It’s not a new problem by any means, and since Occupy Wall Street the problem seems to be improving a little. But Occupy alone can’t compensate for the fact that over the past few decades mainstream media has perverted the concept of free speech. The perversion I’m talking about is the illusion that freedom of speech has improved in our country, and most of that illusion is perpetuated by the increasingly lax obscenity laws.
I’m the last person you’ll hear complain about obscenity in mainstream and underground cultures. I wrote a book about fornicating furniture that featured love scenes between humanoids rendered from vitreous humor and a couch. The problem isn’t how much obscenity has permeated media. The problem is that, while little has changed in terms of political censorship between the era of McCarthyism and now, being allowed to show tits on television and sing about graphic sex has been lauded as a staggering victory in the fight for free speech. Moreover, there seems to be a predominating sense in the mainstream media that defending obscenity is the last bastion of preserving free speech.
There is no intention here to downplay the significance of court battles between the government and bands like 2 Live Crew, The Dead Kennedy’s, Suicidal Tendencies during the late 80s and early 90s. One quick look at the motivations underlying the suits these bands were involved with (excepting 2 Live Crew perhaps) tells you that obscenity had little to do with why these bands were being censored. It’s a far stretch to claim that simply having the word “suicidal” on an album cover will cause countless teens to off themselves. The weak arguments against Suicidal Tendencies were used as a front to censor a band whose lyrics promoted breaking away from conformity and finding your own way in the world.
The same can be said about the Dead Kennedy’s, whose lyrics were radical and highly political in nature. Concerns about obscenity were used as an excuse to censor these musicians by limiting their audience and ruining their financial success with a massive campaign to have the “explicit lyrics” sticker posted on their albums. Today that might not be a problem, but at the time the stickers had to be added to albums already in circulation, and it was proposed that some bands should have to pay for the stickers added to their albums, cutting into their already meager profits (again, excepting 2 Live Crew who was extremely successful during this time). The essence of the battle between these bands and government officials is captured in the video below:
The battle to reduce censorship via conservative definitions of obscenity proved extremely important. If these bands had been censored entirely, the definition of art would have been legally changed, and federal or state government would regulate production and distribution of art, which is a frightening prospect.
But since then, there have been several instances where further pushing the envelope on free speech in the context of obscenity has overshadowed the tightening grip cupping the mouths of the politically outspoken. During the late 90s Howard Stern was elevated to hero status for fighting FCC regulations and pushing the envelope on the radio. In the early 90s, L.A. Law featured the first lesbian kiss on television. Between the early 90s and 2002, virtually every one of Carlin’s words you can’t say on television had been uttered. This was seen as progress.
But when countless protestors are being pepper sprayed and violated in public parks across the country for peacefully demonstrating, are we really making headway? When, after September 11, the proposed war in Iraq was accompanied by propaganda that placed anyone who opposed the war in the realm of terrorists and advocates of the war warned us to “watch what you say,” are we really making headway? Sure, you can turn on the television and see partial nudity or a mangled corpse, but you’ll also see Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan’s most recent debacles while casualty rates in foreign countries skyrocket and SOPA and PIPA threaten free speech. You can also learn about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but what you see will generally focus on how the organization is rough, the participants are pigging up the parks and vandalizing local businesses, and how it is generally just a terrible tragedy and the poor have no right to be pissed about corporate greed. What you see will be far from fair and balanced. But hey, look! Lolcats!
God I hate lolcats.
The media selectively feeds us, which is why we have to depend on informing ourselves more than ever before. Now SOPA and PIPA are potentially threatening our ability to do that online as well. Soon Wikipedia, Google, and other sites will begin protesting SOPA and PIPA. If you haven’t already, learn about it, share the stipulations with your friends on Facebook. Let people know that this could be another milestone in preventing censorship in our country . . . or it could be a complete mess.
Contact your public officials to discuss your concerns with them.
Get more information at the following link: http://my.americancensorship.org/