Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Anatomy of Freedom: The United MIstakes of American Free Speech

This is a love story. The object of affection is Freedom and the endless, tiresome, interminable and sometimes fruitless pursuit of it. It begins with the Male Media Mind (M3) blog, an online resource portal dedicated to unifying the Black Bear community through dialogue, insight, creativity and knowledge.  As a facilitator for some of M3's social media outlets, I have seen a countless number of suitors try to court Freedom in the most heavy-handed, juvenile and impotent manners possible. Much like a little boy approaching a grown woman with a handful of muddy dandelions in an effort to accumulate a quantifiable relationship, patron after patron have approached us with abominable posts ripe with vulgarity, derision and abhorrence in an effort to cohabitate with the forum of free speech that we provide, only to be summarily smacked down with the intonation of, “We have no need for your shitty weeds little boy, grow up, try harder then come back.”

The common rebuttal is usually a referral to the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. The gist is that under the protection of the first amendment that all Americans have the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want and any objection to this ideal would equate to some form of censorship; and censorship is the ultimate in profanity to forward thinking bleeding heart liberals, present company included. This is why the label held some resonance when it was thrown my way at the decision to not only remove certain questionable posts on M3’s social media platforms but to also ban their authors from posting on said outlets again. No supposed progressive thinking, kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall, anarchic inclined artist like myself ever wants to be responsible for shrinking the space available for some provocative, offensive, incendiary  conversation and the idea that even a subtle rejection of that riotous dialogue would drift me closer to Tipper Gore’s waters makes my skin crawl. However, antithetical as it is to the beliefs of hipster Millennial comedians and Family Guy/South Park enthusiasts alike, I think certain things are sacred. I think certain things are simply not up to be fodder for parody. I don’t think being offended connotes sensitivity any more so than being blindly offensive is an indication of virility. And if an audience decides not to listen, I don’t consider that to be censorship more so than the inclination that… nobody wants shitty weeds.

Just for clarification sakes, the first amendment of the United States constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. However, The Supreme Court recognizes that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence (e.g. yelling “bomb” in an airport or “fire” in a crowded movie theatre). The level of protection speech receives also depends on the forum in which the speech takes place [1]. These are immensely important facts to keep in mind if ever there is a need to involuntarily yell “You’re violating my first amendment rights!” when your speech (vocal, literary or photographic) is not received as innovative or provocative as you may think; that the first amendment protects citizens from “governmental” interference, not private. And even then, there are some restrictions. And even then, there are some repercussions. It is not a free for all.

There has been a pretty wide spectrum of posts on M3 that have been antithetical to our mission that range from the slightly digressive (selfies, prayers, requests for sexual hook-ups, off topic articles and advertisements) to the fairly obscene (pornographic images, violent images, hate rhetoric). As our constituency grows, the colander we use to drain that muck in order to keep quality content on our sites has been called into question. Who decides what content is slightly digressive and who decides what is obscene? And as supposed progressive thinking, kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall, anarchic inclined artists, shouldn’t the holes to our colander be slightly wider to accept challenging and thought provoking conversations that use off the cuff, verbose language?

I think the answer lies in form over content. In my opinion, any and all conversation is worth having. That’s the provocativeness. That’s radical. When you’re able to intelligently speak about concepts, theories and feelings that are usually deemed inappropriate or unsavory and you walk away with some useful information that you can utilize in your everyday life, that’s revolutionary. The problem comes in where people conflate one freedom with another. Similar to the No Pants Subway Ride where participants equated not wearing pants on a subway to a complete break of civility, people tend to think that a forum in which verbose subjects are discussed equates to conversations without decency. It is one thing to have a discussion about hygiene and anal sex; it is another to post a picture of a fecal covered penis. It is one thing to have a disagreement with someone’s ideals; it is another to promise physical violence because of that incongruity.  It is one thing to have a discussion about the hypocrisy of religion; it is another to post that “Jesus can go fuck himself”.

There is a common theory that I have discussed many times with colleagues whereas the only way to get honest opinion is through argument, heated debate and confrontational language so there is a tendency to lean towards the repugnant. Everybody loves a car crash and who would not stop to read a post with a headline of “Jesus Can Go Fuck Himself With A Shitty Dick”. I myself have been known to throw in pictures of sexy guys in my work in an effort for people to maybe read a few of the sentences to the left or right of the pecs. But I do maintain that baiting and switching can only go so far, and turning over the apple cart just for the sake of turning over the apple cart is going to prevent people from allowing you near their apple carts after a while. And that would not be censorship and it would have nothing to do with the first amendment. You have every right to say whatever you want to say. What you don’t have is the right for an obedient audience for it. So people have the right to walk away. And people have the right to say "Fuck you" right back. And if you irritate enough people within a private blog... you will be deleted.

And that’s the tragedy of this love story. When I think of the people who we have had to dismiss from the M3 collective and even the people from my personal life who went far outside the borders of what I consider decent, I do consider them all to fit inside the “love story” paradigm of Boy meets Freedom, Boy loses Freedom (he thought he had)… only Boy never gets Freedom back. As a former apple cart turner I have numerous tales where I presented muddy dandelions to blogs, news outlets and potential friends alike only to be turned away heart broken and resentful.  But I never thought of it as censorship, and I never rolled myself up in the American Flag and cried victim. I grew up. I tried harder. I came back. No love exists without compromise, whether it be between Man and Woman, Man and Man or Man and Freedom. As it stands today, there are some bullheaded lovers out there. Never mind. There is also free-will and the right to choose.

Male Media Mind