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Censorship takes many forms. Most recently, the issue of flag burning...or, more generally, flag desecration...has moved to the forefront. It seems that the Supreme Court, in unanimous decision after unanimous decision, has ruled that our flag is a SYMBOL, not a person or a holy object subject to all the protections of our legal system. Thus, burning it is SPEECH, and POLITICAL SPEECH at that, and this IS subject to protection...by no less an authority than our constitution. Thus, no state legislature or city council can pass a law restricting it in any way. Drat!
How to get around this doggone impediment? CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION! Amend it to state that...well, it's not quite clear how to put it. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives, that august body of great minds that presides over our safety and well being, has passed a constitutional amendment which, if ratified by two thirds of the Senate and state legislatures in the U.S., will ostensibly forever-after prevent evil flag ravagers from having their way with Old Glory. Furthermore, it is said that the legislators in no fewer than 44 of our 50 states are drooling at the prospect of having such a wondrous campaign issue in the coming Silly Season of elections. Lord knows, those bozos really need SOMETHING to distract us from their customary baloney. After all, by golly, the flag and what it stands for, is still highly honored by most Americans, including yours truly.
But there seem to be problems. Troubling little inconsistencies. After all, legislation must be enacted that sets forth, in legally precise detail, just exactly which acts are proscribed. Police departments will have to be advised on procedures for collaring newly defined criminals...how to surveille, how to capture.
For example, WHICH flags exactly will be subject to this new prohibition on our behavior? Will it be forbidden to burn a 49 star flag, a 48 star flag or a 13 star flag? How about that famous picture of a snake saying "Don't Tread on ME!"
And, how about flag-like symbols? When we use rolled up newspapers...flying the American flag of Fourth-of-July clearance sales on furniture suites and deodorant...to light our fires, will we be flaming the constitution? Will, red, white and blue diapers...a la the famous flag-pampers worn by Larry Flynt at his trial for obscenity...be banned? If I were to wear a pair of sneakers with an American flag on the sole...put there, of course, to trick me into forgetting that were made by children in a sweat shop in Viet Nam...would I be trampling on the legacy of our forefathers?
The age of cyberspace makes things even dicier. If the flag is a symbol, what is a computer image of the flag? The GIFs that are scattered around this page are, after all, nothing but an addresses of files, made up of effervescent electronic bits, residing on a server far away from you the viewer. When you called up this page, by clicking on a hyperlink on some other page, YOU instructed the server to download these bits of information, YOU enjoined the browser to reconstruct them into the impressions interpreted by the neurons in your brain as flags, even though they are nothing but a bunch of individual tiny red, white and blue pixels organized to make YOU THINK they are pictures of the American flag. What are they, really?
If we replace these images with distorted images...perhaps changing the colors to green, yellow and orange...are we despoiling them? Suppose we use computer generated animation to make them look like they are afire, rather than waving in the breeze? And so on, and so on, and so on...
This symbolism stuff can really quickly get out-of-hand. In places like Yugoslavia and China, they don't trouble themselves with such things. They treat subversive speech like we used to treat pornography. "I can't define it," said one Supreme Court Justice in the olden days, "but, I know it when I see it!"
Slobodan's merry thugs simply clobber anybody THEY think is out-of-line, either in thought or deed. But, things seem to be changing a bit in Serbia. And, rapidly, too. Even though most Serbians stood behind Milosevic during the recent adventure, now that they are getting the real scoop from their returning war "heroes," they are daily moving into the streets to demand his ouster. Oops! So much for Yugoslavian "total" media control.
The situation in China is equally dire for the censors, though sillier by far. The Chinese managers of thought are attempting, with no success whatsoever, to block almost all "Western" (i.e. seditious) thought from crossing the Great Wall of Chinese suppression on the Internet. Indeed, last year they got an object lesson in cyber-stifling when dissident hackers in Canada brought down the Chinese military satellite system for precisely one hour...as an object lesson in just who has control of what in cyberspace. Their tool? The Net. So much for Chinese thought management.
Finally, we return to Jack Valenti. You may know that this aging relic of Camelot heads up the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) which is charged with rating American films before they are released, ostensibly to protect our children from the ravages of naughty sights and sounds. Now, the rating of a film is no small issue. Since the largest market for films-in-theater is teenage boys, an "NC-17" (no one admitted under the age of 17) or even an "R" rating can be the kiss of death for a film. So Valenti and his minions hold HUGE economic power. Meanwhile, the writers and producers have to find ways to pander to the hormones of their bread-and-butter audience.
This summer, all the buzz surrounds the film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut which recently hit the theaters. It concerns a group of third graders who sneak into an "R" rated movie...coincidentally, this film is itself "R" rated...wink, wink...where they learn all sorts of vulgarity and profanity with which they scandalize their elders in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado.
Like the TV version, this film pushes...HARD...on the boundaries of propriety and decency. Some of the highlights are a homophilic Satan cavorting with Saddam Hussein in Hell, Winona Ryder spewing ping-pong balls from her holiest of holies, and a bloody war with our neighbor Canada over their (mis-) pronunciation of the "ou" sound...well, you get the picture. Politically correct, this baby ain't!
The producers of this film wrestled long and hard with the MPAA over what could or could not be in this film to keep it from the dreaded "NC-17" rating. Among other things, which we will abstain from going into in detail, "God f---ing me up the a--" is not permitted, but "God's the biggest bitch of them all!" is. Mentioning "fisting" a gross sexual procedure that transcends the bounds of REASON, at least when associated with OUR private parts, will get you only an "R." But DEFINING IT, which even WE have abstained from doing, will keep our youngsters OUT of the theater.
It must be thrilling to be a member of the MPAA board. You get the constant titillation of dealing with the creations of the perverted minds of Hollywood worst, while knowing in your heart that you are doing good, protecting our young'uns from that which is best left to...well, Jack Valenti, for example!
But, what is going on here? We have written a long essay on the folly of censorship, in the most liberated medium that ever existed, and we have refrained form treating our loyal fans to a SINGLE item of filth or prurience!
What can we say? FUCK YOU, if you can't take a joke!
Talk to you later...
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