Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Rolling Stones Bear Burden of Censorship Beast

The Rolling Stones started their first concert in China with 'Start Me Up'. The band played to a packed 8000 seat auditorium. Five songs, "Brown Sugar," "Beast of Burden," "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Rough Justice," were banned by the Chinese government.

The song 'Beast of Burden' does include such raunchy lines as "All I want is you to make love to me", and "Am I hard enough?". Certainly these crude references to the mechanics of sexual intercourse should be banned from the Chinese people. (While the Chinese have made their country the most heavily populated in the world, they certainly do not need to be subjected to the coarseness of a rock band singing about, well, sex).

One wonders, though, why Chinese censors disallowed 'Beast' but allowed 'Start Me Up'. I believe it is because of an over-literal interpretation of the lyrics. 'Start me' cannot be defined by a dictionary as: get me sexually aroused so we can have intercourse, while, 'all I want is you to make love to me' certainly can.

However, while 'you make a dead man come' (from 'Start Me Up') is plain enough to any English-speaking audience, it may not have been to the Chinese censors that allowed the performance of this song. To them, this turn of phrase may simply have meant 'you make an old man (or a dead man) feel young and alive enough to stand up and come over to you'. China has always been known for their tradition of longevity, so this lyric may have been seen by censors to reflect a national philosophy. As such, allowing the Stones to sing this song may have been a subtle way of spreading doctrine. Clever indeed.

Politics may also have played a role. The line 'Ain't I rich enough' from "Beast of Burden" may have done that song in. Capitalism is a new concept in China and censors may have, rightfully, thought this reference should be banned lest the Chinese people get it into their heads to make lots of money.

Still, 'You got me ticking gonna blow my top' and 'If you like it you can slide it up, slide it up' and 'My hands are greasy, she's a mean, mean machine' - all from "Start Me Up" - seem obvious enough to me. If Chinese censors had asked, I would have told them the severe sexual implications of these lyrics and, surely, they would not have allowed this song either. Perhaps I should be a censorship consultant. Of course, all Stones tunes are a bit raunchy, as are most rock songs. Had censors consulted me, this concert would have been reduced to four elderly gentleman on stage reading the paper and sipping tea. Luckily, I was not asked. Chinese censors, apparently, consulted an English/Chinese dictionary when they decided which songs to ban, and based their decisions on the literal definitions given therein.

Alas, we may never know what really happened in the smoke filled offices of the Chinese censors.

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