Sticks and Stones

There’s been an upheaval regarding free speech lately, and it’s something I feel I need to reflect on. As someone who hides this blog from certain people in my life because I feel as though I’ll be cast out, freedom of speech is sacred to me. Especially because I feel like I can’t use it completely, even around my closest friends and family members, it is something I take seriously as an American a human being.

I think that often people confuse the limits of free speech with what they consider hate speech. Consider the recent developments of Roger Ebert and his comments on Twitter regarding the death of stuntman, Ryan Dunn. Following Ebert’s remark on Twitter, Facebook took it upon themselves (I am unaware of how many people represent “Facebook” but I will make it plural) to remove Ebert’s fan page from the site. What in the world does that solve other than call attention to the insensitive remark in the first place? Also, regardless of the nature of Ebert’s comment, the only reason it became such a big deal is because of his status. I’m more than positive other people were saying the same things, but no one knew about it because it was tweeted by @JohnDoe and not Roger Ebert.

In a more extreme case of hate speech, John Galliano is being tried in France for anti-Semitic comments he made at a bar that someone happened to catch on video. Apparently it’s illegal in France to “[incite racial discrimination,] hatred or violence based on…ethic [sic], national, racial or religious group” affiliation (CNN). I think in Galliano’s particular case there’s an absence of intent. He was drunk and on some sort of medication, and according to his testimony, still recovering from the death of a close friend in 2007. While none of these things excuse anti-Semitic beliefs, if that’s the way he feels, he has a right to it. And he generally has the right to express it. Here’s the thing: I understand that what he said was generally disgusting, and if he really feels that way, he probably doesn’t have many real friends. But we don’t have to listen to him. And we don’t have to fan it all over the media, which only serves to further the hate instead of raise awareness about equality.

Finally, let’s talk a little about Tracy Morgan. I don’t watch 30 Rock (which I guess is an abomination of sorts), and I don’t know anything about his comedy routines. I also love gay people. Morgan was recently called out to apologize about remarks he made during a stand-up routine in Nashville, Tennessee. He spoke at a press conference, backed by GLAAD representatives who accepted his apology as sincere. Morgan’s stand-up remarks weren’t funny. And he admits to knowing they were in poor taste immediately upon delivering them. There was probably a lot of unnecessary pressure for him to apologize, though. If he already felt bad about what he said, he could have made a simple statement through his publicist condemning his words and remarking on the importance of not making comedy of homophobia.

There is more power in action than speech, right? So organizing drunk driving awareness walks and getting involved when your friends are too drunk to drive themselves home is how we fight against jackasses driving drunk and those who have smart-ass things to say when they do.

Jews and non-Jews being good people together and showing respect to each other for their likenesses and differences as people is how we fight ignorance and intolerance.

I’m sensitive to homophobia because I see it everyday in simple places and I’ve seen how it affects people. I think it’s an unreasonable viewpoint and shouldn’t be taken lightly in most settings, like school and the workplace. But comedy is something that’s always been offensive. It’s the comic’s right to say things that might startle, offend, or incite adverse reactions of any sort. Someone, somewhere has told jokes in the same vein as Morgan’s and has been received positively. That person’s views are despicable, but he has the right to think that way and he has the right to express those thoughts, even if it offends his audience.

People are always going to talk. And as long as I’m around, I hope they have the right to talk. It’s the way the talk is received and promoted that spreads the most hate. I don’t mean to blame the media — again. But I feel like spinning and respinning these stories is what causes the most damage, not the actual speech itself. There is freedom in speech, and there is freedom in press, but it’s how those freedoms are used that shapes the way the speech continues.


One Comment to “Sticks and Stones”

  1. “It’s the way the talk is received and promoted that spreads the most hate.” That was my favorite part. I do sometimes struggle, however, over whether it’s better to confront bigotry, irrationality, and the like with clear arguments and opposition or to not give attention to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Clearly, the media does neither of those and instead confronts bigotry with attention.

    Your point, though, seems to not be about confrontation or ignorance, but instead about the uselessness of punishing people merely for speaking, which is never beneficial. To that, I say, “ditto.”

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