March 24, 2003 - Superman Is Weeping

As with any political cause, people look to people they respect and admire to help them interpret the issues at hand. But in our society, that role isnít played by statesmen, academics or politicians, but by movie actors, pop artists and TV actors Ė most of whom form their opinions based on the little snatches of news they absorb while in and out of rehab.
Much as I hate the words of Martin Sheen being given more attention than those of Hans Blix, celebrities, like every other ill-informed, self-absorbed ignoramus, are entitled to their opinions. Thatís what freedom of speech is all about.

But freedom of speech isnít free, as the Dixie Chicks, among others, have found out. Natalie Mains exercised her right to speak, and then immediately issued a groveling apology for speaking out against the current US political climate. And some have said that this proves that there is no freedom of speech in America.

Thatís a bunch of crap. Is Natalie Mains in jail for speaking against the government? Is her family being rounded up and tortured, or forced to listen to her records? No. Our legislated right to Freedom of speech simply means freedom from being arrested for communicating dissenting opinions Ė it doesnít mean freedom from the consequences of your words. And freedom of speech doesnít mean people donít have the right to be angry about what you have to say. Natalie Mains wasnít forced to retract her statement, she chose to. She angered the people who buy her records and, rather than stand by her words, she bowed to the fear of losing sales. This hardly makes her a martyr for free speech Ė it makes her a coward.

However, that doesnít let the American public off the hook either. Americans talk tough about preserving free speech, but then persecute and vilify people who put that freedom to the test. Respecting free speech means respecting that people have a right to express their opinions, popular or not. It seems funny that the crowd thatís gung-ho to go to war to (ahem) ďprotect freedomĒ is the same crowd that shows freedom the least respect at home.

The most egregious example of this comes from the New York Post, who last week took it upon itself to publish a list naming prominent actors who have spoken out against the war, and encouraging people to boycott their work. Think about this Ė a newspaper, an entity which owes itís very existence to the American first amendment right to free speech, encouraging readers to punish others who have exercised their right to free speech. Thatís like Anna Nicole urging a boycott of breast implants . Add to this the fact that the Post is a low-end gossip rag which publishes an amalgam of half-truths and rumours while using the first amendment as protection, and you realize weíre truly living on Bizarro world.

Freedom of speech isnít intended to protect popular speech, its worth is in protecting unpopular speech. Itís at its best when itís being tested, when speech provokes thought, debate and a general sense of discomfort. Freedom itself is like a muscle Ė if you donít exercise it, it atrophies. Or, to put it more colloquially, use it or lose it.

And thatís why whatís really disturbing is the number of Americans who characterize fellow citizens who oppose the war as ďun-AmericanĒ. Thatís a bunch of CRAP. America is founded on the notion of free speech, resistance to state coercion and individual rightsÖall rights that the protestors are utilizing. Theyíre the ones breathing life into American ideals. Whatís truly a violation of American values is to blindly support government or try to do anything to suppress individual rights and freedom of speech. Vocalizing dissent is American, falling into lockstep with the government is un-American. Check your history books. Iím all for truth, justice and the American Way, I just wish more Americans understood what it meant. Itís enough to make Superman cry.

I'm Ed the Sock.