Thursday, January 17, 2013

We must not censor our entertainment industry

Note- This post is also published on The Huffington Post.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, from across the spectrum of the gun control debate, various actors are challenging the entertainment industry's right to free speech. Representing Obama, Biden has met with industry representatives. NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, has suggested that the industry bears the largest share of the blame for Sandy Hook. Most disappointingly however, major media contributors have also jumped on the anti-free speech bandwagon. These individuals apparently believe that they have the right to define appropriate programming for others.

Consider this argument by Ramin Setoodeh. Setoodeh arrogantly proclaims that because he was uncomfortable with the recent movie, Texas Chainsaw 3D, ".... gore at the movies just doesn’t feel entertaining". Therefore, he argues, Hollywood must abandon this genre. Except, as indicated by Chainsaw's box office takings, many others obviously thought the opposite. For me, this is the crux of the issue. While individually, we might not always agree with its products, our entertainment industry is nonetheless at the heart of what America is all about. Not just in terms of its vigorous manifestation of free speech, but also, in terms of how this 'freedom to create' interacts with broader notions of American capitalism. Put simply, the fundamental truth is that the success of movies/video games resides upon their consumer desirability. While the First Amendment essentially assures that government cannot impose excessive legal restrictions on speech, my great concern is that further pressure from various actors could fuel an already present (see South Park) condition of self-censorship in the entertainment industry. This would be a disaster. Such a dynamic would not only assert the authoritarian moral judgments of the few, in preference to the majority opinions of society, it would also encourage a slippery slope towards greater future censorship. In essence, the question would be asked, if violence is to be divorced from entertainment, then why not also the presentation of drugs (for the children's sake)?, or sex (let's stop STDs)?, or religion (we can't risk inflaming violence)? etc. The precedent would be set and the following consequences would be clear: A thought police society locked in the despair of a creative, emotional and intellectual prison

Just look at Europe for an example of what happens when political correctness takes root. 

I'm not being alarmist. Today, censorship sympathizers are sadly a mainstream occurrence (see my response - it's the first comment after the op/ed).
No one should deny that the Sandy Hook massacre was a tragedy of terrible proportion. I freely agree, as a country - republicans, democrats and independents alike, we need to work together to reduce the risks of future atrocities. But when it comes to the entertainment industry, the correct course of action is obvious. Parents should exert greater control over the entertainment choices of their children and adults should ignore products which offend their moral values. It's incredibly important that we remember, without controversial speech, America would not have been born and slavery might have longer endured.  

In it's ability to drive debate forwards, often in unpredictable ways, controversy can be an incredible force for good. Because of its polluting influence, content based censorship of America's entertainment industry must be avoided at all costs.
South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker discussing censorship (comment at 5.10 is especially important)


  1. Very interesting post. When it comes to topics like censorship and free speech, the slippery slope comes to mind.

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