There’s a media personality popular with a certain kinds of internet folks and the alt-right political movement that got a book deal
and it’s all over the news. I’m not going to name him because he’s built a reputation of galvanizing a lot of shitty people to do a lot of shitty things to people that criticize him online. It’s not that I’m afraid
of Pepe the Frog loving “u mad?” bros- it’s that I have a lot of other better things to do with my time and don’t want to give this fellow any more publicity than he already has. Anyway, this book deal he’s made with an imprint of Simon & Schuster known for incendiary political nonsense is worth some money and has led to a lot progressives calling for public shame and a boycott for the publisher. To counter this, the fans of Mr. If Women Don’t Like Being Harassed Online They Should Quit the Internet have cried out CENSORSHIP CENSORSHIP FREE SPEECH U MAD? and come out of the woodwork to find every social media or news post with a comments section discussing this to argue about how the SJWs are persecuting them etc. This is exactly what the provocateur and the marketing people at the publisher want. It would be sad funny if it wasn’t so sad cynical.
This whole debacle is an interesting prism to consider what free speech means and doesn’t mean. First, the primary source for many of these arguments in the US is the First Amendment in the Constitution. It reads a little something like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The first key takeaway from this, really, the first word, is that this is about Congress and/or the federal government. Congress can’t take away your condescending Willy Wonka memes because that’s a violation of the First Amendment but if you post one of them in a comment on my webpage, I can delete the fuck out of it. This extends to other people’s web pages, and yeah, it includes stuff like Twitter and Google. There is no constitutional protection for being an asshole on webpages you don’t own and/or host on the internet. This extends further to other private industries. Coca-Cola has no obligation to print that Coca-Cola tastes like brown pee on their cans just because I have opinions and want them to and book publishers have no legal obligation to publish my erotic sasquatch Battlestar Galactica versus Sharknado fan fiction even though they obviously should because C’MON. This means that Captain Fat-Shaming Works and his just tellin’ like it is sycophants are not having their legal First Amendment rights violated if any website, book publisher, or crazy sign carrying street masturbator decline to peddle their smug shitty propaganda.
So that’s it! Argument over! … Well, not quite.
There’s a big chasm between what is legally okay or not okay and what is morally okay and not okay. There’s a famous (misattributed) quote from my second favorite Frenchman, Voltaire that reads:
My #1 Frenchman (obviously)
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Now despite all the gifs you’ll find with this quote and Voltaire’s 18th century French mug this quote is a paraphrase or possibly even a completely invented sentiment. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth thinking about. Free speech remains free because people fight and suffer for it’s freedom. I don’t like anything about this particular Purveyor of Mean-Spirited Fart Noises Translated into English but if his free speech is being impinged, I’ll (reluctantly, gosh) stand up for him.
Phew. Well, there’s a reversal. And… scene! … Nope.
Boycotting and protest are also free speech and they should not be curtailed or denigrated by your racist cousin or misguided college friend who unironically call people SJWs on Facebook. So, if the meticulous coiffed cretin upsets you (he should, he really should – he’s awful), I think it’s not only legal and right but totally awesome to boycott him and make fun of him as often as possible. Free speech is messy and it’s supposed to be messy. We want to hear dissenting opinions. We also want to be able to tell those weird hateful dissenting opinions to shut up and leave Leslie Jones alone because the Ghostbusters remake was a pretty good movie that was only really hampered by audience expectations and the typical big budget movie foibles and god dammit I want to see a sequel because that cast is cool.
That’s it. That’s really it. Unless the government itself tells Author X he can’t write his ugly snarky poke-the-libruls-because-LOL dreck, it’s all fair for criticism and think pieces and protesting (though -again- you know this is what he wants, right?). I’ve read some people get upset that student groups got organized and got him uninvited or even banned (THE HORROR) from college campuses and I think those are slightly murkier waters as those institutions are paid, in part, by federal dollars, but most schools empower the student body to make choices for themselves. If enough students say they don’t want a lousy troll oil salesman to come and insult women, minorities, or people with the temerity to not be skinny, then that’s also freedom. So shut up about it. I mean, you can still complain about it, legally, but it would be really nice of you to just do it into a pillow in your closet so that the rest of us don’t have to listen to it all the time. Maybe if you tried doing that people wouldn’t hate you so much and they might even invite you to parties that have chips and dip. Just a thought.
My second least favorite meme after Lipton Kermit.
The real question to me is should we let this guy get under our skin? He wants to get under our skin. That’s his promotion engine and for every voice of outrage there’s some petty butt hole that latches on to it to believe he’s being marginalized when really it’s just that no one likes him because he’s a petty butt hole. Calling him out is the definition of feeding the trolls and we all know that’s not a good idea from the prescient documentary on the matter Gremlins 2: the New Batch
. But not calling him out allows him and his ilk to normalize. We’re seeing the alt-right go mainstream in our media and politics right now. We’re seeing people who would have been marginal whackos elevated and placed next to normal, reasonable people as if they are equivalent (I’m looking at you, Alex Jones) and if reasonable people don’t say, “hey that guy is literally
a neo-Nazi!” than we could have some real big problems coming up.
So I think people, especially young people who have the energy to stay up until past 10 o’clock at night on Tuesdays like super heroes, should engage and speak their minds. Sometimes that’s going to sound, to outsiders, like it’s overly sensitive or even shame police-y. I get that. You can’t write content for anywhere and not be aware that it’s pretty easy to offend someone these days and that there are a lot ways for that offense to explode and become a story that overshadows the intention of what you wanted to write. I’ll be honest and say it’s not ideal. I wish I didn’t have to worry so much about it and I wish that if I offended someone they would give me the benefit of the doubt that it was unintentional and not necessarily representative of everything I’ve ever done or will do but that’s not where we’re at. If/when people find my screeds about sending all double-jointed mutant freaks back to Minnesota where their cursed kind escaped from the Devil’s North Wind, I’ll just have to face that criticism like a professional. As much as all of these alt-right acolytes think that “political correctness” has run amok and we need to get back to the good old days when a comedian could just tell a rape joke and have people slap knees and say, “god dang, sex assault is HILARIOUS!” we’re not going to go back to that. Personally, I’m okay with that trade. I can be more careful with what I say if historically oppressed groups get a chance to recover from millennia of self-centered straight white dudes running the show. Just so long as we don’t let any of those double-jointers get into positions of power. They can’t be trusted because ropes can never hold them.
So in conclusion, I don’t have the answers to how we should interact with and push back against people like My Little Racist Pony and the great news for me (and the world frankly) is that I don’t need to have an answer. I’m not supposed to have an answer. No one needs to have an answer because we all get to express our version of our answer however we like because freedom of speech, you guys. Open dialog is important and with ideas bouncing off of other ideas, I have confidence that we’ll sort it out
But seriously. Not Otis is a real fermented sack of vomit and hair product, right? Can someone please make me a Chrome plugin for me that replaces his name with a smiling poop emoji and a great sucking sound as if all worthwhile conversation and human decency has left the room?