Young, Rogan, and Spotify: Censorship, or…?


I had an ex like the people crying censorship over the Young/Rogan/Spotify debate. When I would explain a boundary, he would tell me that he “didn’t respond well to ultimatums.” …what?

I can see how the language of establishing a boundary and issuing an ultimatum can be confused. The difference is in whose camp the corresponding action lies.

For example,

Ultimatum: IF you don’t stop drinking till you black out and threaten me, THEN I will leave you. It’s me or alcohol. You can’t have both. YOU choose.

Boundary: I am leaving you BECAUSE  when you drink being around you is dangerous, THEREFORE I will not tolerate it. It’s me or alcohol. You can’t have both. I have chosen.

The confusion around whether Neil Young and friends’ protest amounts to censorship hinges on whether Young’s statement is an ultimatum or a boundary.

This is Young’s statement:

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” the letter continued. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.

I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them…Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

Let’s break that down.

I am removing my music BECAUSE I believe …., THEREFORE I will not be on the same platform as Joe Rogan who does ….. You can’t have both.

Not an ultimatum. Had Young issued an ultimatum, here’s how would break down:

IF you don’t remove Rogan’s podcast, THEN I will remove my music. You can’t have both.

This is made all the more confusing by headlines like this one: Spotify pulls Neil Young’s music after his ultimatum regarding Joe Rogan and ‘fake information about vaccines’ https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2022/01/26/neil-young-spotify-joe-rogan/ …I expected better from you, Washington Post. 

Effectively what Young and friends are engaging in is old school passive protest. Similar to a sit in. A “sit out”, if you will. An “I will not be complicit” protest. The distinction of this difference is important, especially as the conversation veers toward censorship. An ultimatum is issued to force another’s hand. A boundary is established to communicate what you do and do not stand for.

I wouldn’t feel okay benefitting from a platform that I believed was causing the spread of misinformation that in turn was causing deaths, would you? By removing their music, they are living by their principles.

Haven’t Young and friends “lost” if Spotify is removing their music and not Rogan’s podcast? Not by their metrics. If the metric is living by their values, then they’ve nailed it.

Couldn’t they have removed their music quietly? Yes. Unless it’s also a value of theirs to speak up which, as evidenced by their catalogues of protest music and histories of activism, it clearly is.

It’s not an ultimatum. It’s not censorship. It’s not even a fine line. It’s a protest, and while they may be Canadian, for those Americans harping on the first amendment and free speech, it’s as American as it comes.

Musically yours, Maggie

Maggie Cocco is an American Composer, Performer, and Educator based in New Zealand. Her work focuses on trauma informed music education, music and intersectionality, and contemporary vocal performance and composition. Maggie is also an amateur philosopher, lover of language, and enjoys debate. 


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