“Free Speech”

I am on record as having generally applauded the Danish cartoon hubbub. I like to see false idols toppled, particularly since virtually all idols are false. However, so far as I can tell, "free speech" was never at issue there. The newspapers and magazines appeared to be always free to publish or not publish. Deciding against offending someone, for whatever reason, does not mean that you have been "censored," by which I mean: forcibly muffled (typically, by the state).

Andrew Sullivan, in an article called Hey Chef, these guys are killing free speech seems to think that this South Park vs. Scientology ruckus is an issue involving free speech.

And so we are back where we were with the Muhammad cartoons. Someone
somewhere won’t let you see the Scientology episode of South Park. You
can go to the Comedy Central website and view it on the internet — the
last refuge for free speech. But you won’t see it on television. In a
battle between satire and religion, although some deny that Scientology
deserves that moniker, religion wins again.

Take note. Whenever someone says "someone" in this sort of context, it’s because he has no argument. He is essentially claiming censorship of free speech. If so, then who, precisely, is carrying out the censorship and what, precisely, is potentially at risk for defiance?

Well, I loath sloppy, mush-brained thinking just as much as I loath fairy tales taken as literal truths. I also very much dislike diluting the meaning and import of concepts like "censorship." Just because someone refuses to furnish you a bullhorn, stage, and podium–or a television broadcast center–does not mean that they are depriving your of the freedom to speak. Speak all you want, but unless you can come to trading terms with others, you’ll have to finance your own means of getting your message out.

I know for sure that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker do not have a contract with Comedy Central which provides that they may broadcast anything they want, in spite of the wishes of Comedy Central. I also know for sure that as property of Viacom, Comedy Central has no particular dispensation that allows it to subordinate the wishes of Viacom to that of its own. Paramount Pictures, another Viacom property, is heavily invested in a new film by Tom Cruise, Scientologist. I’ve no idea what the agreement between Cruise’s production company and Paramount is on this Mission: Impossible III deal, but I’m sure that both parties have significant teeth that may be employed in a variety of ways. These are big-money deals with lots at stake.

If Cruise has the clout to motivate someone with whom he’s doing business to not insult and make fun of him over the airwaves, then why shouldn’t he use it? I would. You would.

This has nothing to do with free speech. Nothing. South Park’s creators are absolutely free to say anything they want, or to make cartoons of it. Everyone knows this. What they are not free to do is to use the property of others to distribute their message in ways and means that the owners of that property are not content to permit. It’s as simple as that, and everyone ought to be keeping their powder dry for the day when there’s real censorship to fight.

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  1. Richard Nikoley on March 27, 2006 at 13:08


    The problem is that you are not thinking clearly.

    Why does your desire that Viacom broadcast something in particular trump the desire of someone else that Viacom not broadcast it?

    You are of equal standing in that you (in this example) are not owners of Viacom. But, you (and/or those of like mind) are not of equal influence. The organized Christian right has more influence than you and yours (perhaps). Conversely, I suspect that you and yours would have the same standing but far more influence with Rolling Stone Magazine (as one example) than the Christian right.

    I won't even get into the "control behavior" comments. That's just ludicrous. Anyoone who can be "controlled" by a TV show ought to just put a gun to their head instanter.

  2. daedalus on March 27, 2006 at 12:54

    In this day and age, it isn't government that should be your boogeyman. It is huge corporations which control people's behavior. Stop with your government hating for a second and see this. You seem to worship at the church of property in the same way a socialist worships at the church of government. The bottom line is that corporations like Viacom control too much of our lives, deciding what we can and cannot see when someone gets offended. How many shows has the Christian crackhead right managed to get pulled in the past year because they were offended? I can think of three. If someone is offended, they have the choice of not watching. However, I don't have the choice to watch when it isn't on.

    Censorship is no longer confined to governments, and it is time people get over their biases and the constraints of language and start seeing the truth.

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