Friday, July 16, 2010

Mixed Bag on Free Speech

A federal appeals court for the New York-based Second Circuit ruled that the FCC's fleeting expletive rules are unconstitutional and should be struck down. Any time the FCC takes it on the chin, I celebrate, and so I love this decision. In the words of Bono, it's fucking brilliant. What's weird, though, is that the Supreme Court upheld those very same rules in a case decided just a year ago. I don't know whether the Second Circuit has the ability to challenge the Supreme Court so soon after the latter's decision, but that's highly unusual, right? The explanation I can think of is that the Supremes upheld the FCC's right to censor expletives but that the Second Circuit found that the specific way in which they were doing so was unconstitutional. I'll be looking forward to seeing how this all ends, though considering the free-speech inclination of this Court I'm not optimistic.

Speaking of things I'm not optimistic about, there's a huge danger to free speech percolating in the federal courts: The feds are trying Buttman. (Thanks to Jacob for the link.) Buttman is an extraordinarily successful pornographer whose oeuvre apparently includes milk enemas. (I'll take Amanda Hess' word for that one.) Now while I do think Buttman - real name John Stagliano - should face a lifetime in prison for improper wasting of delicious, delicious chocolate milk, the decision to put him - or anyone, for that matter - on trial for obscenity is extremely worrisome.

Let's pause for a second while we read Martin Sheen making my argument for me because I can't find the damn video:
John Van Dyke: If our children can buy pornography on any street corner for five dollars, isn't that too high a price to pay for free speech?
President Josiah Bartlet: No.
John Van Dyke: Really?
President Josiah Bartlet: On the other hand, I think that five dollars is too high a price to pay for pornography.
Folks, when the First Amendment says "no law," it damn well means it. No "oh but maybe it'll offend my delicate sensibilities" exceptions allowed. And no "think of the children!" exceptions either. FCC chair Julius Genachowski opines in that first link:
We’re reviewing the court’s decision in light of our commitment to protect children, empower parents, and uphold the First Amendment.
First thing. If you think kids are going to be sheltered from expletives by the FCC, you're a fucking idiot. My two-year-old doesn't watch TV outside of the Backyardigans and some sporting events, and she'll still learn to cuss. You know why? Because she's around me half the time, and occasionally, Daddy has to put something together while she watches, and that leads to some expletives that are frequently more than fleeting. You think giving Bono a fine for dropping an F-bomb is gonna stop your kids from swearing? Fuck no. Guess what? Even if you're Mr./Ms. Perfect Daddy or Mommy who never swears, your kid's gonna have friends and they're gonna be able to swear. Chances are your kid will know four cuss words before they even know who Bono is.

Second, it's not a big deal. What do you think happens when a kid learns a cuss word? An angel's wings shrivel up? Part of her soul dies? Fuck that. I fail to see what the big deal around cuss words is. A kid who yells "fuck" because he stubbed his toe isn't hurting anyone. And a kid can be plenty hurtful while speaking the Queen's perfect English - just ask anyone who went through elementary and middle school. You want to protect kids? Teach them not to be bullying assholes.

Third, if obscenity in porn is "damaging" to kids, I have to ask... exactly how are kids getting a hold of explicit pornography anyway? Do you just leave your Buttman videos on the goddamn coffee table? Oh, sorry honey, I thought I was showing you "Thomas and the Really Brave Engine" but instead you're watching "Anal Angels 18: Junk in the Trunk." My bad. It really doesn't seem like it's that hard to keep from showing your kids porn, and by the time they're old enough to take the initiative to find porn themselves it's probably not so "damaging" or whatever, now is it? It's not the government's fucking job to raise your kids. It's yours. Hide your porn stash, turn the TV off anything you find objectionable, and buy one of those channel blockers if you must. For example, I don't let my kid watch "The 700 Club," because fuck that shit. That's obscenity right there. But you can choose your own path. If you don't want your kid exposed to awards shows where THERE MIGHT BE CUSSING, don't let your kid watch them. Don't try to take it away from those of us mature adults who are perfectly capable of enjoying (or not enjoying) porn and cussing for what it is.

And finally, which would you rather have your kid learn?

1) Adults say some funny sounding words and do some really freaky disgusting stuff naked.

2) Words written on a page 220 years ago are utterly meaningless.

Think about your priorities, people. I'm okay with my daughter accidentally learning 1) as long as she never, ever, thinks 2) is okay.

Yeah, I said it. A kid learning about weird sex isn't a big deal. Proper parenting can put that into context for kids. Chances are if you talk openly and honestly about what they've seen accidentally then they'll be okay - just don't overreact. A kid learning that the right to free speech can be violated at will, however, is a tragedy. And by prosecuting pornographers and punishing swearers on TV, that's exactly what we're teaching them. Munroe's Law applies here - consenting adults selling videos of their weird sex to other consenting adults isn't a danger to society. Kids accidentally seeing those videos isn't a danger to our society. Rendering the Constitution meaningless because we find the actions of other consenting adults "icky" and because we need to Protect Our Children? That's fuckin' danger.


Mike said...

"Folks, when the First Amendment says "no law," it damn well means it." No shit. I've been trying to explain that to people who oppose the Citizens United decision (or rather, oppose my support of it). You can't suppress it just because you don't like it, or because of its potentially negative consequences.

Is "Anal Angels 18: Junk in the Trunk" an actual porn title? It wouldn't surprise me, of course, I'm more asking because I sincerely hope you went to the trouble of research.

I'm really glad to see that becoming a parent hasn't changed your perspective on these types of issues. It seems too often the case that parents suddenly slip into "I can protect my kids from everything bad that will ever happen to them with some help from the government" mode.

P.S. Even for you, this might be a record for "fuck"s in a post. Kudos.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Mike -

Oh come on, corporations aren't individuals and therefore shouldn't have individual rights. We don't have to get into it here, but the problem most people have w/ Citizens United is that's it's a case about corporate power, not a case about speech rights.

Jeff -

You just got a whole new set of page views...

Mike said...

Matt, the problem most people have with Citizens United is they think the First Amendment has something to do with "the people". The First Amendment simply says "Congress shall make no law". I can't reconcile those five words with being against the Citizens ruling.

Mike said...

However, I should add (almost did in my original comment) that if opponents of the Citizens ruling wanted to amend the Constitution to clarify that the Congress *can* restrict the free speech rights of non-individuals, then I could consider it. I'm not sure I'd agree with it (haven't really thought about it), but at least then it would be done the right way.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'd support that Amendment. It might actually be the easiest way to correct the excessive corporate power that's risen up in our country.

Mike said...

I agree, it might. I think if you want to do it, that's the only real way to go. But regardless, hopefully you can find some comfort in knowing Citizens is probably not going to make things any worse than they are already with regards to corporate influence.