Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

South Park Learns that there is no such thing as Free Speech in a Corporation

with one comment

By Wiz

There is something quite funny about conservatives going all apoplectic about Comedy Central not airing a South Park episode. The National Review, always a brave and diligent protector of the right of free speech (well for corporations at least) declares: ” Comedy Central’s censorship of a recent South Park episode after threats over a caricature of Mohammed is the latest evidence that the West is slowly surrendering, institution by institution, to diffuse but determined demands to suppress anything possibly deemed as blasphemy against Islam… Unless we resist this intimidation, this will be only the beginning..”

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” warns Clifford May darkly. May, of course, is wise enough to understand that editorial choices about cartoons threaten freedom, but torture is a-ok.

You might think their rhetoric slightly overwrought, hoping that your democratic freedoms don’t rest on a TV show with a character who is talking poop. But you’d be wrong.

Mr. Hankey

Its little known fact that had Charles Martel not deployed his secret weapon– a crude cartoon of a gay Satan drawn on Ox-Skin– in the Battle of Tours, Islamic invaders would have taken over Western Europe in 732. And don’t forget the daft use of humorous poop jokes which prevented the Ottomans from winning the Siege of Vienna and taking over Central Europe. In fact, it’s because of demoralization, largely due to poor Mad-TV style humor, that the defenders of Constantinople were unable to defend their walls in 1453.

Anyways… in all seriousness, I really hate the overuse of the word censorship here. Real censorship, it should be obvious, would be if Comedy Central didn’t have the right to make whatever editorial decisions it wanted. Its a dumb decision I think, but they’ve got every right to make it. And there is no part of the First Amendment that guarantees you the right to use what ever platform you want to make whatever point you want.

Of course, the real scandal is that our discourse is so controlled by massive corporations which make editorial decisions based on what is good for the faceless owners of their stock, rather than the public interest. The whole idea of free speech is a bit of a bad joke in such a system, where the TV stations we watch, the newspapers we read, and the radio we listen to are controlled by vast aggregations of capital. As Billy Bragg sang, “those who own the papers, also own this land.”

And so while we’ve all got the technical right to free speech we have effectively a vastly different ability to influence the public realm. After all, its not like you or me or even Matt Stone and Trey Parker can just start their own massive international media conglomerate with the reach of Viacom.

Which is what makes the conservative anger so funny. It’s like they got half way –realizing that the decisions corporately owned media groups make have powerful impacts– and then had to step back when they realized that such an argument might challenge their most dearly held value, the sacred God-given rights of international corporations to do whatever they feel like. What a quandary!

Update: My snarkness aside, there is clearly a long tradition of the use of comedy for military preparedness:


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

April 29, 2010 at 19:37

One Response

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  1. I don’t see the inconsistency between being against government regulation of corporations’ communication and personally believing that a particular corporation’s censorship decision was against the public interest. If the NRO wanted laws to prevent Comedy Central from this kind of censorship, then that would be hypocritical, but I don’t see any evidence that’s what the NRO wants. The NRO position is that if you don’t like a corporation’s content decision, you have every right to express that and to attempt to convince others of your point of view. That’s exactly what the NRO is doing with its critique of Comedy Central.


    April 30, 2010 at 12:34

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