Janet's Nipplering Still Piercing Our SubconsciousI have cherished memories of reading the newspaper. One of the happier moments of my youth is the weekly arrival of the newspaper supplement, "The Mini Page." It thrilled me to read a whole section of the paper expressly written for young minds craving knowledge.
Oblivious to the function of news media, I looked at the arrival of the daily paper as a learning experience. Something fun. Today, I am a culture whore; devouring all types of media from magazines and newspapers, Air America radio and NPR, ezines and blogs. However, reading the paper today inspires more anxiety than elation. I vacillate between fear, disgust and fury as I learn about the myriad battles waged against personal liberties every day.
As I'm sure you know, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that greatly increases FCC fines for indecency in broadcast programming. The Senate would like to widen the scope of this measure to include cable and satellite radio as well as the internet. According to the Federal Communications standards:
"Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. To be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test:
* An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
* The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
* The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
Even these guidelines are inexact because it does not specify what an "average" person's standards would be. Nor does it seem clear that there is a specific way of defining whether or not something has artistic merit. The appropriate question to ask ourselves is not "what" is indecorous; rather, we should wonder "who" we are afraid of offending and "why" something is deemed abhorrent.
A common answer to the question of "who" seems to be "the children." Recently, I listened to a talk radio discussion about the imposition of fines by the FCC for inappropriate use of foul language. Currently, a broadcast (radio or television) of a single usage of the ever deplorable F-word wears a price tag of a quarter million dollar fine. The guests speaking on the radio show kept using "our children" as the impressionable audience by which we need to judge the material of every day communication. It seems as though the final decision on decency comes down to the members of society who do not even possess the money to buy a television or radio.
When the taboo of an image or word is removed, it loses its power to pervert. Instead of fervently sanitizing mediums of expression, we should educate forming minds on how to impart reason in determining right and wrong. This ability to ascertain nuance comes from exposure to a variety of things, not homogeny.
If we coddle children into submissive thought we cannot promote the maturity of reason that will make them into tolerable adults. When is it too early to learn that it is inconceivable to live in a world void of nipples and sarcasm? I should not have to live in a dumbed-down version of a world with fuzzy images and bleeped language, a world with a ten-second delay, because somebody else does not know how to properly instruct their own children.
Our collective unconscious is being swept clean of images and words that someone believes we should fear and avoid. However, the enrichment of any society's culture comes from the creation and proliferation of its art. Are we supposed to be inspired by bland interpretations of music and words?
Of course there will always be certain boundaries of taste that we feel the need to define. However, it is undiscerning to apply universal truths to such individual determinations. In order to evolve as a society and also protect the liberty of true free thought, we must not allow antiquated obstinance to champion the cause of morality. The revolutionaries of American history fought for the cause of free speech. It is no longer a question of whether or not we should have freedom of expression. The war is now about virtue, the worth of each act of expression.
The casualties of the war on our minds will be the inextricable confines on aggregate thought. How far can the mind expand when the act of its expression is constrained, or worse, removed?
I do not ask that every person believes as I do. But we must not allow our way of life, our opinions, the paradigm by which we measure the content of our culture to be decided on our behalf. The future of forward-thinking and revolutionary thought depends on a mind that is allowed to be exposed to all elements of expression, even those that seem inappropriate.