As a blogger, I’m acutely aware of people’s reactions to various messages and ideas. Some of those messages are offensive to some. Lately, I’ve been considering the censorship issue. How should we deal with messages that offend us, whether they appear in blogs, television, radio, print, billboards, or even social media?
This issue has been brought to the forefront by the high profile case of Rush Limbaugh. Rush, in typical fashion, made derogatory comments about a woman that testified before Congress. He continually referred to her as a slut and prostitute, suggested she was asking the government to pay her to have sex, and post the resulting videos online.
The comments resulted in firestorm of outrage, most directed toward his advertisers. Rush eventually apologized, but the outcry has continued. In fact, an organization has bought air time to perpetuate the outrage in an attempt to sabotage advertisers and get Rush kicked off the air.
As much as I think Rush is a hypocritical idiot, the organized attempt to get him booted off the air feels too much like censorship. Ironically censorship is one of the political left’s major criticisms of the political right. I’d love to see Rush booted off the air, but not via the methods being employed. It puts me in the odd position of defending his right to purge his garbage even though I disagree with 99.9% of his opinions.
On a more personal level, the issue sprung up when my friend Vanessa was compelled to issue an apology for her commentary on some marketing from an apparel company. A handful of people were offended by her post. Instead of simply ignoring it, they attempted to get her fired even though her blog and her employer are in no way related. The people that objected attempted to censor her. I followed up with my thoughts on the psychology of the people that were offended in this post.
The Interwebz is wonderful because it gives all of us a louder voice. It allows any dumbass (me) to start a blog and share their thoughts and opinions, share knowledge, develop a following, build a community, and maybe even make a living. It also dramatically amplifies our power of objection.
Back in the day, it was difficult to mount organized objections to anything. If you didn’t like something, you could start a letter-writing campaign or picket… which required time and cash. Now all you have to do is rally the troops on Facebook and post a few things on a wall. This makes a few squeaky wheels MUCH louder. For those that were offended by Rush’s comments, a few negative comments on his advertiser’s Facebook walls were enough to compel them to pull their advertising. That movement has grown to the point of political organizations paying money for ads asking people to voice their displeasure to Rush’s advertisers. The people that objected to Vanessa’s post used the same methods.
And I think that’s bullshit.
It’s nothing more than an attempt to whitewash our society to make everything as interesting as a corn flake. The problem is quite simple. We have lots of divergent opinions in our country. Many of these people are working to silence opinions that are different than their own. Person “A” is working to silence the opinions of person “B.” At the same, person “B” is working to silence the opinions of person “A.” Both sides believe their efforts are morally justified and serve a greater good. Whether they recognize it or not, each person is playing a role of censorship police. I have little regard for these ass-clowns.
We see the same issue with prayer in public schools. The groups that fight for it think it’s a grand idea… as long as it is their religion that is allowed to lead said prayers. They don’t consider the possibility that opening prayer to one group opens prayer to all groups, even those they disagree with. Would the same Christians that want prayer in public schools be comfortable with a teacher leading a Muslim or Buddhist prayer? I’m guessing not.
In regards to the expression of ideas, neither side recognizes the big picture- by working to silence our opponents, we’re destroying our own rights to express our own opinions. Do we really want to go down this road?
What about advertising? After all, Vanessa’s post was motivated by Pearl Izumi’s ad campaign that drew a line between “serious runners” and “joggers.” It was intentionally divisive as PI was marketing to a very specific niche. Was it a nice, friendly message? Not at all. Was it effective? Absolutely. The last thing we should be doing is calling for some sort of ban on advertising messages, even if we deem it to be immoral based on our own values.
The Better Solution
It’s no secret I think vehemently disagree with the idea of attacking sponsors or employers. I think it is a cowardly way to voice your objection and ultimately kills the very spirit of free speech. I wholeheartedly support two methods to voice objections to opinions:
1. Respond with a dissenting opinion in an appropriate medium. Don’t like what Rush has to say? Some people took the right approach by voicing opposition on the editorial page of newspapers, in blogs, or my personal favorite- funny monologues on late night TV. This method preserves our ability to express our opinions. In fact, it creates an environment where opinions are disseminated and debated. It’s the same deal with Vanessa’s post. If people objected to her thoughts, write a dissenting opinion on your own blog. The people that went to her employer are cowards.
2. Choose to ignore that which offends you. Sometimes I wonder if people even realize they have this option. Don’t like something? Ignore it. Problem solved. I really don’t like Rush Limbaugh. I think he is a hypocritical idiot that serves no useful purpose. What’s my solution? I don’t listen to his show. It doesn’t matter that his opinions violate my own sense of morality and decency. It’s a non-issue because his venn diagram circle doesn’t interact with my venn diagram circle.
In either case, you’re voicing your displeasure actively or passively without harming your own right to express your opinions. Trying to remove offensive messages does far more harm than good. And it’s annoying.
The same goes for marketing. Pearl Izumi’s ad campaign was offensive to some people that were overly sensitive about being a “jogger.” If you object, don’t attack those that comment on the strategy. Also don’t call for a ban on advertising just because you object to the message. Simply ignore the ads. If you find it impossible to ignore, stop being so damn sensitive. Or find a way to respond to the ads that doesn’t destroy our culture of free expression.
In conclusion, don’t be an ass-clown by playing the morality police and attempting to silence dissenting opinions. Either fight back fairly or simply ignore that which you find offensive.