Tag Archives: obscenity

On South Park

First, it’s a situation comedy. A situation comedy that deliberately offends some in order to humor others. That’s not really so unusual. It’s not really “teaching us to be tolerant,” however. The majority of comedy has always been (since Euripides, anyway) based on belittling, verbally abusing, mocking and perjorating other people, their beliefs, their way of life, the way they talk; or finding glee in their misfortunes. Particularly people that you either don’t know, don’t like or are afraid you might somehow be associated with. I agree, you have a right to say what you like. But do you have a right to hurt other people with that speech? Isn’t that really a form of hate speech? Or is it only hate speech if you or someone you like are the targets? In other words, did the burning of witches start with bonfires, or hateful, ignorant people striking matches while making fun of strange looking women digging along the roadside for medicinal herbs?

Second, it’s a TELEVISION program. Granted, it may be about entertainment, or cultural commentary, even, but its first and foremost function is to serve as the delivery mechanism for advertisements. And if that delivery mechanism reduces the warm, fuzzy feeling in a percentage of consumers, it will not continue to be broadcast. It’s not in the network’s best interest to incur boycotts, protests, hate-mail or anything that might threaten its bottom line, or the inclination of its advertisers to continue their patronage.

Thirdly, I don’t think it’s free speech issue, and using the example of Jesus defecating on Bush and the flag as an “acceptable” substitute for an image of Mohammed doesn’t prove the tolerance of Christianity over Islam regarding free expression. Suppose, instead, that they portrayed Jesus smoking a joint, fondling a transvestite prostitute and voting Democrat or attending a Klan rally (either one, both demonstrate extremes). THAT would have caused outrage. But the bulk of the South Park audience is probably in agreement with any of these scenarios as possible, if not probable; it’s only people who don’t GET the show (they would posit) that would be offended. But then again, that’s where your definition of humor fits into the equation. Satire and irony are one thing. The question I have for South Park is this: could they have made their point without being offensive? Without belittling anyone? Who would have thought it was funny? The dilemma here what people think is funny. If it’s not funny in a way that pushes the envelope, no one would watch, and the advertisers would suffer. On the other hand, if it’s too funny (in a way that makes poignant insights into the way we live and suggests a better way), most people wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t watch, and the advertisers would suffers. And finally, if it’s over-the-top top funny in the traditional belittling, mocking, smug way of most humor, someone’s bound to get offended (because we all take ourselves a bit too seriously, anyway) and the advertisers suffer.

Is this worth even talking about?

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Obscenity and Free Speech

Is it real obscenity, or just a lack of taste?
To legislate morality seems such a useless waste.
For standards vary by observer, and from day to day;
Leaving little black or white, but only shades of gray.

Let Washington decide the content, and it won’t be long
Before no matter what you say, it will be judged as wrong.
If personal objections are imposed by a select few
You can be sure that who decides will not be me or you.

I wonder if those who cry out against culture’s decline
Have paused to look at their actions, their own state of mind?
It seems to me that feeling tempted comes of false pretense
that man cannot discern between paths to experience.

And worse, to think that being tried is not required for faith,
that we can become wiser by remaining stale and safe,
leads only to destruction as we weaken from within
and learn to label evolution as some kind of sin.

So, what is real obscenity? And what makes it obscene –
The context, or the message, or delivering machine?
If you would have your own opinion, mind the censor’s might,
Before you want to disagree, and do not have the right.

22 MAR 2004

Instead of letting each of us choose what we want to watch and hear, Congress is moving quickly to require large fines on “indecent” content. This economic censorship would dramatically infringe on the First Amendment and would hinder the diversity of programming available to consumers. We each have a right to watch what we want on television, and change the channel if we don’t like what we see. If a television show is offensive we can complain to the broadcaster and choose never to watch that show again. This market process allows us to find programming that meets our individual tastes and is free of government interference. New legislation, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 (S. 2056), would allow the government to levy large fines on broadcasts that the Federal Communications Commission considers “indecent.” This vague definition would lead to broadcasters censoring their content and forbidding their staff from playing controversial material. The proposed legislation would even allow the FCC to impose large fines on Musicians, comedians and other artists who it considers “indecent.” — ACLU Free Speech Alert

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A Sidebar to my NEA post …

More from Henry Miller, Obscenity and the Law of Reflection:

The chances are that during this transition period of global wars, lasting perhaps a century or two, art will become less and less important. A world torn by indescribable upheavals, a world preoccupied with social and political transformations, will have less time and energy to spare for the creation and appreciation of works of art. The politician, the soldier, the industrialist, the technician, all those in short who cater to immediate needs, to creature comforts, to transitory and illusory passions and prejudices, will take precedence over the artist. The most poetic inventions will be those capable of serving the most destructive ends. Poetry itself will be expressed in terms of block-busters and lethal gases. The obscene will find expression in the most unthinkable techniques of self-destruction which the inventive genius of man will be forced to adopt. The revolt and disgust which the prophetic spirits in the realm of art have inspired, through their vision of a world in the making, will find justification in the years to come as these dreams are acted out.

And to think, his books were banned in this country for the longest time. I do not wonder why.

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More thoughts on war and peace

From Henry Miller, Obscenity and the Law of Reflection:

As civilization progresses it becomes more and more apparent that war is the greatest release which life offers to the ordinary man. Here he can let go to his heart’s content for here crime no longer has any meaning. Guilt is abolished when the whole planet swims in blood. The lulls of peacetime seem only to permit him to sink deeper into the bogs of the sadistic-masochistic complex which has fastened itself into the heart of our civilized life like a cancer. Fear, guilt and murder – these constitute the real triumvirate which rules our lives. What is obscene then? The whole fabric of our life as we know it today. To speak only of what is indecent, foul, lewd, filthy, disgusting, etc., in connection with sex, is to deny ourselves the luxury of the great gamut of revulsion-repulsion which modern life puts at our service. Every department of life is vitiated and corroded with what is so unthinkingly labeled “obscene.” One wonders if perhaps the insane could not invent a more fitting, more inclusive term for the polluting elements of life which we create and shun and never identify with our behavior. We think of the insane as inhabiting a world completely divorced from reality, but our own everyday behavior , whether in war or peace, bears all the ear-marks of insanity. “I have said,” writes a well-known psychologist, “that this is a mad world; that man is most of the time mad; and I believe that in a way, what we call morality is merely a form of madness, which happens to be a working adaptation to existing circumstances.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jesse Helms.

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