You don't have to be a fan of rap music or of rapper Ice-T to be disturbed by Time-Warner's decision last week to withdraw the "Body Count" album after police groups and conservative politicians objected to the song "Cop Killer," which critics charge glorifies the murder of police. Once self-appointed censors, no matter how well-intentioned, are allowed to dictate what other Americans can see, read or listen to, the right of all Americans to make up their own minds is threatened.
We say this fully aware of the fact that many people who are not police officers also deplore Ice-T's lyrics, along with much else that goes with the culture of rap music. Ice-T, like many performers who cater to adolescent audiences, goes out of his way to make himself offensive. Teen-agers sublimate their rebellion against adult authority by buying his music, their parents are appalled and the record company makes a tidy profit. This kind of thing has been going on at least since Elvis Presley.
Society certainly has an interest in setting limits for what is acceptable. Those limits have expanded greatly since Elvis' famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. But the principle remains that whatever limit defines the status quo is the one the latest performer will try to breach. Some people may not always see this as progress, but it is change and it is inevitable one way or another. Ice-T may never appear on a postage stamp, but his act is unlikely to subvert the republic, either.