28 September 2009

censorship, hysteria, and what the fuck?

SNL is still on the air?

I think the points made there are worth restating/rephrasing.
1) We use so many euphemisms for "fuck" already, what's the difference?
2) If there were adults watching SNL by choice at midnight, it should not be our business to police the language and content that they hear. If they don't want it, change the fucking channel.
3) Every other developed country in the world is laughing at our prudish natures concerning sex and language. With good reason.
4) It's not like SNL was exactly shining through with a clean image prior to this that one verbal slip was going to ruin and for which they should hold someone accountable.

For my own points: I have no idea who this is. I don't care. We should not be trying to use the social norms from the 1950s to govern our entertainment choices in the 21st century. Nor should we be trying to use norms ostensibly established for the sake of the children to govern choices made nominally by adults instead. Grow up.

As for the hysteria portion. I became recently involved in a brief spat over the murder of a census worker in Kentucky. For those that weren't familiar, it's a grisly scene. But I immediately saw people leaping into the fray and declaring that this was the work of the Becks and the Bachmann's of the political world. That this was the whirlwind they have been trying to call down. Now despite the facts that I would agree they've been trying to call down a whirlwind, and that I tend to disagree on almost every point with conservative commentators and find their methods distasteful and disreputable even hateful, I haven't seen that this will be shown to be a connection. My immediate reaction on hearing the story was "huh, it's in Eastern Kentucky..". It was not "what did Glenn Beck do this time". Most politics are local. There is a tendency to presume that the larger offensive characters are global in their effect. But I'd have to say that the population of Minnesota would be hard pressed to identify Michelle Bachmann as their own Senator in a large quantity. And Minnesota is a fairly well educated state. I seriously doubt the people of Eastern Kentucky have any idea who the hell she is, much less care. And as for Beck's audience, while it undoubtedly includes a fair percentage of nutcases and political radicals, it doesn't have a monopoly on them. American radicalism is sort of its own movement. It's a movement which Beck is seeking to tap into for some reason, and perhaps he wants it to expand. But it's not one that anyone is the face of. I saw instead people tapping into an event that has not yet yielded a suspect from investigation and immediately citing the mid-90s cases of inciting fear and panic done by right-wing talk shows to connect the dots to the Oklahoma City bombing or the Waco raid. These were not related things. They were related perhaps in the zeitgeist, but they were otherwise unconnected. One did not cause the other. I suspect we will find the same here. That an atmosphere of violence against authority was already bred. It can be stoked, it can be expanded to other places and forums (townhalls for example), but it exists. It's not created by a few misguided forces within society. There is no vast right-wing conspiracy to create radical anarchists. I think it would be fairer to say in this case that if there is a causation chain, it is running in the other direction or at least that it has a very long tail.

It is not conversely fair to say that there is never some impact and effect from such rhetoric. I think we can agree that it is irresponsible to incite panic or to fail to actively discourage violence in accordance with the perceived erasure of the free rights of citizens. I believe there is enough evidence that such an atmosphere of poison was reborn over the abortion debate in this country and that the reaction of violence over that debate, including a couple prominent murders on either side, was stoked and fueled in part by right-wing commentary. The manner a topic is framed in, if it is not intellectually honest, consistent with the traditions of reasonable debate, or even some forgotten Christian notion of tolerance and forgiveness, will cause some grave misunderstandings. Those misunderstandings in the minds of a few already warped and dangerous people can be very unfortunate for all of us. So it is important to use a position in front of a microphone or behind a computer screen responsibly to comment upon the events around us.

I don't think "Glenn Beck"'s antics in particular are a cause. They seem more like a manifestation. I've seen plenty of nutcases in my time who expended infinitely more of their energy listening to music or seeing movies rather than listening to some radical or conservative political talk show. The amount of real influence that these particular cases have is unfortunate, and is admittedly very real and large. But it is not pervasive. It is not universal. It is not even very big relative to the rest of the country. There's something like 2-3 million regular viewers for Glenn Beck. Something like 15 million people who listen to Rush Limbaugh regularly. We can assume there are many more who are aware of their existence and will stop by occasionally (though there are many who do so in order to mock their ridiculousness). But there's still a poll out there with 40% of the population that hasn't even heard of Beck. There are plenty of people who live under a rock as far as I am concerned. And of them, some are still prepared to throw rocks at society for their own petty concerns. They don't need any extra and external motivations to achieve that end. We should not rush to presume that this external cause was the motivation without looking for the answers ourselves.

So my contention would be that the "Becks" of the world won't matter at all. There's enough of their kind and their sentiment which exists that they would be replaced by someone else if we got rid of the man in particular. Someone will feed that beast. Better to have that snake in the open. Where we can ignore it and starve it by feeding more people with reason and facts. More people of any political persuasion, not merely the Christianists and the right-wing. There is no shortage of left-wing politics that are divorced from reality either.
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