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From the edge of free speech

22 Nov

Chase Harper, a teenager who attended Poway High School, San Diego, was suspended after showing up at school wearing a t-shirt that included a bible quote and the words, “Homosexuality is Shameful”. He complained that his freedom of speech was violated by the school as well as his right of practicing his religion…

In my mother country, I have been taught, since my very first step at school, that one’ s freedom ended where someone else freedom started. That is, in this case, that you have the right to express yourself until it doesn’t hurt somebody around, as he or she has the right not to be offended. However, in the United States, freedom of speech is in the center of the culture. The country seems to have raised and been founded around the First Amendment, explaining why the (in my opinion excessive) freedom of speech is so controversial. would I have the right to wear a t-shirt that said  ‘I hate negroes”, or to tag my bag  ‘faties are ugly”? What about laws that should protect people from racism or any other form of discrimination? Why the first amendment would take over those principals?

I think the school did well by firing that redneck… Education is not only a matter of learning geography, history and mathematics. It also implies learning about respect and tolerance. No one can forbid someone to be homophobic or to have any other kind of sectarian thinking inside his or her private sphere. However, for the sake of the community’s adhesion and cohesiveness, the society, its laws and moral rules, have to regulate individuals behavior outside the private sphere to create a balance, otherwise things could turn to anarchy.


South Park, The imaginationland

16 Nov

This three acts movie deals with popular imagery, censure and 21st century needs of artefacts. The boys of South Park are led into Imaginationland where all American icons appear, from the clown Ronald McDonald’s to the turtle ninja including Santa Claus, Jesus and Captain planet. Those “good” characters are separated from evil ones by a simple wall that arabian-like terrorists want to make explode.

I think this Imaginationland well represents America’s imaginary and fantasies. Icons as commercial as Ronald McDonald’s or Wonder Woman are as symbolic as Jesus or Santa Claus. Pagan and sacred are put on the same level which reveals todays USA’s culture. This iconoclast world is endangered by terrorists which from my point of view also make part of Imaginationland, that is America’s popular imagery that wants American values are always threatened by the exterior world.

The real terror here might be the censure whether it is aimed for by the terrorists or by the American government. The wall that the terrorists are threatening to destroy represents in my sense, the censure. Its destruction is either a symbol of obscurantism as a criticize of the over parental advisory or yet government control on culture. The Imaginationland gathers every powerful and well-known american icons that some, like terrorists, would like to bring down because they think they represents all what they hate. On the other hand, the American government, to avoid bad imagination be released in the real world, simply decides to “nuke” the door which leads to Imaginationland. To keep control over the population, the government prefers shut down even “proper” imagination than leaving a chance to “evils”, let’s say what wouldn’t please pressure groups, to enter the society. It can be seen in that decision a criticize of the effect of censure. It kills even good ideas! As to illustrate it, Night Shyamalan or yet Michael Bay are featured here like having no idea, repeating the same scheme that worked once again and again. Interviewed by the president of the US, they can’t figure out a way to save the imaginationland. Out of desperation, even Mel Gibson is asked to find a “good” idea.

I think the wall should be destroyed so that much unpolitically correct programs such as South Park could see the light of day. The boys of south Park succeed in showing that those characters from the pop culture, that is from TV or yet comics, are a necessity for people to feel unified as one culture and making an impassioned plea that pop culture artifacts are something sacred in the twentieth century.

“Rage on the Radio” When radio commentators go too far

26 Oct

When a radio journalist goes too far with his or her comments what responsibilities lie with him or her if the audience violently reacts to it as Jim David Adkisson did? It is the same issue that other media also have to deal with, like films judged violent or rappers that would encourage listeners to violent behavior through their lyrics, or yet video games, like GTA, accused to get some young gamers violent and to reproduce what they do in the game in the real world. What is the responsibility lying with mass media when some people getting out of control after having listened, viewed or played something that was not politically correct, seem violent or obscene?

Theories that  predict media will have an immediate and potent influence on their audience have been outdated for a while now and most of us agree to say that many other factors, including an individual’s environment for instance, affect the way someone will interpret something on a particular medium.

Jim David Adkisson was a low skilled and little educated man. He was also probably really lonely and was unemployed. What he heard on the radio describing liberals as “evil” might have been a detonator for him. He decided to shoot these people in the Unitarian Universalis Church, Tennessee, because Adkisson associated them to the liberal movement as they were social oriented and openly welcomed gays and lesbians in the church. But the detonator is the last part of a bomb, many components were there before he decided to go kill “liberals”, such as his lack of education and his low IQ. I agree however, that for that kind of people, hearing repeatedly violent words may be of a huge influence.

However, though media cannot be considered responsible for every individual reaction, it should not be authorized to say all and anything on air, only for a matter of respect and ethic. Again, the job of a journalist is to relate OBJECTIVELY information and not to say someone should die just because he or she does not have the same opinion with the journalist. But as usual, economic matters, like audience for instance, win against professional ethic, and some journalists get stuck in a vicious circle that makes them going further and further in their comments to get a higher audience rating.

Let’s remind also that the First Amendment allows freedom of speech only, and only if it does not endanger someone’s life and physical integrity. The radio commentators who appear in the Bill Moyers’ report are, in my sense, out of the law, and should have been fired AND fined for what they said.

“Stop the Madrassa”

27 Sep

What happened to Debbie Almontaser may be symptomatic of two big issues in the United States which are media bias and the « mainstream » untouchable thought.

The article of the New York Post may have been written in the aim to create sensationalism in a time when the whole case was doing debate, and also because the redaction was against Debbie Almontaser in this story. If they were not about doing sensationalism neither displaying bias then why would the journalist have quoted her incorrectly and misleadingly ? Here are the facts. The journalist used his right given by the first amendment (though in this case he exceeded it) while Debbie Almontaser’s was scorned. The matter in that kind of issues is that the journalist’s voice is stronger than the interviewed’s one. Indeed the answer from Almontaser came too late, in people’s mind she was already a pro-intifada. Furthermore it is not her job to deal with public relations, so she may have had a disavantage in front of media to find the appropriate words while journalists could retort faster and with their (more or less good) command of rhetoric. This is why journalists should be as much as possible objective because people count on them to relate accurate news as they are supposed to be skilled and trained at writting and at relating news. If a journalist tend to express his or her own opinion then he or she is not different from a person of the street who just gossip with a friend.

As mentioned earlier, the other matter is that sometimes media and influent publics seem to be afraid to go against the mainstream. When it came to the debate of the Khalil Gibran International Academy it may have been complicated to resist to the pressure of public opinion thinking that the words “arabian”, “intifada”, “america”, “9/11”, were put together. Newspapers for instance may have been afraid of losing their readership if they decided to support a sensitive case like was the Debbie Almontaser’s one.

In regard of these arguments, it might not be impossible that Debbie Almontaser’s image and reputation were ruined just because of business matters and a failure to challenge the mainstream opinion.

The Churchill case

11 Sep

I totally agree with what the professor Churchill said about the September 11th events, though I definitely regret what happened this day and have deep sadness for the victims and their families.

But actually who cares about my opinion as I express myself here and no one from my friends or my family will read me? Because this issue may well be about what can be said in private or in public.

I still wonder why in the USA everybody is so eager to give his or her opinion without looking objectively for the bottom of things so that others can form their own opinion. I mean it is not because I want something be true that it is. The best way to reach truth is to try to convince with objective, well-reasoned argument, not to persuade with profusion of images which call for feeling. Aren’t journalists and other people working in media, or professors supposed to give objective informations, and tell story the most faithfully possible? Everybody in medias and at school in the united states of America is publicly biased. Every day, every teacher in every school of every state of this country give his or her own, personal opinion about what he or she teaches. In media, journalists cannot stop express their feelings. Once in a political article of some newspaper, I read a “huh!” from the journalist who clearly meant he hated the politician he was writing about. Are we in a huge schoolyard?

So, given this fact, why was Churchill fired from his university since it is so common in this society to express one’s personal feelings on any issues? Does it mean that americans are willing to respect the first amendement only if it does not touch some sacred subjects, like the 9/11 events?

In this case Churchill just did what most of the other professors do when they teach or write a textbook: he gave his opinion. Then should he have expressed himself this way? If you want MY opinion, no he should not have because despite the fact his arguments was probably well thought and he had got many informations on that subject, again he put too much of his feelings in it. When one express himself or herslef it is actually very hard not to be biased BUT the less one can do is to try not revealing his or her own feelings on the subject so that the audience does not get hurt. The first amendment ensure freedom of speech for all but should add we are free to speak until a certain extent, which is not to hurt any of the member of the audience or the readers, or at least to avoid it as much as possible. The problem with Churchill’s essay is not its content but its form in the sense that it could have been a scientific point of view onto a certain issue, but written as he did it just turned once again into a provocative “Personally, me, I think that…”

Should he have been fired for this? No because this is the way most americans see their freedom of speech. It just looks like he was fired because his opinion did not match those of the president of the university of Colorado. Moreover Professors should have the right to explore different ideas, while staying objective (though in this case Churchill was not). If they were bound to only but one thought, like the government one for instance, it would be the beginning of a dictatorship. But we can notice that officialy Churchill was not found guilty for his ideas but for other issues.

To sum up, whether I agree with what Ward Churchill wrote or not does not matter. I disagree with the way he did it. Also I disagree with the fact he was fired since I do think he has not been more provocative than those we can see every day on television or read on newspapers. But objectively speaking, he could have talked about that this way with his wife, a beer in his hand in front of the tv, not in an essay he made public.