What the hell is going on?
At what point did the concept of being ‘offended’ lay claim to the same weight as actual harm? One of the aspects of free speech is that every now and then (okay, perhaps a lot) people are going to say things that other people disagree with. That sort of thing happens in a free society. Whether it is a dystopian governmental regime or an off-the-rails political correctness machine pulling the strings, when people’s opinions are steered not by truth but by fear of how others will react, we’re on a slippery slope.
Where does it end? If I let a four-letter word slip, and someone with “religious objections” to that sort of language tells me it’s offensive, can I then tell them that I find their attempt to force me to adhere to their belief system by altering my language offensive? Of course, that would probably ‘offend’ them too. I’d like to think adults are capable of handling differing opinions.
Let me be clear about one thing: I am not advocating hate speech. Directed, hateful comments about an individual or a group intended only to harm are not something that an enlightened society should tolerate.
What I’m worried about is the damaging effect such a mindset has on the arts: movies, television, and writing. Take for example the recent decision by TV Land to pull Dukes of Hazzard due to the Confederate flag in reaction to the recent controversy surrounding it. Perhaps I’m thinking in too-simple terms here, but I see a distinct difference between flying that flag in the real world over a government building, and a fictional character painting it on the roof of a fictional car in a fictional setting.
No one can argue that Dukes of Hazzard was advocating an agenda beyond showing a pair of backwoods idiots going on ridiculous forays against equally idiotic (and corrupt) local lawmen. Because the characters chose that symbol for their car doesn’t mean the show’s producers, writers, or sponsors believe in whatever ideology a person associates with that flag. The characters do. Or, maybe they don’t, maybe (to paraphrase Jules from Pulp Fiction) they just thought it was some cool shit to paint on their car. In the time period of the story, that symbolism was common in the area where the story takes place. It’s true to the period and the setting.
By the same logic TV Land has pulled Dukes of Hazzard, should we expect that every World War II movie with a depiction of a nazi flag will be banned because it could offend people? Should every movie, TV show, or book that depicts some historical evil such as slavery, war, serial killers, Japanese internment, or anything that anyone anywhere might possibly be offended by be pulled? That would make for some seriously bland airwaves. If something ‘offends’ you, the freedom our country provides gives you the best option: don’t pay for/watch/read it.
The removal of Dukes of Hazzard sets a dangerous precedent. Attempting to sanitize everything to please everyone is a fool’s errand. First, a silly show about silly people doing silly things, but what comes next? Are authors and screenwriters soon to be forbidden from portraying characters that have “offensive” traits? What of more serious stories than Dukes? Should someone call for a ban on movies like Schindler’s List because it portrays nazis? The characters in that movie believe a lot more in the offensive flag than Bo and Luke believe in the Confederate Flag. I hope this is a case of runaway trend-chasing and not a herald of a new age of censorship.
Art is a reflection of the society in which it is created. Are we, as a people, so afraid of looking in the mirror we need to cover it with a curtain? We cannot selectively omit events and symbols from our group consciousness. Censorship, be it by a rapid upwelling of forced indignation or by the government serves only to harm us all. People need to deal with the reality that not everyone in the world shares their opinions. As a society, we need thicker skin. We need to stop reacting to “Oh, I’m offended” as if someone just threw a baby in a pool without floats, because we will never be able to please everyone.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana