|the h.r. giger painting used in "frankenchrist"|
what this meant for me was that i found myself suddenly ejected from the left, called a racist and a bad feminist, because i was still persisting in my old-fashioned defense of everyone to air their point of view. at the time, the new right seemingly came into vogue and my comrades in the fight for free speech were neo-nazis and right-wing militia groups. cue nervous sideways glances and sweaty collar. after all, these weren't the people who spoke for me. i didn't want people to think that i agreed with them, but i did think that they had the same right to speak as everyone else, so i gulped and spent a lot of time repeated voltaire's [or is it?]overused maxim : "i disagree with what you say, but i will defend to the death your right to say it." after all, it was a valid debate and it was evident that this movement had a small but dedicated audience.
|standard response to "political correctness"|
flash forward twenty years and the playing field is very different. there are comparatively few conflicts over freedom of speech that truly take hold in the public imagination. but they do still occasionally crop up, like the case of guy earle here in canada, who this past week was fined $15,000 for impinging on the human rights of lorna pardy over insults leveled at her and her partner [another word the became popular with "political correctness"] on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation.
to give a brief summation of the case, i'll point readers toward this interview with earle, where he gives his version of events and this blog, which has been following the case closely from an opposing point of view and to the human rights' tribunal's decision against earle.
now, i will caution that virtually all of the facts in the case are in dispute- who started it, what the cause was, what happened off-stage after the initial verbal exchange, etc., so i'm going to limit myself to discussing only the parts on which everyone seems to agree: that earle insulted pardy from the stage and that those insults were mostly driven by her gender and sexual orientation. earle has claimed that what he said should be protected as free speech, whereas pardy filed a claim against him on the basis that he had assaulted her human rights with what he said.
|the new face of the oppressed?|
so being a proponent of free speech and seeing the general value of comedy as a specific form of language, i'm inclined to agree with earle on principle. except for one thing. what he said is in absolutely no way pushing the boundaries of speech. far from forging new ground, he used the opportunity to repeat the sort of insults that have been leveled at women and homosexuals since people have been aware of their existence. you're only lesbians because no man would fuck you? wow, never heard that one before. shut this woman up and stuff a cock in her mouth? the originality just doesn't stop. now, free speech has become about the rights of the traditionally dominant cultural group to advocate the oppression of the traditionally oppressed.
returning for a moment to the case of the militias and neo-nazis, or, to use a more timely example, the reprehensible actions of the westboro baptist church, the one redeeming thing about them is that they at least believe in what they're saying. you might hate it, but it's genuine. earle isn't even that. he's said since the incident in 2007 that he isn't sexist or homophobic. so, if we take him at his word, what he said doesn't even have any deeper meaning for him. all of a sudden, free speech is about the right of someone to shoot their mouth off and to make disenfranchised groups a target of ridicule and hatred just for the hell of it. and what kills me is that i agree that such instances to constitute free speech.
i chose this case to illustrate my point because i think it's increasingly characteristic of where battles over free speech are going. far from pushing the envelope or expanding horizons, freedom of speech now denotes our collective ability to fill the air with verbal pollution- insults, taunts, ignorance, xenophobia- until the pollutants effectively drown out anything meaningful that's being said.
i am still unwavering in my support for free speech. even though it's been a long time since that belief has made me feel that glow of pride at being a strong, principled person, it's close to my heart and, in defiance of logic, it's become even more entrenched with time. but at the same time, i think i'd like to start a movement defending the right of people to just shut the fuck up.