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Censoring Offensive Materials: An Issue That Forces Me To Side With Rush Limbaugh

Posted by on Mar 24, 2012 | 15 Comments

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.

Thoughts?

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15 Comments

  1. BarefootNick
    March 26, 2012

    “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.”

    Nope, freedom of speech doesn’t entitle you to say whatever you want without consequence. It entitles you to say whatever you like without getting thrown in jail. (Simplified).

    I think this is a prime example of what free speech is. If you’re a flaming retard, people will remove your loud speaker.

  2. Brian G
    March 25, 2012

    I half-agree with Jason.

    While I don’t at all agree with self-proclaimed censors or what role they may think they play in society, the concept of freedom of speech, at least in the US, is limited to what the US government can and can’t do. Far less is defined regarding what private entities can and can’t do to other private entities.

    Businesses have fewer restrictions on free speech so they can and often do limit what their employees can say with ramifications (firing) if those rules are disobeyed. In the Wild West of the internet, with seemingly almost anything game, the rules of what can or can’t be said are even less restricted. It is more equivalent to a large gathering in a town square with everyone being able to say whatever they want — and with everyone knowing what everyone else said however mundane or offensive.

    Just as Vanessa had a “right” to say what she wants, by default then everyone else has the same “right” to say what they want. This includes statements asking her to be fired or taken off the blogosphere. Saying they can’t or shouldn’t do that is, to quote Erik, asking to censor the censors. (Great quote, Erik.)

    If, like Limbaugh, you feel ready to say something controversial then you had better be prepared to sometimes receive a firestorm of criticism. That is usually around statements that are libelous, racially negative, out-right lies, etc. (But fitness enthusiasts vs. fitness enthusiasts? Come on people.)

    I find it very unfortunate that Vanessa felt compelled IN ANY WAY to redact her statement and issue an apology. I in no way mean to speak for her but perhaps her response could have been “I understand if you don’t like what I said but I meant every word of it. If you don’t like it, then don’t read my blog anymore” (i.e., ignore me). No one is pointing a gun at anyone’s head to read anyone’s blog.

    Just as they can ignore you and your controversial statements, you can ignore them and their nay saying. Blow ‘em off.

    • Erik
      March 25, 2012

      Great points Brian G. The blogosphere isn’t one’s facebook page, and it’s not a group email to one’s friends. It’s the public sphere, and if one wants to identify oneself as some kind of elite, or express a controversial opinion, then you better be prepared for abusive comments (although calling up Vanessa’s workplace seems way out of line, just in terms of civility, not legality). It’s like driving a hummer–you better realize you’re drawing attention to the fact that you’re an asshole. If you’re not comfortable being an asshole, and the potential hostility it might provoke, then don’t advertise it. Internet blogs/comment sections often remind me of that Monty Python sketch where a guy wants to buy an argument but only gets contradiction. One of the reasons Jason’s blog is the only one I tune into regularly is the overall civility of the commentators. This is probably a reflection of Jason’s general good vibe, open-mindedness, and big-tent attitude towards running.

  3. Nate
    March 24, 2012

    I agree. The only thing that Rush did that was really wrong was use her name specifically… which is why he got tagged with slander – and rightfully so.

    Had he simply not used a name and talked about ‘people’ or ‘women’, etc. he would have been fine.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a douche and shouldn’t be on the air, but his commentary wasn’t any different than what he’s been doing for years.

    We censor way too much these days. People need to just get over it or die ugly :)

    • Luke
      March 25, 2012

      I haven’t heard that Rush has been brought up on charges of slander. If he has actually slandered Ms Fluke, then by all means, prosecute him. The fact that he hasn’t been speaks volumes.

      I generally agree with Rush in principle, but I do think that he was over the line on this issue. My real problem with people calling for his censure, is that there have been many on the other side of aisle who have said far more vile things about women, yet the same groups screaming about Rush were completely silent when Bill Maher implied that Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter was actually the mother of her new son.

      I think that Bill Maher is a vile, hateful person, but you won’t hear me calling for his firing or censure.

  4. Kenneth
    March 24, 2012

    This post mirrors my thoughts on the subject. I have been trying for years, and haven’t been able to put this thought into words as eloquently as you just did.

    Thank you.

  5. Kenneth
    March 24, 2012

    This post mirrors my view on the subject. I just never could quite put into words perfectly . . . Thank you sir.

  6. Barefoot Tyler
    March 24, 2012

    I think you mean, “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.””

    When you wrote, “Person “A” is working to silence the opinions of person “B.” At the same, person “B” is working to silence the opinions of person “B.” ”

    Anyway, good post. I look at it this way: If I walk 10 feet away from the annoyance does it still harm me? If not, ignore it. If so, be straightforward and do something about it.

    • Kevin W
      March 29, 2012

      Your view is the one generally taken by the US Supreme court. It is outlined in the entertaining and informative opinion in Cohen v. California (aka the “Fuck the Draft” case)

      Really … its a quick read you won’t regret.

  7. Bryan M
    March 24, 2012

    What I find most ironic is that, in attempting to censor a subject, the censor-ers end up just casting an even greater light on the subject. I mean, I sure as hell wouldn’t know who Vanessa was or what her opinion was on the runner/jogger paradigm had a bunch of people not gotten their collective panties in a wad. I’ve never understood why our society tends to gives so much attention to the people who happen to be hooting and hollering the loudest; they’re often the ones with the worst opinions…

    • Kevin W
      March 29, 2012

      Your comment reminds me of the recent attack on JC Penny for having Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson. The so called “million moms” boycott ended up drawing needed attention to the problem of anti-gay bigotry in this country, galvanizing Ellen fans, and boosting JC Penny’s sales.

      “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”
      - Justice Louis Brandeis.

  8. Trisha Reeves
    March 24, 2012

    You’re totally right. And I hadn’t even thought about the whole prayer in school issue. You’re right: advocates of prayer in school think the disagreement is about atheists trying to get society to lose their religion, when it’s actually bigger than that. It’s not prayer in school we are talking about – it’s CHRISTIAN prayer in school. Very good talking points here.

    • Luke
      March 25, 2012

      Yet the ones decrying an after school prayer group are silent about a teacher requiring students to pretend to be Muslim during class.

      • Jason
        March 25, 2012

        After school student-run programs are different than school-sponsored prayer. Schools should protect student rights to expression of religion.

  9. Erik
    March 24, 2012

    Censor the censors!