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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Columns

Land of the free, home of the sensitive


Kathleen Kennedy/The Daily Cougar

Kathleen Kennedy/The Daily Cougar

Glenn Beck was on his radio show this week bawling his eyes out ― as usual ― about the unfair treatment that he experienced on American Airlines.

Apparently, a flight attendant slammed a can of soda on his tray and boasted that he was proud of the very liberal cities in America.

Beck’s oversensitivity and ease of crying is an acknowledged fact. Yet his complaint sounds legitimate and reveals an unfortunate trend occurring in our country.

America prides itself, maybe beyond anywhere else, on its freedom of speech. Heck, it’s in this country that a disgusting organization like the Westboro Baptist Church can win a Supreme Court appeal for their right to protest the funerals of fallen soldiers.

Our freedoms are, however, under attack in an unusual and covert way. As much as we respect the doctrine of freedom of speech, this country has become far more restrictive than we’d like to admit.

There is not one day where some dubious controversy does not arise about what some random and insignificant celebrity or public figure said. It’s the sign of an era where imperfect people demand perfection. It’s the sign of a society that does not respect mistakes.

Seemingly, everything needs to be perfectly unbiased, thought out, and profound. People cannot make thoughtless statements or offensive jokes without being called racists or homophobes. This society is abounding with apologies from public figures that should never have apologized in the first place but did so to save themselves from a barrage of media backlash.

The counterclaim is that if public figures can say whatever they want, others should be able to criticize them. Fair enough. However, we have taken the idea of analysis or criticism to such an extreme that few public figures can say anything without being attacked and chastised. The whole idea of cyberbullying is born out of this.

It is when legitimate negative responses and opinions become so vitriolic and frequent that they take on a form of bullying. Not every celebrity’s opinion must be attacked or lambasted. Sometimes, we can just call dumb when we see it and move on.

Tolerance of speech is pretty much dead, and a day cannot be set on its demise. But the invention ― or rather widespread use of ― blogs is the nail in its coffin.

At their best, blogs give power to people to address important social issues. For example, political blogs were chiefly responsible for the downfall of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott after he praised Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential bid. At their worst, however, a couple of bloggers have the ability to turn a small and insignificant issue into a national controversy.

The most recent example of this was the controversy surrounding Daniel Tosh, Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, over a rape joke at a comedy club. In this incident, an anonymous blog post had the chance to ruin a comedian’s life. With millions of dollars behind his show, he reluctantly apologized.

The biggest problem is that people took one blog post as the official source of events. And blog after blog piled on him as a misogynist without asking if the original blogger’s views were accurate or not.

Toleration in speech becomes ever more important when we look back at Rush Limbaugh’s recent controversy involving Sandra Fluke. Due to that controversy, Limbaugh lost dozens of local advertisers. If the boycott of Limbaugh was successful, it would have destroyed his career. This is a case where backlash over someone’s words can destroy the very platform they use to express their views.

In theory, no one attacked Limbaugh’s freedom of speech — but they did in practice. This creates an environment where only the most timid and family-friendly media figures can prosper, where people with edge and passion are restricted to the fringes and where mediocrity and political correctness rule.

What is the purpose of freedom of speech if the boundaries are left untested? Considering how far removed we are from a tolerance to opinion, one begs to ask: did we ever have it?

Babak Hamidi is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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