Is censorship of the arts ever justified?

Learning Goal: I’m working on a english writing question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

( THIS IS THE TOPIC AND ARGUMENT) Is censorship of the arts ever justified? How do we balance freedom of artistic expression given to us in the First Amendment against protecting citizens who may be harmed in some way by that expression? This topic requires that you limit your focus to one specific type of artistic expression and the ways it is censored; music, painting, books, etc.

Construct a title and an introduction that will interest the reader. Do not begin with the “announcement” of your thesis – “I am going to persuade you that facial recognition technology is necessary” or “This paper is about censorship of the arts.” Serious writers do not “announce” what they are going to do. Create a title and an introduction that will attract the readers’ attention, one that will make them want to read your paper.

Your topic sentence, your thesis, should appear in the first paragraph after the introduction, clearly stating the focus of your paper. Consider which key words will clarify your general topic into a thesis that contains controlling ideas that will guide the organization of the essay. The thesis suggests that you are offering a potential solution to the problem, or at least a more logical way to understand the issue. It cannot be something vague and general, or a simplistic pro/con statement like “Facial recognition software should be destroyed,” but a sentence with specific terms regarding your subject. “While facial recognition is sometimes a useful crime fighting tool, the fact that it is not perfected means it is possible for it to be misused to discriminate against certain victims, even inadvertently.” This sentence contains key words that require definition and explanation, and requires you to discuss both the advantages and problems with its use in a legal context. By balancing the positive and negative, you have the opportunity to offer ways in which it can be used effectively to apprehend real criminals without victimizing innocent people. A thesis sentence like that suggests all the ideas and evidence you will develop separately in your successive paragraphs.

A valid, logical argument avoids the appearance of personal opinion. That means you must avoid first person; do not use constructions such as “I feel like” or “In my opinion.” Using objective language persuades readers that they are agreeing, not with your personal feelings, but with logical evidence that anyone could understand by examining your evaluation of that evidence. So do not write, “I feel like warning labels on CDs are wrong.” It says that this is based only on your feelings, which are irrelevant, and the word “wrong” is so vague that it is nearly meaningless. A more persuasive and objective writing format is this: “It is clear that censoring CDs by using warning labels contradicts the First Amendment.”

Define your terms for the reader. If your general topic is censorship of the arts, you must break down and define in your thesis sentence just what aspect you will be examining. For the purposes of your argument, what do you mean by censorship? Do you mean CDs with warning labels? Do you mean the closing of art galleries for controversial displays? Do you mean artists being arrested and charged with violating decency laws? Also, what aspect of artistic expression are you addressing? Is it visual arts, music, painting, books? Looking at every type of censorship of every type of artistic expression would require you to write a book, and could not be covered in any sort of detail in a 5 to 7 page paper. A more manageable and limited thesis such as “The laws that require certain musicians to label their CDs as ‘explicit’ or ‘adult only’ are dangerous to our right to free speech” would be far more effective. This particular topic requires that you limit your focus to one specific type of artistic expression. It offers readers a distinct art form, and thus requires you to offer some clear examples, as well as some terms to define and explore.

Think about persuasive strategies we have practiced. In writing about domestic surveillance, you might persuade readers that it is problematic by offering a real-life example, a brief narrative, examining the cause and effect consequences of someone being arrested and incarcerated in a case of mistaken identity. In writing about the laws that require music with explicit language and subject matter to be labeled, you might talk about the process by which this became law, or a narrative example of one musician’s reaction to this level of censorship. You could compare and contrast lyrics from other time periods, in which music was not so legally and specifically censored, with lyrics from current songs that do require labeling today. You might use definition to argue that graffiti is not vandalism, but a type of artistic expression that displays true talent.

Make sure you have some type of concession paragraph to assure your reader that your position is fair and balanced, that you have examined both sides of the issue. “Parents, of course, have the right to be concerned about the kind of language and behavior their young children may be exposed to. Children do have a tendency to model what they see in adults’ behavior.” This concedes that you realize that the opposition has what they feel are good reasons for supporting this kind of censorship. But this does not destroy your argument, and in fact, gives you the opportunity to educate them about weaknesses in their own views. “But this government interference in child-raising amounts to an invasion of privacy; it limits the parents’ right to make decisions about how to raise their own children. Surely not every parent in America shares the same ideas about child-raising, so how can the government justify making unilateral decisions about what is suitable for children and what is not? Isn’t that the parents’ responsibility?”

You are not required or expected to construct a Works Cited page, and a Works Cited page is not counted as one of the five pages of text required, but if you quote someone in your paper, make sure you identify the writer and enclose the words in double quotation marks; otherwise, you are guilty of plagiarism, and you will fail the class. These quotation marks indicate that you are copying the source’s actual words. It should look like this:

According to James Fell, Associate Director of the National Department of Transportation, “About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders.”

Even if you paraphrase, that is, put it into your own words, you must credit the source for giving you the information:

James Fell, the Associate Director of the National Department of Transportation, claims that repeat offenders make up one-third of convicted drunk drivers.

Certainly you can use outside sources for your paper, but you must primarily do your own writing; no more than 1/4 of the paper can be quotes or paraphrases from other sources; otherwise, you have not written the paper – your sources have. That will cause you to fail the class.

You must, of course, offer some kind of conclusion, but it cannot be merely a repetition of your thesis sentence. It should remind the reader of your thesis, but should also expand on the reader’s new understanding of your thesis.

“Clearly, this brand of censorship is about more than vulgar language and violent images; its true intent is not to protect children, but to allow a vocal minority to limit and qualify the concept of free speech guaranteed in the Constitution. No American who believes in a democracy can allow this attempt to go unchallenged.”


This paper must be in MLA format; that is, a running header, an information paragraph, a title that is centered, and everything double spaced, and in Times New Roman 12 font. The paper must be a minimum of five full pages, written in clear, grammatical English. I will deduct 20 points for every page that is missing from the 5-page minimum. For example, if you have only 3 ½ pages, I will deduct 20 points for page 5, and 10 points for ½ of page 4. In addition to the portion of your grade based on content, I will deduct five points for each MLA violation, five points for every use of the second person, five points for every verb tense error, five points for every incomplete or run-on sentence, and five points for every spelling error, so it is essential that you spend some time on the editing process after the paper is written.

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