Saturday, February 12, 2011

And I love it when Apu says to Homer, "Why don't you shut up?"

We live in an amazing time for communications, friends.  Today's media allows everything from me writing this for free and you reading it for free (and then you judging me; oh, please, you know you are) all the way to channels on TV programmed almost directly to our individual tastes, beliefs and/or desires.

Now, my little effort here is pretty benign.  I write whatever I'm thinking, post it on Facebook or e-mail it around to my relatively small universe of friends, acquaintances, and people who think they could do better if only they had the kind of time on their hands that I do (jokes on you  guys; I do this whole thing in about 15 minutes; sometimes in the bathroom.) Anyway, my point here is that there are guys on cable TV who are doing a lot more of this than I am.  They're louder, better financed, and in many cases a whale of a lot crazier than me.  Right this minute I'm thinking Glenn Beck.  Here's a guy who's either a total charlatan and cynic spouting absurd doomsday theories and pushing a serious return to the gold standard or he's a true believer in all he stuff he says in which case I feel for the guy.  He's got to be the single most frightened guy in America today.

He's not the only guy who has a worldwide platform and says all kinds of crazy stuff.  Guys like him exist on both of ends of the political, religious, and social spectrum.  He just happens to be the one who comes to mind because there was an ad on a website the other day that suggested that we all join in and boycott Beck's advertisers.  Evidently the thinking is that if enough people send a message to those who use Beck to get their advertising messages to his enormous audience we can somehow shut him up.  This gives me heartburn from a First-Amendment-to-the-Constitution-point-of-view because while I think, again, he's either a cynic or a really paranoid guy I think he does have a right to say pretty much whatever he pleases (or whatever Rupert Murdoch thinks will sell soap).   And no matter how irritated we may become as he spouts his ideas I don't think we should be looking for ways to silence him.  It's like the old saying, "never wrestle with a pig; you'll both get dirty and the pig will like it."  So what are our alternatives?

The one I like the best is simply to not pay attention to him.  I don't have to watch his show; I don't have to read stories in the papers or on the web about him and his ideas.  I can vigorously ignore him.   But there's another whole approach that I like even better.
Allow me a brief digression that will, I believe illuminate and illustrate the point that I will eventually get to.  

I used to work for a guy who ran a Public Access outfit.  Public Access, for those of you not schooled in the arcania of 80's cable television, was programming produced by citizens that the cable companies were required to carry.  This programming ran the gamut from tapes of community meetings of every stripe, to preachers, to folks reading to children.  It had some pretty weird moments, too, because it was the ultimate in First Amendment expression.  Individuals fancying themselves video artists could do all sorts of weird stuff and just put it on TV.  People could show the video they shot of their vacation.  Get the idea?  It was anything and everything out there right on TV for anyone and everyone to see.  But back to my friend.

He was essentially in charge of managing not what went on, but the technical and logistical aspects of scheduling, etc.; making sure that the stuff was watchable in the broadest possible sense.  And he was the guy in charge whenever some viewer took offense at something that was put on.  Another brief digression.

Most of this programming was crap.  It was stuff that was usually produced for an audience of one: one family, one club, perhaps even just one person.  Average TV viewers never tuned in.  My guess is that some of you are saying, "wow, they had that?" because you didn't even know it was out there.  But, to the people doing the producing they were making stuff to ON TV!  Whether anyone watched, while beside the point to most of us, was not even a question to these producers--they were making the next "Gunsmoke" or "60 Minutes."

Getting back to the premise here, one day the Klu Klux Klan contacted this Public Access outfit and asked how they could get their cinematic treasure, "Race and Reason" on TV.  Without blinking my friend explained the technical requirements for the show to play, when it could be on, how many times it would play, etc.  All the while they were asking how to participate they were also going to local press and suggesting that it was highly unlikely that they would be allowed to participate.  They were certain that they'd be rebuffed and denied the right to put their racist white power stuff on TV like anyone else.  They held a press conference on the lawn of the Public Access building announcing to whoever was listening that they were going to be on TV and heaven help anyone who tried to stop them from exercising their First Amendment rights.

The show aired.  It was not only as racist and hateful as you might expect it was also just generally stupid in its premise and approach.  And, predictably, there were people who contacted the Public Access organization and asked 1) how they could possibly allow that stuff on TV; and 2) what did they have to do to make sure that it was never allowed on TV again?  My friend’s answer was that they had every right to be on irrespective of how offensive some might find their message.  He went on to invite those who disagreed with the Klan to do a program of their own—counter-programming, if you will—from their own point of view that would answer or speak to the Klan program.    Exactly zero people who complained took him up on the offer.  Zero.  None.  Not one.  And this is my point.

Despite how strongly we disagree with someone’s point of view the answer is almost never to silence them, but to speak up on our own.  None of us will likely ever have our own show on Fox the way Beck does,  but that doesn’t change the enormous number of opportunities that we do have to speak up and disagree with Mr. Beck or anyone else.  Enough people using whatever means they have at their disposal to speak up and express themselves and their views can accomplish quite a bit.

Ask Hosni if you don’t believe me.

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