“Censorship is murder.”
Too strong? I thought so at first. Then again, this was an assignment for college and I wanted a good grade, so I decided to run with it.
The task that lay before me was developing this radical thesis. So I thought and I thought and I thought. I asked my housemate what he thought. So he thought. Then we both thought. Here’s the result: Censorship is murder because I believe that “to be a human, as opposed to all other known life forms, requires an unfettered ability to communicate one’s value (in the form of words, images, or music) to other humans. And an external restriction of a person’s expression of value is the same as telling them they have no value. In other words, it is a malicious attempt to end their life.”
It was beautiful.
After developing my thesis, the next assignment was to write about my first experience with censorship. What I discovered was frightening. Even now, I am afraid of the implications.
187. 68. 32. Those are the amounts posters and/or pictures of The New Kids on the Block my cousin Jenny, my sister Kate, and I had on our bedroom walls, respectively, in the summer of 1990. I feel like I should be embarrassed to admit this. I would be if I led the bunch. That I was a distant third clearly showed I was just trying to fit in.
For those of you who don’t recall, The New Kids on the Block were it back then. Their top single, “Hangin’ Tough” spent 132 weeks, that’s nearly two and a half years, on the Billboard charts.
Despite the New Kids’ success, all was not well in households across America. Mine was no different. My memory gets fuzzier by the year, but this much I do remember. My sister was taking piano lessons. She was three years older than me. She was 12, I was 9. Mrs. Misty Bolton, the wife of our church’s pastor of music, was her piano teacher. Even a cool lady like her couldn’t see the storm brewing on the horizon.
I can hear the nice, neat, well-timed piano playing now. Whatever my sister may have lacked in expression, she made up for in crisp playing–just like an older sister to show how its done.
At this point in the story, it’s important that you join me in the room.
You’re already at the front door of the house? Good. Open it. Once you make your way through the front door, you see a hallway to a kitchen table straight ahead. You discover that what you thought was the right wall of that hallway is actually the left side of the staircase which leads to the second floor and a little balcony. Turning all the way to your right, you see the room where the piano is. You know the piano is in the room, not because you see it, but because you can see a reflection of it in the wall sized mirror that hangs opposite it.
This room, unlike any other in the house had a name: the “blue room”. It was named for its predominant color, beginning with the blue carpet, extending to the blue walls. The blue carpet was a plush, thick, luscious carpet that incurred my mother’s wrath if it was needlessly tread upon.
“Key-an’t you go around?,” she’d exclaim. She could be rather vain about carpet.
Do you see me yet? Good. Here it comes.
“Mom! Comeeer. Misty, I mean, Mrs. Bolton says she’ll teach me to play the New Kids on the Block songs if we buy the book! Can we? Pleeeeease?,” my sister begged.
Our mom was no push-over, but it seemed like such a simple request involving learning to play piano didn’t necessitate that kind of begging. It turned out that no amount of begging could overcome the music snobbery we were about to witness.
“Nnnnoooo, I’m not going to hee-ave you playing that garbage! It’s bee-ad enough I hee-ave to hear it and see it all dee-ay long as it is. I will not buy thee-at book for you. Nice try though.”
Crushed! Devastated! If my sister wasn’t crying on the outside, she was on the inside. Try as they might, my boy arms lacked the strength to lift her out of her misery.
-Fast forward to the next lesson-
Guess who showed up with the sheet music book for the New Kids’ latest album “Step By Step”? Mrs. Misty Bolton. This was a bad idea. She obviously had not spent much time in our house. Suffice it to say, my mom was not happy. And so after my mom let Mrs. Baldwin know she wasn’t happy, she made my sister pay for it out of her piddly allowance and then she took the book away and hid it. No piano of hers was going to play the New Kids’ music, and no piano teacher was going to defy her wishes!!
Well, there you have it. My first experience with censorship.
What’s that? You thought I was supposed to be explaining how this experience led me to believe censorship was murder?
But don’t you see? I just did. My mother censored the “Step By Step” album. You still don’t understand? Okay. Okay, quick reminder then. How did the New Kids follow their “Step By Step” album? Don’t remember? That’s because the New Kids on the Block never released another original studio album. By the time those five guys did release another original studio album, they weren’t the New Kids on the Block anymore. They were NKOTB. Still not with me? Fully connecting the dots now– a simple writing assignment in which I was asked to defend my original thesis, that censorship is murder, led me to stumble upon the frightening revelation that the New Kids on the Block died after my mom censored their “Step By Step” album. Therefore, my mom killed them in an act of what appears to be cold-blooded murder! This is the same woman who raised me to do the right thing and all these years she’s been hiding this secret! She, too, must pay for her crime. And I have to turn her in. But how do I turn in my own mom??!
I guess, I’ll just have to take it step… by… step.