In Celebration of a System That Allows Both Disgusting Films and a Disgusted Audience

Yesterday’s  Washington Post includes a very thoughtful op-ed piece by Tim Shriver on the controversy surrounding Tropic Thunder. I strongly recommend it.

But first, allow me a quick word on free speech.

I certainly have made my disgust with Tropic Thunder well known. I have never written a blog post that generated  as much attention.

I do, though, want to make clear that I am pretty much an absolutist when it comes to free expression.  Yes, this kind of unrestricted expression can get terribly messy, even hurtful.

It allows people who I think are being cruel to be that cruel and more. It allows people to vote with their pocketbooks and either see or not see anything they want.   And yes, it allows DreamWorks to take the temperature of public attitudes and focus groups and to market the film with any tag-line that they choose, however disgusting I may find it.

As I said in the post below: “I actually appreciate that we live in a country that grants artists the creative freedom to make audiences sick.”

But here is where the rubber meets the road:

This same wonderfully chaotic free market  also gives me the right to do everything permitted under constitutional law — including supporting boycotts, email campaigns, blogs, demonstrations — to extract a price from DreamWorks for saying what it is that I don’t like. If my efforts cause them some problems, I am happy. If those who ridicule the disabled are brought out of the shadows, I am also happy. If I don’t succeed,  I may wish I had done better, I may even be bitter that cruelty prevailed, but that is a price I will gladly pay. I am not restraining  their free speech, nor would I want to. I am exercising mine.

I know this will be a tough pill for me to swallow. But if they still choose to go ahead with the astoundingly hurtful use of the word “retard,”  I will  — along with my pain and anger — still celebrate the system that permits both the making of a dumb film and my disgust with it.

I have spent time in authoritarian dictatorships. I have quickly shoved a camera under a taxi seat so secret police would not discover it at a road block. I have watched that camera slip out from under the seat as the police approached.

And I’ll take the rough and tumble — even the pain — of free expression any day.

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3 thoughts on “In Celebration of a System That Allows Both Disgusting Films and a Disgusted Audience

  1. Thank you for being absolutist. Too many people hear or see things they find offensive and call upon the powers that be to enact some law or policy to stop it. Too many OTHER people would call your actions an assault on free speech without understanding that the first amendment only applies to GOVERNMENT action and NOT to private action.

    Thank you for championing free speech and exercising it as well.

  2. Well said. Some of the comments that were posted lack basic decency. I champion you for encouraging free speech, even amidst some of the more crude comments you received.

  3. John: Like I said: I may value civility. I may struggle to be civil all the time.

    But freedom even trumps civility.

    Think of how great it is: We protect the rights of the mean, the cruel, and the despicable.

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