April 24, 2005

Defending Free Speech -- Even When It Is Distasteful

One of the bad things about defending the First Amendment is that it sometimes means defending the right of someone to say something you find offensive. That is especially true when PC types attempt to shut down "insensitive" speech, or when someone tries to be "humourous" about a topic which is not, in the least, funny. One such current case involves the newspaper of the University of Nevada -- Las Vegas, The Rebel Yell.

That which passes for humor these days is often nothing more than profanity-laced crudity attempting to evoke uncomfortable titters through shock. However, the same shtick that can fetch a living wage on the comedy club circuit can draw the wrath of the politically correct crew on campus. Advertisement

That was the scene a little more than a week ago at UNLV during a meeting of the advisory board of the campus newspaper, The Rebel Yell. About 40 students and faculty showed up to protest a column called "Ask Jubert."

Jubert is an amalgam of the names of the paper's editor and managing editor, Justin Chomintra and Hubert Hensen, respectively. The column, two-thirds of which is penned by Hensen, is meant to be a satirical send-up of advice-to-the-lovelorn columns, only written from the perspective of a doltish, misogynistic, rage-prone bully.

Until March the column reportedly had been met approvingly or indifferently. But then the March 7 "Ask Jubert" offered advice on how to "get back at an ex," by recommending -- tongue firmly in cheek and ripping off dialogue from the movie "Anchorman" -- that "the best way to seize revenge is with sudden, blinding violence. Punch the filthy pirate whore in her mouth. Show her exactly how you feel about her. The harder the punch, the more she'll realize how much you care."

Though it carried a disclaimer at the bottom saying, "The Rebel Yell does not condone any form of violence, especially domestic violence, nor cruelty against animals. (The column also contained advice on stringing up the ex's poodle.) 'Ask Jubert' is meant to be humorous and should not be taken seriously," it was taken quite seriously.

Now let's say this very clearly -- the piece is crude and offensive. I don't see why anyone would find it in the least bit funny. I don't understand why the young men in question would even think it was appropriate to publish something like that -- even if it is meant to be a satire on advice columns. That said, I also recognize that the First Amendment applies to it, and that those who wrote the column should not be in any way disciplined for their sophomoric attempt at humor.

Needless to say, there was a huge turnout at the next meeting of the paper's advisory board, demanding censorship of the paper and punishment of the offenders. Several law students had the audacity to demand that the paper be censored (did they sleep through their Constitutional Law class?) and that there be a ban on "hate speech" in The Rebel Yell (I'll bet they only wanted to ban hate speech against "protected classes", not whites, heterosexuals, males, or Christians). Fortunately, the board held the line and refused to impose such measures.

One professor, the head of the Women's Studies Department (raise your hand if you weren't surprised) joined in the call for censorship.

Several people found it a bit ironic that the chair of UNLV's Women's Studies Department, Lois Rita Helmbold, offered a jesting aside about refraining from using her martial arts skills on Hensen.

Helmbold conceded she made a joke but declined to elaborate. She described the advocacy of domestic violence as irresponsible journalism and not funny.

The professor also pointed out that student fees pay for operations of the campus newspaper, unlike other newspapers which people may choose to purchase or not. I thought that was a pretty good point and drew an analogy to taxpayers objecting to their money being used to sponsor "art" that consisted of a crucifix in a jar of urine. For some reason she didn't agree.

I love it when a liberal hypocrite doesn't commits the exact same act that she demands others be punished for, and refuses to concede that the principle of censorship that she supports could logically be extended to censor her point of view. After all, I imagine Professor Helmbold arguing, men are oppressors by nature, so they deserve to be beaten as an act of female liberation; and the patriarchal Christians are racistsexisthomophobes whose beliefs and symbols merit no respect.

In the end, the advisory board did not impose any sanctions or restraints on The rebel Yell. It did turn down Hubert henson's application to be the editor of next year's paper, but that decision appears to have been made on the merits of another candidate, not the controversy over teh column that caused such excitement. he plans on leaving the staff, and devoting himself to completing his degree in physics.

Advisory Board member Steve Sebelius, editor of the weekly CityLife newspaper and a former political columnist with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, makes this observation about those who turned out in favor of censorship and against freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

"If these people ever get hold of the apparatus of power, it will be a Hitlerian danger to free speech."

he is, of course, correct. And not just about those on the Left, but also about those on the Right who would require that words pass some ideological litmus test before being granted the protection afforded them without reservation by the First Amendment.

|| Greg, 01:51 PM || Permalink || Comments (0) || Comments

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