Our self-appointed national nanny, Brent Bozell, is stepping down as head of the so-called Parents Television Council. Well, big fucking deal. But perhaps Bozell knows that he has strung this shtick out about as long as it can go. I do believe we may be at the point of a backlash. His partner in crime against the First Amendment, our own FCC, is desperately trying to backpedal on its latest rulings; I hope the courts do not let them and we get a real challenge of their unconstitutional behavior. But Bozell et al keep plowing ahead, filing complaints against Helen Mirren for falling ass over tit at the Emmys. One of the worst offenders in this attack on free speech has been, most shamefully, my colleagues in the news business, who report the utterances of the reputed PTC as if they are news (bloggers don’t retype press releases; reporters do!). Farewell, Bozell. I only wish you were really disappearing, not merely finding another excuse to issue a press release.
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Jailed video blogger and journalist Josh Wolf is interviewed by Cnet:
Q: Do you feel that all bloggers should be protected as independent journalists under California’s shield law? If not, how do you decide which ones are protected?
Wolf: I feel that people should be protected when engaging upon journalistic activities. This was a video that was published and is clearly an example of video journalism. Therefore, it should be protected as an example of journalism and I should be protected, in this situation, as a journalist. . . .
Well, here’s an example of overregulation: UK TV fans are besieging an equivalent of the FCC with complaints about Big Brother bringing back a contestant who’d been voted off.
A few bits of news on free speech:
: CBS, thank goodness, is going to make a court challenge to the FCC on the Janet Jackson case that supposedly had American culture tripping over its fallen knickers. At long fucking last. As Mel Karmazin, former head of CBS, has said: The reason CBS and other networks did not challenge indecency rulings in the courts was because the FCC blackmailed them by holding up licensing. So the indecent indecency laws have not been challenged since the ’70s. It is high time for a court case. If only they’d had the sense to mount this case before the last Supreme Court appointments.
: PBS is also ready to fight for the freedom to say a supposedly nasty word in Ken Burns’ new documentary on World War II. The occasional bad word can only liven up a Burns show, I’d say. Said Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS:
“To be able to see a documentary and to be able to let people tell their own story and not censor the words that are coming out of their mouths is tremendously important. That’s why this is such a big issue for us, and that’s why it is important for public broadcasting not to just roll over, but to be very clear that, in order to tell some stories, we may need to use language that, at the moment, the FCC is not sure they feel is appropriate for broadcast television.” . . .
Kerger said that reading recent FCC decisions on obscenity fines doesn’t help. “It’s a moving target. It’s hard to figure how to navigate through these decisions because there’s no clear guidance. We certainly have a couple of cases coming up that I hope we as an industry will stand together on and be bold.”
PBS could avoid a battle over “The War” by airing it after 10 p.m., outside the FCC’s so-called safe harbor of early prime time.
“I think this is going to be one of the seminal works of his career, and it deserves to be seen by the broadest possible audience,” Kerger said of the Burns documentary. “This is not just about Janet Jackson. This is about filmmakers with powerful stories who are not being allowed to tell those stories on public television or on broadcast television.”
: But Steve Yelvington alerts us to the next fight for free speech.
Our nannies in the House of Representatives officially declared war on social networking yesterday, overwhelmingly passing a law that would prohibit public schools and libraries from allowing anyone not an adult to use “chat rooms” and “social networking” sites. The definition is so broad that most of the Internet could be blocked.
The law, titled “Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006,” could block not only MySpace, but also Amazon.com, most major newspaper sites, Wikipedia, personal weblogs published on sites like Blogger.com.
The standards, according to cnet:
(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an online profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an online journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.
The bill now advances to the Senate, where it can be voted on by boobs who think the Internet is made out of tubes.
This is clearly a First Amendment matter. In all the talk about the digital divide, the point is made that anyone can go to a library to use the internet. But if this is enacted, they won’t be able to go to a library to publish. Their speech will be cut off.
Oh, how I wish that just one station in this nation would have aired George Bush’s “shit” so that the FCC could fine them — or so that the FCC would not and we’d have standing to bring a civil rights suit against them for allowing his shit but disallowing ours. (See my defense of bullshit.)
Louis Wiley Jr., executive editor of Frontline, writes an amazing column detailing the chill on speech imposed by the FCC and the latest indecent indecency legislation:
The title of a recent e-mail from PBS caught my eye: “Editing of Coarse Language/New Practices.” Henceforth, producers would face two new requirements: (1) if a word is bleeped or wiped (silenced), the entirety of the word must be bleeped or wiped, meaning that “mother-F-word” would now have to be “bleep bleep,” and (2) if the F-word or the S-word were uttered to camera so that viewers could recognize it from the speaker’s mouth, the lips must be pixelated. . . .
It was former FCC Chairman Michael Powell who warned broadcasters about the direction of the indecency war. “The danger,” he said, “is in self-censorship.” It is no longer just a danger in my view. The reality is here. . . .
Sadly, public broadcasters have said too little about the danger. The consequence of the government’s assault on what it deems wayward commercial enterprises is to make public media pay a steep price in editorial freedom. We are becoming collateral damage in the war on indecency.
So stand up and fight, damnit.
Let’s just note that broadcast networks had to censor the President himself because if they’d let his slipped “shit” onto the air, each station and network could have been fined $325,000 under the new “indecency” legislation Bush himself just signed. He’s lucky the version that came to his desk no longer included similar fines for the speaker, not just the broadcaster.
The FCC has asked a federal court to delay action by three network affiliates appealing a recent indecency order so it can hear the affiliates’ arguments and reconsider the case. The ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates concurred; Fox’s stations did not. I need an attorney with experience here to explain what this means. Should we smell a rat? The FCC has studiously avoided court tests of its indecency rulings and I wonder whether this is another effort to sidestep the Constitutional challenge that is inevitable. I still want to take the FCC to court in defense of bullshit. ACLU, networks, political groups, anybody want to help?
Some notes on the Fourth of July….
: I was upset that the new Superman now fights for, in Perry White’s words, “truth, justice, and all that stuff.” Yes, all that stuff that we hold so dear on this day.
Was this a crass business decision in the age of globalism? Was it American self-loathing? Was it a joke?
Yet, of course, the movie is really about the American way. The dramatic theme underlying the action revolves around Lois Lane’s disillusionment with Superman. She wins her Pulitzer prize — as they are won these days — arguing against the use of power with an editorial that announced we don’t need Superman anymore.
But, of course, we do. The question is, who is Superman? Superman himself wonders that and so he goes off for five years to discover not much. And we in America wonder that. We used to see ourselves as the superpower that came to the rescue. But now we’re bungling a war. It is becoming popular to vilify us. And, I’m horrified to say, Americans abroad are starting to masquerade as the nationalistic version of Clark Kent: Canadians.
Yet we live in an age when evil is cartoon-clear. The bad guy today is not some vague and shadowy bunch hiding under beds. The bad guy today is as clearly identifiable as a comic-book villian. Lex Luthor is Bin Laden.
Where is Superman when we need him? He used to be around here somewhere.
: As it turns out, the abandonment of the American way was no accident and no joke. The Hollywood Reporter talks to the screenwriters, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris:
“The world has changed. The world is a different place,” Pennsylvania native Harris says. “The truth is he’s an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He’s an international superhero.” . . . .
[T]hey penned their first draft together and intentionally omitted what they considered to be a loaded and antiquated expression. . . .
“We were always hesitant to include the term ‘American way’ because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain,” Ohio native Dougherty explains. “The ideal hasn’t changed. I think when people say ‘American way,’ they’re actually talking about what the ‘American way’ meant back in the ’40s and ’50s, which was something more noble and idealistic.”
Which is them saying that we’re not noble now.
While audiences in Dubuque might bristle at Superman’s newfound global agenda, patrons in Dubai likely will find the DC Comics protagonist more palatable. . . .
“So, you play the movie in a foreign country, and you say, ‘What does he stand for? — truth, justice and the American way.’ I think a lot of people’s opinions of what the American way means outside of this country are different from what the line actually means (in Superman lore) because they are not the same anymore,” Harris says. “And (using that line) would taint the meaning of what he is saying.”
The American way now taints movies. Every American should should be insulted that Superman is in such hands as theirs. If you think the American way needs updating and buffing up, what better way to do that than through an idealistic movie? But, no, now being pro-American — even at a time when America is attacked — us politically uncorrect.
: See this interview with Christian Cox, an American living in London, on the BBC web site.
She says the level of anti-Americanism she has experienced “feels like a kind of racism”.
“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Americans, or me, I just want people to realise that we are dealing with hatred too.” . . .
Ms Cox, 29, says she has been called, among other things, “terrorist”, “scum”, “low life”, and feels that she is constantly being held to account for the actions of President Bush and for US foreign policy. . . .
“But some people just fly off the handle without even talking to me – it’s as if they had been waiting to run into an American all day to let their feelings out,” she says.
To avoid confrontations she says she lowers her voice on the Underground and in pubs.
But in one incident an older man asked her directly if she was American.
“When I said yes he said: ‘I just want you to know that I think you are the poorest people I have ever met in my life’ – meaning we were low-life.
“I said I was sorry he felt that way, but that I disagreed.”
The man started shouting obscenities at her group. The row developed into a brawl and Ms Cox suffered a black eye as she tried to pull two people apart.
“After that I cried for two days, then booked a flight back to the States. I felt so hated, I needed to be with people who loved me.”
Some friends now advise her to tell people she is Canadian, to deflect potential abuse, an option she calls “sad”.
Yes, it is a form of racism. It’s not cool to announce a dislike of races or religions or nationalities — except, these days, America.
: It’s enough to make us feel German.
Thanks to an accident of junior-high teacher politics (nobody liked the French teacher), I ended up studying German and, as a result, came to visit, enjoy, and do business in Germany. Often when this comes up in conversation in America, there’s an awkward moment when it becomes clear that others think this makes me weird or worse and sometimes I find myself in the position of needing to defend Germans.
But a few weeks ago, when I was in Munich, I heard Americans say that they, like the American in London above, feel the need to hide their nationality for fear of attack or shame. They start saying ‘eh’ and ‘oot.’
At the same time, Germany, which for obvious reasons has tried to avoid pride and patriotism for 60 years, is suddenly rediscovering the swollen chest thanks to the World Cup. They produced a booklet listing 250 reasons to love Germany. They bought ads on my PATH trains saying that we should be friends. They held an adopt-a-German tour.
Yet while I was there, I also went to a movie about the dark days of the Stasi infiltrating friendships and offices and marriages in East Germany, leading to betrayal, imprisonment, and even death. That same is still fresh, still to be grappled with.
Who’s the Supermensch?
: Yesterday, I picked up The Times of London and read an essay — A Call for Clear Thinking — by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch MP who challenged Muslims to join the civilized order. In it, I see more stirring words about freedom than in Superman or any Independence Day picnic. It’s also timely coming just a few days before the first anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London. She writes:
After the carnage of the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Tony Blair defined the situation as a battle of ideas. “Our values will long outlast theirs,” he said, to the silent acquiescence of the world leaders who stood alongside him. “Whatever (the terrorists) do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.”
By defining this as a battle of values, Blair raised the question: which values are at stake? Those who love freedom know that the open society relies on a few key shared concepts. They believe that all humans are born free, are endowed with reason and have inalienable rights. These governments are checked by the rule of law, so that civil liberties are protected. They ensure freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, and ensure that men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, are entitled to equal treatment and protection under the law. And these governments have free-trade practices and an open market, and people may spend their recreational time as they wish.
That is what I call truth, justice, and all that stuff. Perhaps she is the Superwoman we’ve been waiting for.
: Yet in our own Congress, our lawmakers do not understand all that stuff. Be very afraid that in multiple votes lately, a majority of both houses has cast off the First Amendment to vote in favor of censorship on our airwaves and for restricting the right to burn the flag. It’s so obvious: by trying to protect the symbol, they defeat what that symbol stands for — the very essence of truth, justice, and the American way.