Christian conservatism vs. self-expression: What is true censorship?

By Kate McCormick

Recent conversations surrounding pop culture and media have made it increasingly clear that many people don’t actually understand what censorship is. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve seen the amount of backlash artists like Lil Nas X and Cardi B are getting for sexually explicit songs and videos like “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “WAP” respectively. The conservatives blaming the plight of society on artists’ freedom of expression ironically often reside in the same camp of people who think basic human decency and accountability is censorship, but we will circle back to this point later.

Now before I begin, I would like to preface this pointed interpretation of Christian criticism by saying that the following issue lies not in Christianity in its entirety, rather the specific intersections of people that rely on conservative hypocrisy in their arguments to enforce certain Christian standards in scopes that lie outside the church.

Lil Nas X’s new music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” received as much backlash as you would expect from highly conservative, Christian crowds. The song and music video feature queer eroticism around every corner, and it is no surprise that Lil Nas X received criticism based in homophobia.

Many conservative Christians have called for the video to be canceled or accused Lil Nas X of corrupting children or disrespecting Christianity, but at what point will we stop operating on the notion that every facet of self-expression or media has to follow Christian or conservative ideals? There is a stark difference between actual religious disrespect and artistry — especially when that artistry is relying heavily on the personal expression of religious trauma and embracing the ways in which churches have villainized queer people for ages.

Lil Nas X wrote in a tweet responding to the heat his video has received, “I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the s— y’all preached would happen to me because I was gay. So I hope you are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”

Not everyone agrees with Christianity, and if we are going to have a conversation surrounding how the video for “Montero,” in which Lil Nas X is seen giving a lap dance to Satan, could be perceived as offensive or going against Christian ideals, then we need also to discuss the centuries of oppression and abuse faced by the black and queer communities by some denominations of Christianity.

Many people have accused artists like Lil Nas X and Cardi B, who received similar backlash for embracing her sexuality in “WAP,” of corrupting today’s youths or setting a bad example to children, to which Lil Nas X tweeted, “I am an adult. I am not gonna spend my entire career trying to cater to your children. that is your job.” Celebrities are not responsible for raising your children.

Ironically, the majority of people chastising the music industry for this type of artistry are the same keyboard warriors who took over Facebook in March to contest the pulling of six Dr. Seuss titles over racist and insensitive imagery and content, calling the conscious choice made by Seuss’s trust and publishers ‘censorship.’

The cognitive dissonance it takes to look at a publishing company consciously choosing to listen to consumers and hold themselves accountable for past publications that feature racial caricatures and harmful stereotypes and call it censorship, just to then turn around and demand that a song or video be taken off of the internet, not because it harms a marginalized group of people but just because someone personally doesn’t like it, absolutely baffles me. Accountability is not censorship.

Biblical distortion and satanic imagery are prevalent throughout our society’s popular culture, and celebrities utilizing this type of imagery in their expression have been at the receiving end of backlash for years, take for example Madonna’s 1989 “Like a Prayer” music video which was condemned by the Vatican and labeled blasphemous for it featuring religious imagery and burning crosses.

In the case of “WAP,” songs about sex aren’t anything new – seriously, have you heard music from the ’60s and ’70s? I would dare to say, however, that in the cases of artists like Cardi B and Lil Nas X, criticism increases tenfold when songs about sex are being sung with agency by a woman, and a woman of color especially, or songs rightfully criticizing the harm inflicted by Christianity are sung by a Black, gay man.

Allow me to be clear in my message — everyone is warranted to dislike certain media or artists, but when that dislike is rooted partially in homophobia, misogyny, racism, etc. and then paired with the idea that everyone else should feel the same way, the validity of that argument is threatened. I reiterate: There is a stark difference between holding people and companies accountable for actively harming marginalized groups of people and boycotting the internet because you don’t like a song or music video.

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