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Abstract<br />

FREE SPEECH OR AURAL PORNOGRAPHY?<br />

NWA AND BRITISH OBSCENITY LAW<br />

Under what circumstances should the law seek to circumscribe artistic<br />

statements? Based upon actual events in England in 1991, this case examines<br />

the line between artistic expression and p<strong>or</strong>nography. It seeks to establish<br />

where that line should be drawn, in particular with regard to material<br />

which many people, especially women, find deeply abh<strong>or</strong>rent.<br />

NWA<br />

Niggers With Attitude (NWA) were a rap group from Los Angeles. Their first<br />

album, "Straight Outta Compton", released in 1988, was critically acclaimed<br />

f<strong>or</strong> its p<strong>or</strong>trayal of life as experienced by young black Americans living in<br />

the ghetto area of Compton, Los Angeles. However, the album was not<br />

universally praised. The FBI objected to a track entitled "Fuck Tha Police"<br />

(sic) which, the Bureau claimed, 'encourages violence against, and<br />

disrespect f<strong>or</strong>, law enf<strong>or</strong>cement officers' (Goffe, 1989). Nevertheless the<br />

rec<strong>or</strong>d remained on sale both in the United States and in Britain.<br />

In October 1990 the band released a single in Britain called "100 Miles and<br />

Running". A track on the "B"-side of the 12" f<strong>or</strong>mat of this single dealt<br />

with <strong>or</strong>al sex. It was called "She Swallowed It". Many of the leading<br />

department st<strong>or</strong>es in Britain refused to stock the rec<strong>or</strong>d. F<strong>or</strong> example,<br />

Woolw<strong>or</strong>ths said that the single was 'certainly not the kind of thing we<br />

would dream of stocking in our family st<strong>or</strong>es' (New Musical Express 20<br />

October 1990).<br />

The Midlands chain, Music Junction, also refused to stock the single. Its<br />

owner, Bob Barnes, explained that he was unwilling to stock it because he<br />

was 'not going to risk criminal charges' (New Musical Express 10 November<br />

1990). Barnes was a member of the British Association of Rec<strong>or</strong>d Dealers<br />

(BARD) who were concerned at the lack of clarity surrounding obscenity<br />

legislation which left retailers unsure which rec<strong>or</strong>ds could be legally<br />

sold. BARD called f<strong>or</strong> a new obscenity law to clear up what appeared to be a<br />

confusing legal situation Note:1 (Halassa, 1990). In the case of "She<br />

Swallowed It", charges were not f<strong>or</strong>thcoming, but it appeared that they had<br />

merely been delayed.<br />

Efil4zaggin<br />

On Monday 3 June 1991 NWA released their second album, "Efil4zaggin"<br />

(Niggaz f<strong>or</strong> life, backwards), in Britain. It had previously been released<br />

in the United States where it had gone to the top of the prestigious<br />

Billboard album chart. In America it sold nearly a million copies in its<br />

first week of release (New Musical Express 15 June 1991) and was thus<br />

clearly at the centre of American popular culture.<br />

The reaction in Britain was less enthusiastic. On Tuesday 4 June the<br />

Metropolitan Police raided the premises of Polygram - the rec<strong>or</strong>d's<br />

distribut<strong>or</strong> - and seized all copies of the album. This numbered around<br />

12,000 albums, in various f<strong>or</strong>mats. Shops which had already received copies<br />

of the album withdrew them from sale.<br />

The raid took place under the auspices of the Obscene Publications Act,<br />

1959, which is generally used against p<strong>or</strong>nographic books and films. While<br />

there had been previous attempts to prosecute rec<strong>or</strong>ds in Britain, Note:2<br />

such attempts were comparatively rare. They had involved<br />

comparatively obscure bands on small labels. Note:3 In contrast,<br />

"Efil4zaggin" was a maj<strong>or</strong> release on 4th and Broadway, a subsidiary of<br />

Island Rec<strong>or</strong>ds, which is in turn owned by the prestigious Polygram group.<br />

The Metropolitan Police believed that the album contravened the 1959 Act<br />

and declared that it had seized the album because it felt this action to be<br />

'supp<strong>or</strong>ted by the existing legislation' (Metropolitan Police, 1991). In<br />

August the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) applied to Redbridge Magistrates<br />

1


Court f<strong>or</strong> permission to retain, and subsequently destroy, the seized<br />

albums.<br />

The Existing Legislation<br />

Under the terms of the 1959 Act an article is obscene - and thus liable to<br />

successful prosecution - if its effect is:<br />

'taken as a whole, Note:4 such as to tend to deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt persons<br />

who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read see <strong>or</strong><br />

hear the matter contained <strong>or</strong> embodied in it' (Obscene Publications Act,<br />

1959).<br />

The Act defines an "article" as something:<br />

'containing <strong>or</strong> embodying matter to be read <strong>or</strong> looked at, any sound rec<strong>or</strong>d,<br />

any film <strong>or</strong> other rec<strong>or</strong>d of a picture <strong>or</strong> pictures' (ibid, emphasis<br />

Cloonan).<br />

It is an offence under the Act to publish, distribute, sell, let <strong>or</strong> hire<br />

such material. The main points of the Act to note are that (i) to be<br />

obscene the article must tend to "deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt" its intended<br />

audience and (ii) that the likely nature of that audience must be taken<br />

into account.<br />

Prosecutions under the Act can be made under either Section 2 <strong>or</strong> Section 3.<br />

Proceedings under Section 2 take place at a High Court with the possibility<br />

of an unlimited fine and/<strong>or</strong> imprisonment upon conviction. Section 3 cases<br />

are further down the judicial scale. They are heard at Magistrates' Courts<br />

and conviction results in the f<strong>or</strong>feiture and destruction of the seized<br />

stock. In both cases a defence of "public good" is available. This allows<br />

the defence to call expert witnesses to attest that the article should be<br />

exempt f<strong>or</strong>m prosecution 'on the ground that it is in the interests of<br />

science, art <strong>or</strong> learning, <strong>or</strong> of other objects of general concern' (ibid).<br />

The Act has been much criticised since its introduction. The "deprave and<br />

c<strong>or</strong>rupt" criterion has been held to be too subjective. M<strong>or</strong>eover, juries<br />

often seem to judge the articles bef<strong>or</strong>e them in terms of whether they find<br />

them offensive, which is not what the Act requires. Furtherm<strong>or</strong>e, there<br />

is no way that retailers can tell what is "obscene", as only the courts can<br />

decide this. As we have seen, this has led to some retailers taking a<br />

cautious approach.<br />

The Act was introduced, in a Private Member's Bill, by Roy Jenkins whose<br />

aim was to clampdown on "p<strong>or</strong>nography", while simultaneously protecting<br />

"art". But experience suggested that the dividing line between these two<br />

areas was not as clear as perhaps Jenkins envisaged. The first case to<br />

arise under the legislation came in 1961 when D.H. Lawrence's Lady<br />

Chatterley's Lover was found not to contravene the Act. The literary merits<br />

of the book were defended by a number of experts and this helped ensure its<br />

acquittal. A period of comparative liberalism followed which culminated in<br />

1976 when the book Inside Linda Lovelace, whose literary merits were harder<br />

to discern, was also cleared. Note:5 This period of liberalism did not<br />

last.<br />

Changing the Climate<br />

During the 1980s there were police raids on shops selling drugs-related<br />

literature which Magistrates appeared to be increasingly willing to see as<br />

covered by the Act (Index on Cens<strong>or</strong>ship 13:4, August 1984). There was also<br />

an attempt to extend the law against obscenity as a result of concerns<br />

about "video nasties". Ultimately the Obscene Publications Act remained on<br />

the statute book, but it was supplemented by the Video Rec<strong>or</strong>ding Act, 1985,<br />

which introduced a new licensing system f<strong>or</strong> videos. There were also<br />

attempts by Conservative MPs to tighten the definition of obscenity.<br />

In 1987 the Conservative MP, Gerald Howarth, introduced a Private Member's<br />

Bill which aimed to change the definition of obscenity. Howarth's<br />

definition of obscenity covered articles which 'a reasonable person would<br />

2


egard as grossly offensive' (Robertson, 1991: 194). His Bill got a second<br />

reading, but eventually fell. So, at the time "Efil4zaggin" was released,<br />

the 1959 Act's criterion f<strong>or</strong> obscenity - that the article would tend to<br />

"deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt" its likely audience - remained in place. Note:6 But<br />

did it apply to the album?<br />

An Obscene Rec<strong>or</strong>d?<br />

The content of "Efil4zaggin" is not easy listening. The titles of several<br />

tracks give clues to their content. They include: "To Kill A Hooker",<br />

"Findum, Fuckum & Flee", "She Swallowed It", "I'd Rather Fuck You" and "One<br />

Less Bitch". The rec<strong>or</strong>d contains a great deal of swearing, although of<br />

itself this is not enough to contravene the 1959 Act. There are p<strong>or</strong>trayals<br />

of violence and drug-taking, but perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the<br />

album is its p<strong>or</strong>trayal of women.<br />

Throughout the rec<strong>or</strong>d women are p<strong>or</strong>trayed as sexual pawns, as disposable,<br />

as almost less than human. One track, "She Swallowed It", depicts that anal<br />

rape of a woman with a broomstick and group <strong>or</strong>al sex with a preacher's<br />

fourteen-year-old daughter. Men who find that women were unwilling to<br />

practice <strong>or</strong>al sex are advised on this track to punch them in the eye. On<br />

"The Dayz of Wayback" a "bitch" who "snitched" is shot.<br />

Another track - "To Kill A Hooker" - depicts the killing of a prostitute.<br />

This occurs after a group of men in a car approach the prostitute, refuse<br />

to discuss paying her, then drag her into the car and shoot her. Gunshots<br />

are heard. The c<strong>or</strong>pse is dumped and the assailants continue their search<br />

f<strong>or</strong> m<strong>or</strong>e prostitutes. The next track, "One Less Bitch", celebrates the<br />

killing of various women so that, in each case, there is "one less bitch"<br />

f<strong>or</strong> the perpetrat<strong>or</strong>s, and men in general, to w<strong>or</strong>ry about. In one case the<br />

victim is tied to a bed and gang raped bef<strong>or</strong>e being killed. The general<br />

attitude p<strong>or</strong>trayed throughout the album is that women are "bitches" and<br />

"hos" who are not w<strong>or</strong>th "shit".<br />

NWA are amongst the leading exponents of so-called "gangsta rap" which one<br />

music journalist described as 'violent p<strong>or</strong>nographic shit' (Page, 1993: 15).<br />

P<strong>or</strong>nography is not defined within English law, only "obscene" articles are.<br />

The issue at court would theref<strong>or</strong>e be whether the content of the album was<br />

"obscene", rather than p<strong>or</strong>nographic. The album's detract<strong>or</strong>s thought that it<br />

was both.<br />

Anti-Art?<br />

A number of people and <strong>or</strong>ganisations spoke out against "Efil4zaggin". The<br />

Daily Mail newspaper ran a highly critical article on the album claiming<br />

that it condoned drug-taking, underage sex and violence (Marot, 1991b).<br />

There was also much (unsubstantiated) speculation that Mary Whitehouse's<br />

National Viewers and Listeners' Association (NVALA) had been involved in<br />

alerting the police to the album's content (O'Hagan, 1991).<br />

The Campaign Against P<strong>or</strong>nography (CAP) also opposed the album. While<br />

accepting that "Efil4zaggin"'s contents might reflect the ghetto<br />

backgrounds from which the group were drawn, CAP's Elizabeth Carola argued<br />

that the album was :<br />

'open season on women. They are saying that rape and violence against women<br />

is OK. These lyrics hook into male hatred of women and have a disinhibiting<br />

effect... The existing regulations on obscenity are outdated and even<br />

counterproductive because they tie the issue to the old m<strong>or</strong>al standards of<br />

taste. We would like to see guidelines on p<strong>or</strong>trayal of violence concerning<br />

women's safety and dignity' (Longrigg, 1991).<br />

Any arguments suggesting that NWA might be about artistic expression were<br />

given sh<strong>or</strong>t shrift by some critics who alleged that the only motivation<br />

behind the group was cash. Elizabeth Jones (1991) claimed that rap had<br />

become a 'licence... to print money'; Longrigg (1991) suggested that the<br />

rec<strong>or</strong>d could 'look f<strong>or</strong>ward to mete<strong>or</strong>ic sales'; and O'Hagan (1991) suggested<br />

that it would 'sell strongly on the strength of its not<strong>or</strong>iety'. Note:7 The<br />

question was, however, whether it should be on sale at all.<br />

3


Defending Sexism?<br />

In the run up to the trial Marc Marot, the Managing Direct<strong>or</strong> of Island UK,<br />

which had published the album, wrote an article in its defence. Despite the<br />

fact that the 1959 Act allows a defence of artistic merit this was not the<br />

one that Marot took. He explicitly argued that:<br />

'this is not an argument about taste... NWA is not great art, this is not<br />

about aesthetic merit. It is about freedom of speech and your right to<br />

choose...' (Marot, 1991a, emphasis Cloonan).<br />

He further argued that 'the potential to be offended is one of the prices<br />

that we pay f<strong>or</strong> a free society'(ibid). Marot got supp<strong>or</strong>t from the<br />

libertarian pressure group, the National Campaign f<strong>or</strong> the Ref<strong>or</strong>m of the<br />

Obscene Publications Act (NCROPA), which wrote to the Metropolitan Police<br />

protesting against the raid. NCROPA called the raid a 'dangerously<br />

repressive operation' (NCROPA, 1991). The anti-cens<strong>or</strong>ship group, ARTICLE<br />

19, also protested against the raid, saying that the fact that the police<br />

could hold the material without bringing charges was unacceptable. Helen<br />

Derbyshire of the <strong>or</strong>ganisation said that:<br />

'If it could be demonstrated that this material is highly likely to result<br />

in acts of violence to women, a ban might be justified, but this would be<br />

extremely difficult to establish. The suspicion that it might incite<br />

violence is not enough' (ibid). Note:8<br />

John Wadham the Legal officer of Liberty, the civil liberties group, also<br />

opposed the raid and said that he was concerned about the use of the 1959<br />

Act 'against music <strong>or</strong> any of the arts' (New Musical Express 22 June 1991).<br />

So a range of opinions spoke out against the seizure of an album whose fate<br />

was to be determined in court.<br />

Pop In The Dock<br />

Polygram, "Efil4zaggin"'s distribut<strong>or</strong>s, and Island, its publishers, decided<br />

to fight the attempt to prosecute the album. Following the CPS's<br />

application f<strong>or</strong> permission to destroy the albums, the case came to court on<br />

7 November 1991. The CPS had opted to go f<strong>or</strong> a prosecution under section 3<br />

of the Act, which meant that what was at stake was the destruction of the<br />

seized albums. It also meant the case was heard bef<strong>or</strong>e magistrates, rather<br />

than bef<strong>or</strong>e a High Court jury. The venue was Redbridge Magistrates Court,<br />

Essex, in the Conservative heartland of England. Many believed that the<br />

trial's venue would increase the likelihood of a conviction (Marot, 1991b)<br />

and<br />

Island's defence lawyer later described the police as cowardly in bringing<br />

the case bef<strong>or</strong>e lay magistrates who were less likely to be aware of rap<br />

than a jury would have been (Toop, 1992: 46).<br />

Prosecuting and Defending<br />

The case f<strong>or</strong> the prosecution was simple. It was that the album contravened<br />

the Obscene Publications Act. In other w<strong>or</strong>ds, that the rec<strong>or</strong>d would tend to<br />

"deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt" its likely audience. The album was played to the<br />

court and the prosecution, Mr Mobedji, seemed to believe that it would<br />

speak f<strong>or</strong> itself. In case it didn't, the police had also transcribed the<br />

album's lyrics, although they couldn't decipher some of the w<strong>or</strong>ds (Toop,<br />

1992: 45).<br />

As their defence lawyer, Island hired Geoffrey Robertson QC, possibly the<br />

country's leading expert on obscenity legislation. He pursued an argument<br />

based on the album's "realism". Note:9 F<strong>or</strong> Robertson, while NWA might sound<br />

crude to the untrained ear, they 'tell it like it is' (Myers, 1991). There<br />

was thus an (implicit) appeal here to John Stuart Mill's justification f<strong>or</strong><br />

allowing freedom of speech because it is a means of pursuing truth.<br />

Compton, the group's home, is a gang-land area where violence and drugs are<br />

prevalent. NWA's supp<strong>or</strong>ters argued that they were merely p<strong>or</strong>traying the<br />

reality of the ghettos they came from. Robertson described the album as<br />

street journalism (Toop, 1992: 44).<br />

4


Marot (1991b) had also spoken of the band p<strong>or</strong>traying the real situation in<br />

black ghettos in America where pimps and other men did own women and could<br />

do with them as they pleased. F<strong>or</strong> Marot (ibid) the band were p<strong>or</strong>traying<br />

attitudes, they were not advocating them. He argued that the band were<br />

merely carrying on a long tradition within black culture of st<strong>or</strong>y-telling<br />

in the first person. As blues singers put themselves in the position of<br />

people with such problems as broken relationships, alcohol addiction and<br />

poverty so, it was argued, NWA reflected similar problems in the modern<br />

w<strong>or</strong>ld. These arguments were supp<strong>or</strong>ted by the expert witnesses Island called<br />

in its defence.<br />

Experts In P<strong>or</strong>nography?<br />

Island's defence witnesses included David Toop, a leading rap journalist,<br />

and Wendy K, a journalist and f<strong>or</strong>mer civil rights investigat<strong>or</strong>, Guy<br />

Cumberbatch, a psychologist from Aston University and Sonia Fraser of the<br />

London-based black music station, Kiss FM. In an associated article Toop<br />

argued that 'NWA's theme is interesting and valid' (Toop, 1991: 68). He<br />

later wrote:<br />

'I don't believe that rec<strong>or</strong>ds, books, films, magazines and television<br />

deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt. I don't believe that murder, rape, suicide, child<br />

abuse <strong>or</strong> race hatred can be caused by a book <strong>or</strong> rec<strong>or</strong>d. Question and<br />

challenge sexual exploitation <strong>or</strong> gratuitous violence, but don't suppress<br />

the w<strong>or</strong>ds and images, not matter how fetid, because the symptoms will only<br />

thrive and prosper in secret' (Toop, 1992: 44).<br />

Toop also testified to the court about the merits of the album, which he<br />

admitted did degrade women (ibid: 46). In an explicit reference to<br />

p<strong>or</strong>nography, Robertson brandished some magazines which were freely<br />

available in Redbridge newsagents and which featured women in various<br />

poses. These, he suggested were p<strong>or</strong>nography, NWA was not. He argued that:<br />

'This rec<strong>or</strong>d arouses fear, concern and distaste. It does not arouse lust'<br />

(Myers, 1991). This was partly because the album had themes other than sex.<br />

Racism<br />

One of the other themes NWA deal with is the racism young blacks encounter<br />

in American society. "Efil4zaggin" p<strong>or</strong>trays the poverty and deprivation<br />

which leads NWA's compatriots into lives of crime. F<strong>or</strong> example, the track<br />

"Niggaz F<strong>or</strong> Life" argues that the only way f<strong>or</strong> young black men to succeed<br />

in American society is to accept the label "nigger" and to build a career<br />

on this. F<strong>or</strong> Marot rap was 'black tv... black books.. black radio' (Marot<br />

1991b). Those who wished to cens<strong>or</strong> the album were accused of wanting to<br />

turn their backs on the reality of life in the black ghettos of the United<br />

States.<br />

The fact that NWA was a black band, whose album was on trial in a place<br />

which could hardly be further in spirit from the places which had inspired<br />

it, was not lost on a number of commentat<strong>or</strong>s. O'Hagan (1991) argued that<br />

the court would echo to the sound of 'two cultures clashing' and Toop<br />

(1992: 45) said that at the trial the black people present in the court<br />

watched:<br />

'while white legal and musical auth<strong>or</strong>ity battled with white establishment<br />

auth<strong>or</strong>ity on the subjects of black identity and black expression'.<br />

However, the nature of that expression was contentious. The black<br />

journalist, Dele Fadele (1991), attacked NWA f<strong>or</strong> stereotyping and reducing<br />

the rich language of Afro-Americans down to a few over-used swear w<strong>or</strong>ds. In<br />

other attacks on gangsta rap Jesse Jackson has expressed opposition to its<br />

excesses and said that blacks should police this aspect of their culture<br />

and 'take away the market value of these attacks on our person' (Tran,<br />

1993: 5).<br />

Gangsta rap's most determined black opponent in America is Del<strong>or</strong>es Turner,<br />

chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women. She argues<br />

that:<br />

5


'We as women have to stop these misogynistic messages being sent to our<br />

community... Why are our people calling each other nigger? Calling their<br />

women bitches?' (Krum, 1995: 8).<br />

So gangsta rap has encountered opposition within the black community in<br />

America and especially from black women. Note:10<br />

The magistrates in Redbridge were concerned with audiences closer to home.<br />

Likely Audiences<br />

As noted earlier, the law requires that the likely audience f<strong>or</strong> an article<br />

has to be taken into account. Pri<strong>or</strong> to the case the Home Office had opined<br />

that 'material which would tend to deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt young people and was<br />

aimed at them might be caught even if it was harmless to adults' (Home<br />

Office, 1991). Here Robertson was able to draw upon some research by Guy<br />

Cumberbatch which suggested that the likely audience f<strong>or</strong> NWA in Britain was<br />

white university and polytechnic students (Marot, 1991b) Note:11 who were<br />

amongst the least likely groups in British society to be depraved and<br />

c<strong>or</strong>rupted by such material. Robertson also argued that the only people who<br />

were likely to come into contact with the album were those who actively<br />

sought it out.<br />

The album itself had two stickers on it which warned "Parental Advis<strong>or</strong>y<br />

Explicit Lyrics" and "This rec<strong>or</strong>d contains explicit language. It should not<br />

be played in the presence of min<strong>or</strong>s!". One argument against such stickers<br />

is that they encourage interest in the young audiences that they are<br />

supposedly trying to protect. Generally responsible retailers do not sell<br />

such rec<strong>or</strong>ds to children, but there is nothing in the law that f<strong>or</strong>bids them<br />

to. Should "Efil4zaggin" be found to be within the law it could be sold to<br />

children.<br />

Vict<strong>or</strong>y?<br />

At Redbridge the magistrates, two women and a man, had to bear in mind the<br />

album's likely audience and whether it was likely to "deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt"<br />

it. After some four hours they ruled that the album was not obscene under<br />

the terms of the 1959 Act. They theref<strong>or</strong>e <strong>or</strong>dered that the seized stock be<br />

returned and awarded costs to both Island and Polygram. The album went back<br />

on sale.<br />

Aftermath<br />

After the trial, Island published 2,000 posters proclaiming the imp<strong>or</strong>tance<br />

of freedom of speech. This was a line that it had pursued throughout the<br />

case as Marot had said that 'It's about freedom of speech as far as I'm<br />

concerned' (Marot, 1991b). Island's stance was shared by Liberty which said<br />

'We welcome this verdict. It was a small but imp<strong>or</strong>tant case f<strong>or</strong> the<br />

industry' (New Musical Express 16 November 1991).<br />

But the Conservative MP, Sir Michael Neubert, tabled a Parliamentary<br />

Question asking the Home Secretary whether, in the light of the NWA case,<br />

he would bring f<strong>or</strong>ward proposals to amend (that is, strengthen) the 1959<br />

Act. Neubert said that 'This rec<strong>or</strong>d crosses the boundary into extreme<br />

violence, and it is not something that society should condone' (Select<br />

January 1992). In reply to his Question, Home Office Minister John Patten<br />

pointed out that this was traditionally an area f<strong>or</strong> Private Member's Bills<br />

and that:<br />

'the Government is prepared to supp<strong>or</strong>t any suitable proposals f<strong>or</strong><br />

amendments which would make the law m<strong>or</strong>e effective and which appear likely<br />

to command sufficient public and parliamentary supp<strong>or</strong>t' (Hansard; House of<br />

Commons Written Answers, 12 November 1991, col.439).<br />

The 1959 Act was not subsequently amended. Note:12 The rec<strong>or</strong>d remains on<br />

sale. It is possible f<strong>or</strong> children to buy it. The depiction of women as<br />

disposable sex tools on a pop album remains legitimised by law. But the<br />

issues surrounding the rec<strong>or</strong>d have not gone away.<br />

6


QUESTIONS<br />

1. Is it possible f<strong>or</strong> a rec<strong>or</strong>d - such as "Efil4zaggin" - to "deprave and<br />

c<strong>or</strong>rupt" <strong>or</strong> is the rec<strong>or</strong>d itself "depraved and c<strong>or</strong>rupt"? (See footnote 8).<br />

2. In the NWA case artistic expression was given precedence over offence to<br />

women. Was this c<strong>or</strong>rect?<br />

3. In the light of the NWA case should the Obscene Publications Act 1959 be<br />

amended? In particular, should it be extended to inc<strong>or</strong>p<strong>or</strong>ate notions of<br />

offence?<br />

4. Part of Island's defence of the album was that it was a realistic<br />

p<strong>or</strong>trayal of life in the black ghettos of the USA. Is "realism" a valid<br />

defence against accusations of sexism in art?<br />

5. Was the prosecution of the album racist?<br />

7


REFERENCES<br />

Cloonan, M. (1995a) "'I fought the law': popular music and British<br />

obscenity law", Popular Music 14:3, October 1995, pp.349-363.<br />

Cloonan, M. (1995b) "Not taking the rap: NWA get stranded on an Island of<br />

realism" in Straw, W., Johnson, S., Sullivan, R. and Friedlander, P. (eds)<br />

Popular Music - Style and Identity (Montreal: Centre f<strong>or</strong> Research on<br />

Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions).<br />

Fadele, D. (1991) Review of "Efil4zaggin", New Musical Express 30 November<br />

1991, p.35.<br />

Goffe, L. (1989) "An attitude problem in LA", Guardian 19 October 1991,<br />

p.27.<br />

Halassa, M. (1990) "Biting off m<strong>or</strong>e than they can chew", Guardian 22<br />

November 1990, p.30.<br />

Home Office. (1991) Letter to NCROPA, 11 July 1991.<br />

Jones, E. (1991) "Straight outta the UK", Sunday Times 24 November 1991,<br />

pp.74.<br />

Krum, S. (1995) "Now hear this", Guardian 12 September 1995, part two,<br />

pp.8-9.<br />

Longrigg, C. (1991) "Singled f<strong>or</strong> out abuse", Independent 8 August 1991,<br />

p.17.<br />

MacKinnon, C. (1994) Only W<strong>or</strong>ds (London: Harper Collins).<br />

Marot, M. (1991a) "Cens<strong>or</strong>ship", Vox November 1991, p.63.<br />

Marot, M. (1991b) Personal interview with auth<strong>or</strong>, 15 November 1991.<br />

Metropolitan Police. (1991) Letter to NCROPA, 18 July 1991.<br />

Myers, P. (1991) "Niggaz court win marks changing attitude", Guardian 8<br />

November 1991, p.3.<br />

National Campaign F<strong>or</strong> the Ref<strong>or</strong>m of The Obscene Publications Acts (NCROPA)<br />

Letter to Metropolitan Police, 17 June 1991.<br />

O'Hagan, S. (1991) "Turning down the ghetto blasters", Times 27 July 1991,<br />

Saturday Review, p.12.<br />

Page, B. (1993) "Hanging the Home Boys", New Musical Express 31 July 1993,<br />

pp.15-16.<br />

Robertson, G. (1991) <strong>Free</strong>dom, The Individual and The Law (Harmondsw<strong>or</strong>th:<br />

Penguin).<br />

Sutherland, J. (1982) Offensive Literature (London: Junction Books).<br />

Toop, D. (1991) "America's most wanted", Sunday Times 24 November 1991,<br />

magazine, pp.68-73.<br />

Tran, M. (1993) "Taking the rap", Guardian 13 December 1993, part two,<br />

pp.4-5.<br />

Notes:<br />

Note:1 See section below on "The Existing Legislation".<br />

Note:2 See Cloonan 1995a.<br />

Note:3 See ibid.<br />

8


Note:4 It should be noted that there might be particular problems in taking<br />

an album, as opposed to individual tracks on it, "as a whole".<br />

Note:5 F<strong>or</strong> m<strong>or</strong>e details of these, and other, cases see Sutherland, 1982.<br />

Note:6 This case was written at the beginning of 1996 when the 1959 Act<br />

remained in place.<br />

Note:7 In the event, the album failed to make the Top 50 album chart in<br />

Britain (Toop, 1992: 46), although it sold very well in America.<br />

Note:8 In this context it is w<strong>or</strong>th noting that British obscenity law is<br />

based on the tendency to deprave and c<strong>or</strong>rupt, rather than on offence. The<br />

implication is that an obscene article will cause its audience to become<br />

depraved and c<strong>or</strong>rupt. Imp<strong>or</strong>tantly, some feminists have argued that, rather<br />

than causing c<strong>or</strong>ruption, p<strong>or</strong>nography and similar material is itself<br />

depraved and c<strong>or</strong>rupt conduct. Such an argument was not used in this case,<br />

but it has imp<strong>or</strong>tant implications. The most articulate proponent of this<br />

position is Catherine MacKinnon. See, f<strong>or</strong> example, MacKinnon: 1994.<br />

Note:9 F<strong>or</strong> problems concerning the realism argument see Cloonan, 1995b:<br />

57-58.<br />

Note:10 It should also be noted that NWA's w<strong>or</strong>ds may be thought of as being<br />

the product of a racist society and it is in this context that they gain<br />

their imp<strong>or</strong>tance. Some defenders of allegedly sexist rap artists have<br />

argued that the exaggerated machismo style involved in gangsta rap is<br />

partly a means by which black men can achieve status and self-esteem in a<br />

racist society. Such tales of sexual bravado and capacity can also be<br />

traced back to earlier black artistic f<strong>or</strong>ms such as blues.<br />

Note:11 Similar results were found in America (Toop, 1991: 69).<br />

Note:12 This case was written at the beginning of 1996 and, at the time of<br />

writing, the 1959 Act remains in place.<br />

9

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