February 25, 2006

1st Amendment mania (or lack thereof)

Back during the Matt Donegan flap, I wrote somewhere what was dubbed "a good point" by some about the limitations of free speech: What about consumers exercising their right to boycott -- or simply refuse to buy -- an entertainer's wares if he/she says something outrageous or offensive? Now, Eugene Volokh chimes in:

Tolerance demands that people neither beat you up for your views nor throw you in jail for them. But it doesn't demand that people continue to like you—and if they don't like you, then you won't be as effective a promoter.

Danny Glover's signature on the anti-Iraq-war letter was valuable because he was a movie star, not because he was learned on international law. [The Dixie Chicks'] Natalie Maines had a large audience for her expression of contempt for President Bush because she was invited to sing, not because she was invited to deliver a political lecture.

Consumers know that by supporting Natalie Maines, they are indirectly helping support Maines' political message, just as consumers know that by supporting a business, they are indirectly helping support the projects that the business or its owner funds. It seems quite legitimate for consumers to withdraw their support of entertainers and to use their economic power to pressure others to withdraw their support.

This was always a very common sensical notion to me, and Volokh expresses my view better than I ever could. If one's economic livelihood depends on perception -- how the public at large views you -- then you'd best take care to protect that perception. This doesn't mean you lose your right to free expression, of course. That right is ever omnipresent. However, upon exercising that right, you had better be prepared to face any possible consequences -- not criminal, of course, but counter speech (criticism) and, possibly, economic, like in Maines' case -- an album sales dip (which actually did not occur, or at least was fairly miniscule, if I recall correctly).

After all, the right to spend your money as you wish is also free expression. (Hell, if burning the American flag is, then spending your own money had better be, eh?) What is the alternative -- somehow force consumers to continue their spending habits as entertainers desire? Yeah, right! How in the hell would THAT work?

Elsewhere, Volokh reports on more European anti-free speech instances. First, in France, a politician has been fined for "anti-homosexuality speech":

Stating that “homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity” and that “heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality” can cost you dearly in France. Exactly these opinions, expressed by the French politician Christian Vanneste last year, led to him being sentenced on Tuesday to payment of a heavy fine.

A court in Lille ... ruled that Mr Vanneste has to pay a fine of 3,000 euro plus 3,000 euro in damages to each of the three gay organisations that had taken him to court.

Tuesday’s verdict is the first conviction on the basis of the French anti-homophobia bill of 30 December 2004.

Elsewhere, the "Norwegian government [is] suggesting the possibility of suppressing speech that Muslims find blasphemous." Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, a leading member of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party, included the following (oxymoronic) paragraph in an e-mail to the Norwegian embassies:

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

Back here at home, a liberal faces disciplinary action at a Massachusetts community college for yelling "Remember Chappaquiddick" as Ted Kennedy began to speak at a campus function:

"[Democrat Rep. Stephen] Lynch said Kennedy had overcome such adversity to get to the place he was, and that's a bunch of bull," Paul Trost, 20, said. Just as Kennedy began speaking, Trost was walking out of the room when he shouted, "Remember Chappaquiddick!"

The student says a campus police officer went outside and stopped him. He also saw some state troopers go outside, the type who accompany Kennedy around the state to provide security. Trost says the cop took down his information and told him he would be hearing from school officials about disciplinary action.

Trost said that later, even one of his professors confronted him about the incident after class:

"One of my teachers called me ignorant and told me this was an embarrassment to the school," Trost told WND. "She said to me, 'Can't you forgive him after all these years?' And I said, 'No, he killed somebody.'

"If it had been me or any other person, we'd be in jail," Trost says he told his instructor.

Elsewhere, in a perhaps less "serious" vein (in terms of legality, that is), the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Matt Foreman, is "sick" of all the "Brokeback Mountain" jokes being propagated on late-night talk shows and elsewhere:

"It may be funny, but there is a real element of homophobia. It's making jabs about sex between gay men."

Um, Matt? That's what "ethnic" humor and the like is all about -- being funny while at the same time taking "jabs" at whatever target group. The other day I watched the "Best of Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live" DVD. Included is that classic bit where Murphy gets made up like a white guy, and then "discovers" what it's like to be white. It's gut-busting stuff. But, according to Foreman, I guess I'm full of "self-hatred" for laughing at that skit. Yeesh.

And to top off this post, how about a little "insensitive" (by European standards, at least) humor (courtesy EclectEcon where there's many more like the one below):


(Click image to enlarge.)

Posted by Hube at February 25, 2006 09:36 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I seem to remember that Jim Morrison was banned in a number of locales not for his political views but for whipping out Little Jimmy.

Posted by: G Rex at February 27, 2006 12:37 PM

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