All good Americans hate censorship. Obviously the ACLU favors free expression, as do all liberals. Heck, even evil old Republicans believe in the First Amendment. As a longtime card-carrying Libertarian, I idolize and fetishize free speech, a free press, and free beer.
Censorship is an ugly word. Good Americans lose their mind at the very mention of the word. However, Jonah Goldberg points out that we already have quite a bit of censorship in this country- and that he along with most people readily support it.
I don’t have a good 100% answer what to think here, but I write to question my own typical reflexive libertarian response. Thinking about it, there certainly are SOME limits that even I would have to support.
For example, if we really went absolutely laissez-faire, there would certainly be at least a few adult book stores putting up billboards on main street showing scenes from their movies. I’m just not prepared to accept having my young nieces have to see two guys fisting every morning on their way to school. If that makes me a bad libertarian, well so be it.
An obvious big line of demarcation is public versus private display. I’m going to tend to not even consider it any of my business what you are looking at in your home.
But what line would I want to mark in public? Obviously most people would agree that big ol’ porno billboards on a public street are unacceptable, but just how far do you want to take it?
I get somewhat uneasy with the public displays that people sometimes make, t-shirts and bumperstickers with curse words. For my part, I can look at anything. Whatever. But when I’m out with a six year old, I’m not real thrilled to see some dumbass who thinks he’s clever because he can wear a t-shirt bearing big letters that say FUCK YOU.
Nor am I real impressed with the casual loud cursing on street corners. As I mature from an anti-social youth to simply an old crank, I sometimes find myself cringing at my own language in public places. I occasionally find myself looking around, say, a restaurant to find other people’s kids pretty close to what suddenly seem like my own inappropriate remarks. D’oh!
By rights, we should try to rely on the whole structure of social norms and general opinion to rope in most of the worst end of behavior. Peer pressure and broader unofficial social pressure a la Hayek should be shouldering most of the heavy lifting of keeping the cultural atmosphere halfway fit for breathing. Hey man, that t-shirt is funny around the frat house, but do you REALLY want to wear that in public?
Thing is, we don’t have much of that kind of social fabric left. If you complain about teenagers dropping tons of loud F-bombs on the corner, you’re just an asshole. If you were to tell some girl that her Daisy Dukes were really pushing the limits of appropriate behavior, YOU would definitely be considered a DICK. You’re a hung up prude or a pervert, or something else really bad.
I’d much rather rely on a few shitty looks or maybe even a spoken remark now and again, rather than go running to cops. However, YOU would likely be regarded in many circles today as much worse for complaining than anyone was for whatever public displays they are making.
Which of course leads us back to Janet Jackson’s Superbowl Titty Massacre. There might be a reasonable case for criminal prosecution there, but that seems silly to me. I’d rather just give her crew some public ridicule for their punishment. If her and Justin lose a spot on the Grammys, fine. A little slap or two like that serves them right.
That seems to me like just the kind of modest non-coercive social cue to clue them up that they screwed the pooch. Hey, don’t be whipping out body parts to illustrate some quasi-rape fantasy in front of bazillions of kids live in the stadium and on broadcast network television in prime time.
But of course, even mocking them will get YOU the rod of ridicule. Look at the Blogcritics comment threads on the Janet stuff, and see how many hundreds of comments explain about stupid unsophisticated right-wing American hicks, and blah blah blah.
Ah, so I’M the asshole for noticing. Fine. Then how far do you want to take that? Would it be perfectly OK to take stills of that tit shot and put them up on big ol’ billboards around town to advertise her new album? Or would criticizing THAT be more censorship, right wing extremism, etc.
And don’t even THINK about objecting to jackasses blaring vulgar shit out of their car stereos. You’d just be an asshole if you complained about a white boy cranking some Dre. What would be the reaction, however, if a cracker were to call out some black fool who has to have 100 decibels of volume explaining about a ho who’ll SUCK A DICK FOR A PORK CHOP? You’d HOPE to just get cussed out and called a racist.
Is it unreasonable to ask for some modicum of public decorum? I’m expecting a brand new goddaughter within the week. Should I really have to take the kid out into a cabin in the woods like Randy frickin’ Weaver if I don’t want her first words to be “pimp” and “ho” and f-efity-ef-ef? Sonsabitches would just send the FBI out to murder us, too.
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