Okay, let's talk about censorship for a moment. I'm assuming from my headline you already know my thoughts on the matter but I'm going to elaborate on why. First we must ask, what is censorship? A dictionary will give you a pretty vague explanation like, "the act of censoring." So, what does it mean to censor? The answer is of course is to cover, prohibit, or hide certain words, images, phrases, opinions, or writings because the material is considered by the powers that be to be morally or principally objectionable. The only problem with using such a definition is that one must now determine the basis for which something is considered to be objectionable. That my friends, opens up a whole new can of worms. What one person finds to be reprehensible, another might not have any problem with at all. For instance, if I say "Fuck the Steelers," you're going to react in 1 of 3 ways. Either you're going to say, "Hey, fuck you! The Steelers Rule!" Or you might shrug it off and say nothing at all because my opinion matters very little to you. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion right? The other reaction might be, "why'd you have to use the F-word?" Now, living in the city of Pittsburgh the majority of people are likely going to disagree with my abrasive dismissal of their favorite sports team. That’s no problem. Unpopular opinions are still opinions. The problem would be being, by law, prohibited from voicing that opinion. Now, you’re probably thinking, this is the USA, freedom of speech! What I’m here to tell you today is that somewhere down the line the first amendment has been altered in the hearts and minds of the people and its government to mean, freedom of speech as long as it’s the popular opinion.
I once walked into the mall to get a haircut having forgotten that I was wearing a Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses t-shirt that proclaimed, “Everyone fucking dies” on the back. As soon as I signed my name on the waiting list at the salon an older man approached me and said, “Son you shouldn’t be wearing that. It doesn’t look good.” Well, I kind of agreed with him. I said, “I apologize, I forgot I was even wearing the shirt.” A few minutes later as I was waiting my turn to get snipped a security guard approached me and said “we’ve gotten several complaints about your t-shirt.” Which of course means, “This one guy is totally offended by your t-shirt.” As to not make a scene I quietly left the mall. I still think of that day though. There was so much wrong with that scenario that it still eats at me. First off, I was wearing a t-shirt with a tagline for a movie on it. Is a movie and its tagline not a freedom of expression as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution? Was it not my free choice to represent that movie? Also, why would me wearing a t-shirt with a word somebody doesn’t approve of bother someone so much that they actually walked all the way down to the end of the mall to talk to someone at the security office? This person was acting as if I had stolen something, kicked a baby, and snorted coke off the fountain on my way out. This person was so greatly offended by nothing more than a word. Words only have the power we give them. Obviously, he gave that word a lot of power. What this person did not realize though, by bucking at my right of free expression, he was denying my rights as a U.S. citizen.
It is said that Voltaire, a French writer and philosopher, said, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire died in 1778, two years after The Declaration of Independence was written. This quote embodies all of what our founding fathers intended with the 1st Amendment. That right, still to this day, is absolute. It is not to be twisted and manipulated to make 1 or 100,000 happy. It is in place to make us as a whole happy. To allow us to be free to speak our mind, create, challenge, and enlighten all those who care to listen. You do not have to listen but you can’t stop me from talking!
In 2013 this just shouldn’t be an issue. I shouldn’t have to sit here and explain the 1st Amendment to anyone. In all actuality, anyone reading this blog most likely knows of the Bill of Rights and what it means to us as a people. People who don’t understand the Bill of Rights will say things like, “but what about the children?” Well good sir or mam, that is up to you as a parent. You are to teach your children what you believe to be right or wrong. You are to teach your children of the ‘golden rule’ and instill them with morality, laws, and boundaries. That is not up to me. You cannot tell adults what they can’t say in public because of what you teach your children. In fact, kids need to hear some things. If children are not exposed to anything then they will not know how to handle themselves when they enter the real world and have no choice but to hear things they don’t like. Again, my freedom of speech is absolute. I will not make it a point to say things to your child that you would not want them to hear out of respect for you and the morality I have in myself. I will not be barred from expressing myself in a public forum because somebody doesn’t like the words on my shirt or coming out of my mouth. Those words are only bad because someone says they are bad.
What we have in cases of people shutting out the freedom of speech is a discussion of taste. Taste does not make the law. There is nothing wrong with finding something distasteful. We all do. We must, however, realize that others may not. Adversely, what we find to be perfectly okay, somebody else may not. We reserve ourselves amongst others so that we don’t offend them out of respect. Not because we will be flogged, tarred and feathered, or burned at the stake if we don’t. Look at it like this, in the Western world, eye contact when talking to someone is a sign of respect. In other places in the world, such as the Far East, direct eye contact is a sign of disrespect. I love bacon but I would not expect a Jew or a Muslim to eat bacon. I respect their opinions and beliefs. I can live with the fact that you don’t like what I have to say. You have that right. You must also learn that I have a difference in opinion and I’m entitled to it.
One of the biggest slaps-in-the-face of our constitution comes by way of censorship in art. Yes, there are laws against the exploitation of children and animals. There should be. They are not mentally capable of making decisions that adults can make. There is a scientific basis for this and it must be understood and respected. However, what 2 or more consenting adults engage in is the business of those adults. If you don’t like reading Hustler magazine and seeing those naked photo spreads don’t read it.
I mention Hustler, specifically because its founder and publisher, Larry Flynt, is one of the greatest champions of the 1st Amendment ever. You may not agree with some of Larry’s choices as a person and you may not agree with the work he does but you need to respect his right to do it. It was a long hard battle for him that resulted in multiple lawsuits, imprisonments, and even the use of his legs in an assassination attempt. He held in there though. He fought hard for all of us, whether that was his intention or not matters in the least. He did it so that we are able to exercise the right afforded to us by the framers of our constitution. Most famously, he defeated Jerry Falwell in the Supreme Court over his right to parody public figures. If one puts themselves in the public eye, the public has the right to make fun of them. That my friends, is guaranteed by the freedom of speech. You can say what you want about that person. That’s not to say that your reputation and relationships business or otherwise, will not suffer as a result of your outspokenness. The people you may do business with may not agree with what you say and they have a right not to do business with you. They have a right to say what they think of you just as easily as you do them.
Without Larry Flynt’s court victory, shows like Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy may have had a harder time getting their material on the air. The reason being that for everyone out there with a sense of humor, one of the celebrities they parody might have been able to sue them for defamation. Luckily, Larry won and we as a people were guaranteed that we are allowed to say how much we think a certain band sucks or do a laughingly bad impersonation of even the President of the United States on live TV.
When it comes to movies, we have a little organization called the Motion Picture Association of America. They are a bunch of nameless, faceless, paid-in-the-shadows individuals who get to decide whether the material presented in your movie is offensive or not. They get to tell you that if you don’t cut 10 seconds of sex or 5 seconds of a decapitation your movie isn’t going to be played in a theater with a rating that will allow a bunch of people to view your movie and make you any kind of profit. Even worse they may ban the movie outright and say that it just can’t be played in a movie theater. Okay, here’s the issue with that. Should objectionable material be kept from the eyes of children who do not understand the context? I think so. Is it my job to tell someone else what is right or wrong for their children? Absolutely not. Even worse, who the hell is the MPAA to tell me, an adult, what I shouldn’t watch? That is my choice and my choice alone. It is the filmmaker’s choice to present a film with their message and my choice to receive that message or not. Leave it up to us MPAA; we don’t need a Big Brother movie agency.
Music, there’s another fun one for you. Wal-Mart, I’m looking at you. Why is Wal-Mart allowed to sell edited CDs? No I’m sorry. They should be allowed to sell edited copies. The real question is why don’t they sell the original cut of the album in the way the artist intended also? If they want to restrict the sale of a CD based on lyrical content to a minor, they have that right as a company. It’s also very much appreciated by parents. Why don’t they have the un-edited one for me the adult? The answer is because Wal-Mart does not want you to hear the un-edited CD because someone at Wal-Mart has deemed it in bad taste. Once more I will say, bad taste doesn’t mean a damn thing when compared to the law of the land, the United States Constitution. I will give Wal-Mart this though, they do mark that their CDs are edited. Some other outlets do not. I bought 3 copies of the last Meatloaf album from 3 different stores before I got the one with Meatloaf singing “she’ll fuck you when she’s done,” on the track “Like A Rose.” Was the word “fuck” really necessary to my enjoyment of this album? No, not really. But it was the lyric the artist chose and let’s be honest, when you’re singing along do you want the chorus to drop off or worse have a beeping sound? That really throws off the flow of the song!
So, I hope you think about what I have said. I hope you realize that bad taste, popular opinion, and individual morals and motives cannot interfere with our 1st Amendment. It is what separates us from unjust dictatorships. When we ban one thing we soon ban something else. It’s a slippery slope that leads to nowhere good. We as Americans must learn to be tolerant of each other and the different beliefs and opinions that we carry. I would love to see the entire world live with that philosophy but for now, if we can embrace it ourselves, I’ll be more than happy. You don’t have to agree with what someone says but you should be able to acknowledge their right to say it. Art is a form of expression and therefore it must also be protected under that same clause. If you believe that what I say isn’t worthy of the constitution’s protection because you find it to be in bad taste, there are plenty of other countries with your beliefs you could be living in. Agree with me, cool. Disagree with me, cool. Don’t restrict me. It’s un-American my friend.