bing Crosby’s records during the 1940s, because of a racial prejudice on the part of some at the station who thought his form of crooning would undermine the moral fibre of Irish youth.

Some radio stations have agreed to ban Beautiful Girls, while others feel that the song could serve a social purpose in raising awareness and generating public debate about what has generally been a taboo subject.

Suicide is a very delicate issue that should be neither trivialised nor glamorised, but it does need to be faced, because it has become real social problem, especially among young people.

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