The “virtues” of censorship, part 4: Do Americans have right to decency?

Read Jacob Sullum’s most recent column at Reason, in which he discusses a recent SCOTUS decision not to rule on airwave indecency fines. Things like the government’s willingness to continue or turn a blind eye to censorship makes my blood boil. Sullum also linked to the site of Morality in Media, an organization dedicated to abrogating free speech rights in the name of “decency,” and which commented on the non-ruling in a press release:

“Broadcasters do not have a right to turn network television into a cesspool at the expense of children and those who wish to avoid the foul language and pornography that is now so common on cable television,” said [MIM President Patrick A.] Trueman.“The FCC must now enforce our right to decency on the public airwaves.”

Things like that make my head explode. (Not literally, but it often feels like it.) I’ve already talked about censorship here, here, here, and here. There are instances when I would, in theory, support a limited restriction on First Amendment rights, but they are very, very few, and it would have to be shown that those restrictions provide a material, immediate protection of others’ basic human rights. By and large, I think groups like Morality in Media (and those who support them) are afraid and/or unable to engage in debate about the values they cherish, so they’d rather just use the law as a billy club to beat opponents into submission. And most of them would prefer to shirk their parental duties to their children, rather than take the time and effort to instill in their children strong values and the wisdom to make good choices. Obviously, they would disagree with my assessment. I’m glad that they have the right to disagree. Too bad most of them don’t value that right the way that I do.

Here’s some other things to consider, which echo things I’ve stated previously.

1.) Broadcasters actually should have the right to turn network television into a cesspool if they want to. That’s what free speech means. It means that people can be dirty, rotten jerkfaces who would rather wallow in representations of moral sewage than advocate higher ideals. We don’t have to like it, but they should have that right, just as we should have the right to condemn it.

2.) It’s not clear to me that a boobie flash or some cuss words constitute turning television into a “cesspool.”

3.) If children and those who wish to avoid foul language and pornography want to avoid such things, they are not forced to watch the programs that contain such things.

4.) It’s not clear to me that what appears on network — or even cable — television constitutes “pornography.”

5.) It’s not clear to me that foul language and pornography are “common” on cable television. Considering that cable television provides hundreds of channels — and satellite TV probably provides even more — it seems highly improbable that even a slim majority of it is genuine “pornography.”

6.) As Sullum beautifully illustrates in his column, the “right to decency on the airwaves” is a myth.

7.) This myth propagated by people who may want to enforce cultural hegemony, but their legal actions actually lay the groundwork to enable the government apparatus to enforce whatever cultural hegemony whoever is in power at the time would like to enforce.

8.) Giving up that kind of power is beyond stupid, incredibly dangerous, and runs directly counter to the principle of the First Amendment.

Two last things to consider. As of the time I published this post, MIM has more than 94,000 followers who “Like” them on Facebook. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s far too many, and that number can only grow. And the Supreme Court can only dodge the broader free speech questions related to the FCC for so long.☕


About tardishobbit

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by tardishobbit

4 responses to “The “virtues” of censorship, part 4: Do Americans have right to decency?

  • jubilare

    “cuss works” I think you mean “words”

    Tycho, from Penny Arcade ( posted this recently, and I think it is relevant:

    “The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art. If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over. That’s not the side you want to be on. The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work. The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring. That even with a computer in your pocket connected to an instantaneous global network, no-one can hear you. When you believe that, really believe it, the devil dances in hell.”

    Tycho offends me from time to time, but I agree with him whole-heartedly in this case and I support his right to offend me (and my right to read or stop reading what he posts!).

  • jubilare

    I think so too.

    Feel free to delete any typo-corrections I offer from my comments, by the way. They’re only meant to be useful and they soon outlive their purpose.

    • mjschneider

      Indeed. I make typo corrections frequently. The only edits I won’t make (or will make with explicit acknowledgement) are those that fundamentally change the thrust of what I’m trying to say.

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