Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around."
Art has always been an outlet of dissension. These days, this reputation is most strongly associated with rock music. And where you get dissension, you get people trying to stamp it out. That's where the Culture Police come in.
The Culture Police are bad guys who try to stamp out art (most commonly rock and pop music and/or dancing) for whatever reason. Mundane versions may simply be exaggerated versions of real-life Moral Guardians operating on a local level, or trying to drum up support to expand their pro-censorship campaign. Fantastic versions may be a SPECTRE-esque organization or Scary Dogmatic Aliens whose scheme to Take Over the World involves stamping out freedom of expression. The fantastic variety will usually come with armies of Faceless Goons who go around confiscating or destroying books/records/paintings/what have you, and arresting (or killing) people who so much as whistle. The canonical alignment for these bad guys is Lawful Evil, as they are very much control freaks.
Can easily be perceived as a Take That! against any art deliberately allowed by the Culture Police.
Unfortunately, this trope is Truth in Television. Several authoritarian, totalitarian and/or theocratic regimes have had (and have still) cultural or religious polices whose function is to curb the dissidents and guard the morals. Let's say they do exist, and any specific examples are therefore redundant.
- The first episode of the Excel Saga anime parodies this. Lord Il Palazzo believes manga is corrupting the youth of Japan, and sends Excel out to assassinate manga authors, starting with the author of the Excel Saga manga. She succeeds, and is promptly bitched out by the personification of the universe — essentially a living Reset Button — for breaking reality by killing her own author. It's that sort of show.
- Library War is about a future Japan where the government institutes a policy of book burning and culture policing. An intentional loophole built into the law by its less enthusiastic signers allow public libraries to 'confiscate' books and save them from the bonfires, which has led to an elaborate system of ritualized warfare between culture police and the libraries.
- AKB0048 has the DES, who crack down on Idol Singers and are willing to open fire on them and their fans.
- Shimoneta manages to simultaneously parody and deconstruct this. Sixteen years before the start of the series, a series of censorship laws lead to the brutal repression of anything deemed obscene, such as foul language, pornography, sexually explicit images, and even mention of the correct medical terms for certain body parts. On top of the SWAT team for busting people for watching porn, the current generation is receiving no sex education of any kind, which leads to situations like that of Anna. Once she has her first kiss, she becomes a Nymphomaniac and wannabe rapist who thinks what she's doing to the object of her affection is love.
- The Spanish comic Fanhunter involves all of Europe being taken over by self-proclaimed Pope Alejo Cuervo, a deranged ex-librarian who believes himself to be channeling the ghost of Philip K. Dick. After Cuervo bans all forms of subculture, an organization of sci-fi, comic, anime, and other fanboys known as La Resistencia organizes to fight Cuervo and his crack teams of "Fanhunters".
- In Marvel Comics' The New Exiles, Doctor Doom, after taking control of the world, not only bans culture (comedy in particular), but also people's ability to show any strong emotion other than love and adoration toward him and hatred toward Reed Richards.
- The fascist Norsefire Government does this in V for Vendetta, confiscating or suppressing most forms of art and music; V, as a contrast, uses the suppressed materials as an iconic symbol.
- Parodied in The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror Halloween story "The Exorsister." Reverend Lovejoy starts a pressure group called Families For Tamer Television (FFTT) that starts out by boycotting products that sponsor TV shows they find objectionable for one reason or another. They target anything even remotely subversive: not only do they get a cop show cancelled just because the officers are girls in bikinis, but they send hate mail to and make threatening phone calls to Krusty the Clown to bully him into removing all "squirting seltzer bottle" gags from his kiddie show lest they encourage schoolchildren to misuse fire extinguishers. (Krusty at first delivers an awkward apology personally to the group, but then snaps and tells them they can all go to hell.) Funny thing is, though, Families For Tamer Television turns out to be right about one thing: not only is Madonna's music extremely sinful, but Madonna herself is an evil demon capable of entering human hosts and turning them into near-carbon copies of her (which she tries to do to Lisa).
- In Legionnaire, the Khanate has the Basiji, who are essentially religious fanatic thugs who take to the streets and beat people up on a whim.
- In My Immortal, it's apparently okay to send people to Azkaban for being Goth. Professor Sinister is sent there, and in the past Albus Dumbledore was so virulently anti-gothic that he'd send any goth he saw to Azkaban.
- Probably the most famous example of the mundane variety is Reverend Moore from the film Footloose. In fact, they act like pop music is banned. Like, against the law. Ren (Kevin Bacon's character) is able to work around it by appealing to the town by explaining the historical use of dance to celebrate life.
- Utilized in Pleasantville as the presence of two kids from the real world starts making a small town from a sitcom set in an idealized version of The '50s more and more real. One particularly non-subtle scene visually feature an angry mob breaking into a store and tearing paintings apart — then moving on to burn books. The town establishes a Code of Conduct prohibiting all recorded music except "Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Jack Jones, the marches of John Philip Sousa or 'The Star Spangled Banner'."
- The Grammaton Clerics of the film Equilibrium were an elite police force tasked with destroying all art and killing anyone who possesses art. This was because the dystopian government was attempting to stabilize society by completely eliminating human emotion (why the government needs an elite, Gun Kata trained task force to carry this out is never really explained).
- The surreal Swedish comedy Picassos äventyr (The Adventures of Picasso in the States) have Prohibition being not about alcohol, but art. Secret galleries work as speakeasies for people who want to see art, and are raided by the police; smugglers bring in paintings and sculpture from Canada, and Picasso gets a job producing, essentially, the art equivalent of moonshine for art-starved Americans...
- In C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, the Confederacy's morality laws severely stunt the country's cultural growth. According to the movie, Confederate culture never evolved beyond state-inspired propaganda. Many take their talents to Canada, which benifits greatly.
- In Duck Soup, Groucho Marx, as the newly installed ruler of Freedonia, lays down the law in a jaunty tune:
No one's allowed to smoke — Or tell a dirty joke — And whistling is forbidden!
If chewing gum is chewed — The chewer is pursued — And in the hoosegow with him!
If any form of pleasure is exhibited,
Report to me and it will be prohibited!
I'll put my foot down
So shall it be-e-e...
This is the land of the free!
- Stargate: Written language has been banned on Abydos for millennia (though there is a wall of hieroglyphics that's somehow survived for all this time), and when Daniel Jackson tries to write something to communicate with the locals, the person he's writing to immediately erases it in fear. In-universe, this is explained as Ra not wanting them to learn about and follow the examples of those who rebelled against the Go'auld on Earth.
- The classic example is Plato's Republic. which advocates censorship and control of poetry and music, to eliminate unhealthy and undesirable beliefs and attitudes.
- The world in the book Fahrenheit 451 has outlawed books, and employs professional book burners called "firemen".
- In the Piers Anthony short story "Nonent", an alien wants to destroy human ingenuity by destroying science fiction. He decides to send an unsolicited manuscript to all science fiction short story magazines, the second page of which will destroy the mind of anyone that sees it. Of course the plan is foiled by the fact that no editor reads past the first page before deciding what to publish
- In the Orson Scott Card short story "Prior Restraint", collected in Maps in a Mirror, a group of time travelers calling themselves the "Censorship Board" manipulate history by preventing certain great writers from publishing their work. Note that this board wasn't portrayed as completely bad — they did this because the works in question would result in the death of millions of people. They actually kept a copy of the work in their library. A rare (slightly) positive portrayal.
- Perhaps the pinnacle of this trope is 1984, which has essentially banned all music except patriotic anthems, and any other form of media except propaganda. As the story ends, the government plans to delete the very words for rebellion out of the language.
- Rudyard Kipling's In the Neolithic Age
hammersstoneaxes home his view on the question.
- Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend satirizes this sort of thing in the character of Mr. Podsnap: "The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of the young person?"
- Hard to Be a God by the Strugatski brothers takes place on a planet where books of any kind, and even literacy, are banned. "Progressors" from Earth are trying to ameliorate the situation, but the main problem is that the planet's culture is broken, and simply replacing the government will result in an old crapsack in new clothes — hence the name.
- In the Stephen King short story "Children of the Corn," the eponymous children have destroyed a pipe organ and plugged it up with corncobs. On the music stand they have placed a presumably biblical passage regarding the sinfulness of artificially produced music (i.e., by instruments, rather than pure vocals). But then, He Who Walks Behind the Rows has some strange ideas about sin.
- The Book of Lord Shang advocates making music and learning illegal so the average person will devote his attention to farming.
- Society in The Giver is strictly regulated under a policy of "Sameness," in which life is carefully regulated to eliminate strife and division. Music and media have been eliminated. Weather is kept constantly pleasant, only raining at night to water crops while the people sleep. Sex drives, or "stirrings" as they're called in the Community, are suppressed by mandatory drugs (except for the few whose job it is to breed), as are other strong emotions. Even positive emotions like familial love have been carefully eliminated so as to avoid making waves. Animals of all descriptions have been eradicated, at least in the areas where people might actually see them, and even the ability to see color has been carefully removed from the general population. Everyone is kept in blissful ignorance of the fact that life has ever been any different, with the exception of one individual per Community called "the Receiver of Memory," who is entrusted with the memories of life before Sameness in case a situation arises that requires such knowledge to resolve.
- In the Discworld novel Soul Music the Guild of Musicians (specifically Mr. Clete) are opposed to Music With Rocks In, because it's a type of music they can't control.
- In Matched by Ally Condie, there are only 100 of the best artworks of the past allowed to be appreciated, and people are not taught to write or draw.
- In the Delirium Series, dancing, poetry, certain types of music, loud laughter and public displays of affection are all banned. This is so because of the Dystopian Edict that states that love is a disease and forces everyone to get a surgery that removes the capability to love (and most other strong emotions).
- One Nation Under Jupiter: The Roman office of censor is still alive and well in Nova Roma.
- The plot of Terminal Avenue centers around the main character's visits to a club in an area of town where he is not allowed to go, where he and his lover do things that the Purity Laws don't permit.
- Bearheart: Native American education is banned in universities.
- In Victoria the heroes outright refuse to create a law or a police force to enforce Retroculture. They distrust the government having that much power and intrusiveness into people's lives, and consider it the responsibility of each citizen to monitor and ostracize those using forbidden technology or rap music. This works out much better than ham-fisted enforcement, and they celebrate by tearing down all the modern buildings to erect churches and homes in a more tasteful classical style.
- The Quantum Leap episode "Good Morning, Peoria" had Sam leaping into the body of a DJ during The '50s and fighting a movement by the local government to ban rock music.
- An episode of Xena: Warrior Princess had a town outlaw dancing and music while simultaneously passing a law that forced all children into military service. Xena was conscripted to train the children, and she undermined the changes by teaching the children dance and rhythmic music masked as military drills.
- In the Doctor Who serial The Happiness Patrol, ruler Helen A insists her subjects be happy at all times and her enforcers, the Happiness Patrol, try to stamp out all depressing artforms, such as blues music.
- In the Crusade episode "The Needs of Earth", a refugee thought to have information about a cure for the Drakh plague turns out to have recordings of his planet's cultural heritage, which is being systematically destroyed by its governing Moral Guardians.
- The final episode of Max Headroom features a battle between the heroes and the Censor Board.
- Not uncommon in Sliders, with perhaps the purest example being a world where a technique for direct brain manipulation was developed. Originally intended for mental health treatment, and to achieve some strange form of enlightenment, unscrupulous politicians used it to eliminate creativity, to the point where the creative impulse became classified as a mental disease. This was done to solidify their hold on power. Unusually for that part of the series, the group didn't solve this problem before they left.
- Frontier Circus: In "The Courtship", the circus arrives in New Atlanta, a town with laws against public performances like circuses.
- The band Styx did a concept album called Kilroy Was Here (which gave us the song "Mr. Roboto"). The eponymous Kilroy was a rogue musician using The Power of Rock to lead a revolution against the Majority for Musical Morality, a fascist Media Watchdog organization backed by The Government.
- "Le Trente-Huit Cunegonde", on The Firesign Theatre's album Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, details a society in which the hippie counterculture of the '60s became mainstream. It opens with two police officers accosting a girl because she's not wearing a mini-skirt, and when they discover she doesn't have any drugs on her, they send her in for "re-grooving".
Cop #1: Dig, Larry: aspirin.
Cop #2: Do her a favor, phone her in.
Girl: I'm telling ya, I took all the uppers! You wanna hear me rap? "I saw the best minds of my generation..."
Cop #1: Put her in the car.
- The Clash's song "Rock the Casbah" is about a shareef who bans rock.
- The music video for DJ Kentaro's "FREE" is about a world where vinyl is banned — specifically, vinyl records.
- The Nine Inch Nails concept album, "Year Zero," features a dystopian future where the "Bureau of Morality" has eroded American civil liberties and generally act as a Culture Police against any form of expression, particularly music, that dissents against the powers that be.
- Lordi's "Rock Police" is basically about said police enthusiastically and brutally suppressing (presumably — it's never quite stated, but heavily implied by context nonetheless) non-rock music.
- In the video for Poets of the Fall's "Lift," an Ambiguous interpretation of the Poet County Jail officials conducting Mad Dreamer Mark's psychiatric evaluation (with which he would agree) is that they find his brand of creativity threatening. The lone female official finishes the evaluation form by checking boxes marked "Illusionist," "Dreamer" and "Menace to society."
- Professional Wrestling example: The WWF heel stable Right to Censor was a group based on the Parents' Television Council, and were dedicated to stamping out sex and filth in the WWF. Their presence was used to lampshade a lot of changes to the product to make it less racy, such as the removal of Val Venis and The Godfather's smutty gimmicks (both of them renounced their "evil" ways and joined the RTC), and the loss of Billy Gunn's nickname, "Mr. Ass" (he lost the nickname as a stipulation in a match against one of the members).
- The Inquisition and Adeptus Arbites of the Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40,000 are pretty laid-back about culture, so long as planets revere the Emperor and pay tribute to the Imperium. However, if they see anything that could possibly be interpreted as a sign of Chaos, the purge will be swift and without mercy.
- And culture can easily be one of the inroads for Chaos, through the cults of Slaanesh. So they can actually have cause for extreme reactions.
- The Serious Police in the Toonpunk 2020 1/2 setting for Toon. In a game based on wacky Looney Tunes type stuff, they're The Comically Serious with assault weaponry.
- The Coalition States in Rifts makes literacy itself a crime. This is the primary reason why the number one person on their Most Wanted List is an outspoken 65-year-old woman who mostly writes books about her travels and freely teaches and encourages others to read.
- Normality can be argued to represent the final total victory of the Culture Police.
- Starchildren: The Velvet Generation (which could best be described as Ziggy Stardust: the RPG) takes place in a future where an organization colloquially known as "Mad Mother" has ridden the wave of public distrust and stamped out rock music.
- Some of the less liberal of the Successor States in BattleTech have this. (So do the Clans, although their "police" is more likely to be either active or mustered-out warriors with all that implies.)
- Killer Queen and Globalsoft in We Will Rock You, the rock musical based on the music of Queen, are bent on eliminating all music and, thus, free thought, on Planet Mall, aka Earth.
- Ironically, Killer Queen sings a song about half way through the play. This is excusable, though, because it's a musical. And who else but a villain could do "Another One Bites The Dust"?
- After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, all western TV, film, and music was banned in Iran. When liberalizing political attitudes in the mid-2000s led to some western music being authorized for sale in the country, ironically enough, a Queen's greatest hits album was the first disc approved for sale. This was due to Bohemian Rhapsody containing the phrase "Bismillah."
- Dr. Robotnik's goal in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is to stamp out music and fun via his roboticizer and the converted Beanville citizens.
- The final stage of Elite Beat Agents features a race of music-hating aliens that take over the world and outlaw music. Anyone caught singing, dancing, or enjoying music in general gets either Taken for Granite or sent to what is essentially a concentration camp. However, they didn't do that just because they hate music, but because music actually hurts them, which leads to their inevitable downfall as a result of a worldwide rock concert.
- Revolution X has the New Order Nation, an anti-youth culture organization consisting essentially of Kerri Hoskins as Mistress Helga, a hot authoritarian woman in a dominatrix-esque leather outfit, and her throngs of machine gun-wielding mooks in yellow jumpsuits, which takes over the American government, bans television, rock music, and video games, and kidnaps Aerosmith.
- The Jet Set Radio games have regular police and later trained assassins playing this role, trying to suppress a skater counterculture. Pompadoured police chief Onishima employs an oversized revolver loaded with rubber bullets, hordes of riot-shield wielding goons, and even tanks and helicopters armed with anti-riot gear to take your character down. All this turns out to be the plan of an evil corporate mogul so he can smother Tokyo in nothing but homogeneous, mediocre mainstream entertainment, as the first part of his plot to conquer the world with dark powers. No, really.
- Normality plays this pretty straight; music is banned, joy is banned, most color is banned, and people have to turn their TV on (with only crap on air, of course) at all times. Later, you smash walls apart using a guitar.
- The INKT corporation in de Blob bans music and color. They take a more proactive approach on color, sucking it away with robots... which they then leave around for the protagonist to slam into and gain color to go spread around Chroma City once more.
- Fallen London: The Ministry of Public Decency, and their Special Constables, play this role, complete with book-burning insignia. They mostly crack down on obviously revolutionary literature and simple digs at the government (in particular the Masters of the Bazaar), but they're known to go after plays and books for stranger reasons, which is only partially explained by the fact Mr. Pages loves to steal books from the "for burning" pile and occasionally bans rare books just to have them itself. All romantic literature is also subject to heavy revision and taxation, and getting caught smuggling it is about as bad as getting caught soul-smuggling. That's because the city itself feeds on love stories.
- In Final Fantasy XIV, the first emperor of Garlemald was an avid patron of the arts, so much so that he personally commissioned a grand airship for his favorite theatre troupe to take their performance all over the empire. By contrast, his grandson and successor placed strict regulations and censorships on all forms of art and theatre so that only Imperial approved works could be shown to the public.
- Several storylines in Fans! played this trope hilariously straight. Apparently, the only thing standing in the way of would-be world conquerors is science fiction fandom. Ban sci-fi, or go back in time and kill someone big like H. G. Wells, and Earth is all yours.
- The Mayor in The Word Weary has a Grand Jury indict Yorick for his performance art.
- In the Chaos Timeline in Technocratic Germany. Censors the book "Das Paradies der Goldis" by Katherine Geller (apparently a bit like Valley of the Dolls) for the depiction of mental diseases, drug addiction and lesbian love.
- Shows up in A World of Laughter, a World of Tears, in the form of the Mickey Mouse Club, which manages to suppress, among other things, Elvis and Beatniks, causing them to leave for Europe.
- In RWBY, an enormous Culture War figures prominently in the history of Remnant. Taking place eighty years before the start of the series, the war saw all four kingdoms fighting over issues of trade and borders, but also over, as Professor Ozpin puts it, "the destruction of all forms of art and self-expression." As a form of rebellion against this, Remnant's tradition of Colourful Theme Naming was started.
Ozpin: "It was their way to demonstrate that not only would they refuse to tolerate this oppression, but neither would the generations to come."
- In an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, a popular song about Sonic (written more or less to the show's theme song) prompts Dr. Robotnik to attempt to forcibly ban all music.
- In fact, in the Archie Comics, it is repeatedly stated that Robotnik hates all music and has technically banned it. Because he's a jerk.
- The cartoon Madballs has Commander Wolfbreath and his men, who had banned music, dancing, and other forms of entertainment on their home planet and were trying to capture the protagonists (a rogue rock band that fled to Earth).
- Kyle's mom Sheila on South Park is the freakin' CHIEF. In the episode "Death", she convinces the parents of South Park to commit mass suicide in order to get the networks to pull an offensive Terrance and Phillip episode, and in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, she ends up starting a war with Canada (and eventually The End of the World as We Know It) over the Terrence and Phillip film Asses of Fire.
- The cartoon Oscar's Orchestra takes place in a dystopian future, and revolves around a plucky band of anthropomorphic instruments lead by a talking piano (the eponymous Oscar) and their efforts to fight Thaddeus Vent, the "Emperor of the World" who has banned all music.
- In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Washingtoon", Buster and Babs had to appeal to then-President George H.W. Bush and the United States Congress to keep a stick-in-the-mud moral guardian from turning Acme Acres into the setting for a saccharine Edutainment Show.
- Used in a Breather Episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which Aang attends a strict Fire Nation academy where it is revealed that apparently their culture, or at least their upper class schools, don't approve of dancing, or self-expression in general. This is completely unrelated to the Ba Sing Se Dai Li whose official job description is "Cultural Police"- they couldn't care less about cultural decay, they just want to keep the city out of the hundred-year war raging outside its walls and to maintain their secret stranglehold on power.
- Other views into Fire Nation culture show more approval toward art and self-expression, such as General Iroh and his men playing music on board their ship or having the Gaang infiltrate a Fire Nation festival. This might mean it's mainly in formal institutions like school or military bases that expect such strict behavior, although one constant is that propaganda is everywhere (the festival had children watching a puppet-show with the Fire Lord as the hero).
- Of course, things are also a lot less strict in the Fire Nation "Territories" in the Earth Kingdom.
- In Sequel Series The Legend of Korra cultural revolutionaries the Equalists want to eradicate the Supernatural Martial Arts of Bending and extend this to opposing its most popular culture, the Fictional Sport of pro-bending, on the grounds that it leads to idolizing benders. The Magocracy's anti-Equalist task force target the Equalist's chi-blocking dojos in turn, stamping out Muggle martial arts in the process of fighting terrorists.
- Mocked, like all tropes, on The Simpsons with the episode "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge". After Maggie hits Homer on the head with a mallet, Marge creates a Culture Police group to protest the hyperviolent Itchy & Scratchy cartoons that inspired Maggie's attack. She successfully convinces the studio behind the cartoons to clean up their act. Later in the episode, when Michaelangelo's David is brought to Springfield as part of a coast-to-coast American tour, the group Marge started is appalled to discover that she doesn't want it banned despite the exposed genitals. When grilled about it on a local talk show, Marge is called out on her hypocrisy and is forced to admit that it's wrong to censor one form of art but not others; Itchy & Scratchy return.
- The Nixels in Mixels are entirely anti-creativity...something the Mixels have loads of, and are always out to destroy the Cubits and creativity of the Mixels, hoping to turn the landscape as black and white as they are.