Tag Archives: censorship

A Quick Note: Fact-Checking Is NOT Censorship

In general, I am very against censorship. I’m a strong advocate of ending the outdated and asinine practice of bleeping profanity and blurring female nipples. There is no reasonable justification for that kind of censorship. It’s just a dumb, misguided effort to try and cover up certain words and images that some people find offensive. That kind of censorship has no place in a free society.

In that same spirit, I am also very much in favor of fact-checking. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know the near-infinite volumes of bullshit that fill websites, social media, and even blogs like mine. In fact, given the recent trends in politics and a preference for “alternative facts,” I think fact-checking has never been more critical.

For that very reason, it’s important to make clear that fact-checking is not the same as censorship. Verifying whether some bullshit claim about chemtrails or shape-shifting lizards is valid does not constitute censorship. It’s consistent with a sincere and honest effort to filter bullshit from meaningful facts.

I bring this up because certain groups and movements are having a difficult time discerning between the two. More recently, anti-vaxx groups on social media sites like FaceBook have been whining about censorship of their extreme, unsubstantiated views. ARS Technica recently reported that this whining has escalated into a full-fledged lawsuit.

ARS Technica: Anti-vaccine group sues Facebook, claims fact-checking is “censorship”

A notorious anti-vaccine group spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed suit today in federal court in California alleging that Facebook’s fact-checking program for false scientific or medical misinformation violates its constitutional rights.

Children’s Health Defense claims in its suit that Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the organizations Science Feedback, Poynter, and PolitiFact acted “jointly or in concert with federal government agencies” to infringe on CHD’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. The suit also alleges Facebook and the fact-checking organizations colluded to commit wire fraud by “clearing the field” of anti-vaccine ads.

As anti-vax movement gets weirder—and dumber—Facebook announces crackdown
Facebook has “insidious conflicts with the pharmaceutical industry and its captive health agencies,” CHD claimed in a press release. “Facebook currently censors Children’s Health Defense’s page, targeting its purge against factual information about vaccines, 5G and public health agencies.”

“This is an important First Amendment case testing the boundaries of government authority to openly censor unwanted critiques of government policies and pharmaceutical and telecom products on privately owned internet platforms,” Kennedy added in a written statement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal expertise on the nature of censorship and free speech in the internet age. However, I’m smart enough and sane enough to understand the difference between actively censoring ideas that I don’t want to hear and trying to verify a ridiculous claim shared on social media.

I’m also informed enough to understand that FaceBook isn’t the government, even though it tries to be at times. It’s a platform. It can decide for itself whether or not it wants to remove certain content. Every private organization does that to some extent, especially ones with such a vast reach.

The content they permit has a tangible effect on their brand image. It’s why FaceBook’s reputation is not on the same level as 4chan, even if that’s not saying much. Their efforts to verify or discredit claims on their platform is perfectly in line with standard practices. It doesn’t actively punish or fine anti-vaxxers like the government did when Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during the Super Bowl. It just removes or flags the content.

You can call that a lot of things. You may not like that companies like FaceBook can decide what is and isn’t appropriate on a platform that has had such a spotty history with censorship, to say the least. In this case though, it’s not censorship.

If anything, fact checking medical claims during a global pandemic is probably the most responsible thing a company like FaceBook can do. Hosting those claims can potentially do a great deal of harm to those who don’t know the difference between clickbait and a legitimate news story. People could actually suffer and die.

When feelings and sensibilities are the only thing at stake, then it’s fine to talk about the merits of censoring content. However, when lives are at stake on a large scale, there is no merit. Claims that may or may not affect those lives should be fact-checked. You can complain about it all you want in a lawsuit, but unless you can verify your bullshit, then that’s exactly how it’s going to be labeled and that’s not FaceBook’s fault.

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A Brief Note On Cardi B’s “WAP” For The Ben Shapiros, Religious Zealots, And Regressive Whiners

When I was a kid, one of the most obscene, deplorable things in media was Mortal Kombat. This video game was deemed so obscene, so violent, and so utterly wrong that it would destroy an entire generation.

Yes, people believed this poorly rendered violence would destroy a generation. Honestly, I’m insulted.

Not long after that, it was the overly sexual attire that Brittney Spears wore in her music videos. Apparently, that was deemed too graphic for a generation to handle. It was going to corrupt everyone with horribly impure thoughts about sexuality.

Again, having been young at the time, I’m insulted. Then again, there was one a time when Elvis’ hips were deemed too sexual. We, as a society, still have a lot of issues to overcome with respect to sex. It still makes us uncomfortable and uptight. It makes adults afraid for their children and children afraid of their own bodies. This is not new.

Now, let me make a quick note on Cardi B’s recent song and music video, “WAP.” For those not up on the acronyms, “WAP” stands for Wet Ass Pussy. I’ll give everyone who had one too many health lessons from priests, rabbis, mullahs, and republicans a moment to stop gasping. I’ll give another for the uptight regressive whiners on the left who think anything overtly sexual is somehow damaging to women.

Everybody okay? Good, because I think we should all take a step back and take a deep breath, while we’re at it.

 

Let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of Cardi B. I don’t like her music or her style, but I totally respect her effort. It’s not easy to achieve the status she has achieved. It’s even harder to stay relevant at a time like this when the dumbest things start trending for no reason.

Even though I’m not a fan, I still find myself respecting her more for the reaction she garnered for this song. From Ben Shapiro to Tucker Carlson, the people who often ally themselves with fun-hating religious zealots who seem to want women to be 1950s housewives are aghast at this song. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. These are the same people who whined about Dungeons and Dragons, for crying out loud.

What should be concerning, though, is how their reaction seems to imply they don’t know how female bodies work. It’s one thing to be ignorant about sexuality in general, but it’s not like Cardi B’s song is breaking new ground. Popular music has had graphic depictions of sex acts and genitalia for decades. Cardi B is just the latest. She just happens to be more overt than most when it comes to depicting female genitalia.

I know that’s going to make a certain crowd very uncomfortable, but so long as they’re thinking about Cardi B and wet ass pussies, I think this is a good time to remind them of something.

Female genitalia gets wet and moist when aroused.

Just like male genitalia getting hard, female genitalia getting wet and moist is part of the process.

In general, that’s a good thing. If a woman is going to enjoy sex, it’s important that she be aroused. That’s why foreplay is so important for both parties during sex. Whether you’re gay, straight, or something in between, this is basic human anatomy. None of this is a medical secret. Anyone can look up the process of female arousal, provided they can sift through the porn.

Cardi B singing a song about why it’s awesome is no different than a male singer celebrating how great it is to have a dick. There’s nothing wrong with, either. We’re all naked underneath our clothes. We all have certain parts of our bodies that garner more attention than others.

It’s okay to celebrate our bodies.

It’s okay to be horny, aroused, or excited.

It’s even okay to know your body well enough to understand what makes it feel good.

I know that’s always been a sore point for some people. The female body is still very taboo. Why else would we still censor female nipples? The idea of women enjoying sex is also taboo, thanks largely to some of those awkward feelings I mentioned earlier. It’s a big reason why we have an orgasm gap.

I’m not saying Cardi B’s song will do anything to mend that gap or temper the taboos surrounding the female body. I’m just think this is a good opportunity to acknowledge how awkward we still are about female genitalia. There are some reasons for that, but few are good or valid.

Female genitalia gets wet when aroused. It’s a good thing, in general. Women understanding how their bodies work is healthy and necessary. There will always be songs and media about the female form, as well as the male form. You can whine about it all you want. That’s not going to change anything.

Also, let this also be a teachable moment for men, women, and everything in between about the value of understanding your partner’s body. At the very least, let us all offer some sympathy and understanding to Ben Shapiro’s wife.

Today, it’s Cardi B’s wet ass pussy.

Yesterday, it was Elvis’ hips.

We have a long way to go with respect to appreciating and understanding sexuality. Let this be a step in that process.

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Filed under censorship, gender issues, health, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Violence Vs. Nipples: A Rant On (Misguided) Censorship

First off, I need to apologize in advance because I’m about to go on a rant. I promise it’s related to current events, relatively speaking. I can’t promise it’s the most serious issue in the world, but I still think it’s worth saying.

Let’s face it. We’ve seen a lot of terrible things these past few months. That includes, but isn’t restricted to, images of mass graves, angry protests, and videos of people committing egregious atrocities. It’s all over the internet, broadcast daily on network TV, and streaming in on news feeds of all kinds. We’ve seen so much violence and injustice. We’re outraged by it, and rightly so. It’s horrible. Most everyone agrees with that.

With all that in mind, I have one simple question that I think needs answering at some point.

With all this horrific imagery, why is it still so obscene to depict a female nipple?

I’m serious. I’m not trying to be funny or cute. I’d like an explanation.

Why the hell are we still censoring female nipples? What good does it do? What purpose does it serve? Blurring genitals? Okay, I can accept that to some degree. At least it’s blurred for everyone, regardless of gender. But why blur female nipples at this point?

We know what they look like. They’re not some graven images that’ll make people burst into flames. Granted, female nipples look different than male nipples, but not so radically different that they’re fucking alien. So, why censor them?

On TV, they’re still blurred. On social media, they immediately get labeled as porn, as though female nipples, by default, make something porn. That makes no sense. We’re not talking hardcore sex acts here. We’re talking about the slightest glimpse of female nipples.

Why, in a world where extreme violence finds its way into cable news, are female nipples so egregiously obscene? This isn’t the 1950s. This isn’t Victorian England. Anyone with an internet connection can see an unlimited number of uncensored nipples. Are they really that shocking anymore?

To those who whine about the innocence of children, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. They know what nipples look like too. They have them. They’ve probably been breast fed at some point. You really think they can’t handle it?

To those who think it’s too sexy, I have to ask why do you think that is? Do you really think censoring a basic body part makes it less sexy? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t.

At most, you’re just fetishizing it, treating it as this powerful trigger that will turn anyone into perverts. People don’t work like that. You’re not doing them any favors by treating them like they’re that sensitive.

Also, if you’re a woman who hates being objectified, I have to ask. How do you feel about this? How do you feel that a part of you is deemed too obscene for network TV, yet that same network has no problem depicting people getting choked to death? How is it fair that a man can walk around a park without a shirt, but if a woman does the same, she gets arrested? That’s not just objectification. It’s insane!

Seriously, after everything we’ve experienced in 2020, isn’t it time we get over our hang-ups about female nipples? I know it won’t solve much, but we cannot be strong as a people, yet still too weak to handle depictions of female nipples. We’re better than that. We need to be.

Thanks for bearing with me on this rant. Again, I apologize. I just wanted to get that out. If nothing else, I hope this gives everyone something less awful to think about.

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Filed under censorship, political correctness, politics, rants

A (Longview) Question For Those Who Fought To Change The Name Of The Washington Redskins

It’s really happening.

I doubt anyone expected it to happen in their lifetimes, but after years of protesting and pushing, it’s finally happening. The Washington Redskins are changing their name. As someone who has followed NFL football his entire life and knows way too much about the history of every team, I am genuinely shocked. I really didn’t think this was going to happen, especially with how stubborn the owner of the team has been.

Shocked or not, it’s happening. The Washington Post announced it and the team made it official. They are changing their name.

Washington Post: Redskins To Retire Team Name

In an interview July 4, Coach Ron Rivera – who is working with owner Daniel Snyder to choose a name – said he hoped the new name would be in place by the start of the 2020 NFL season. Others have said it will be revealed as soon as within two weeks.

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.

Many are already celebrating this victory. In the battle against offensive sports mascots, this was the equivalent of Goliath. It’s one thing to get a publicly funded college to change their name. It’s quite another to get a private multibillion dollar sports franchise with an 80-plus years history. It’s a huge feat. Let’s not deny that.

Granted, it’s a feat that only happened once money became a factor. This was not done for moral reasons or because someone made an impassioned plea. This was a business decision done for the sake of doing future business. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this endeavor, it’s that. Moral arguments do nothing. Money does all the talking.

It’s because of that, I suspect this is one of those issues that will still divide people. No matter what the new name is, people are still going to see them as “that team that used to be called the Redskins” or “that team that used to have a racist moniker.” Even though the team eventually did what some saw as the right thing, they’ll still be scorned because they didn’t do it soon enough.

That’s just the world we live in. The people who protested the name aren’t going to say “thank you.” They’re more likely to say, “It’s about damn time you racist piece of shit. Now, suffer for the rest of your life while we shame you, your children, and everyone you ever associate with and take it with a goddamn smile.”

That might be hyperbole, but that’s the power of outrage. It’s kind of addictive. The idea of turning anger into kindness, friendship, and harmony just feels like a bridge too far. People do get bored with outrage eventually, but only because they find something else to direct it towards.

That being said, I have a question to all those who are celebrating this feat. I want to ask that same question to everyone who passionately protested this name for years, protesting its racist connotations and use of caricatures. It’s a sincere, simple question that I hope people seriously contemplate.

What real, tangible benefit will changing the name of a football team accomplish for Native Americans communities in the long run?

The key word in that question is tangible. I’m aware of the various studies regarding the psychological impact of Native American mascots and caricatures. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. However, psychological impacts don’t always translate into tangible impacts. You can feel and think all you want. If you don’t do anything with it, then the impact never goes beyond brain chemicals.

As I write this, nearly a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and the unemployment rate on many reservations is around 40 percent. That’s a trend that has not improved substantially in recent years, regardless of how many or how few mascots a sports team uses. The Native American community has a host of other critical issues to deal with that include, but are not limited to:

  • Violence against Women and Children
  • Native Americans are Less Educated
  • Poor Quality Housing
  • Inadequate Health Care
  • Unable to Exercise Voting Rights
  • Native Language is Becoming Extinct
  • Limited Financial Institutions in the Native Communities
  • Natural Resources Exploitation

These are complex issues. I’m certainly not equipped to discuss them in detail. Some are more urgent than others, but plenty involve real, tangible impacts on a community. A lack of adequate health care, decent housing, and good education all incur tangible impacts. That’s beyond dispute. How will changing the name of a football team affect any of these issues?

I’m not being facetious. I genuinely want to know how much or how little that changing the name of an NFL football team will impact Native American communities in a tangible way. I don’t doubt that some will feel better about not having a football team with a racially insensitive name, but is that the only extent of the impact? Does that impact justify all the time, energy, and resources that went into this effort?

Please don’t answer that question now. Preferably, I’d like someone who is in touch with the Native American community to answer at least four years from now. By then, there will have been enough time for the impact of this event to play out. Whether it’s a decrease in poverty or an improvement in life expectancy, it should be clear by then. If it isn’t, then that poses another question.

Was all that effort to change the name of a football team a quality use of time and resources?

Again, that’s not a facetious question. I ask this as someone who really wants to know just how much a football team’s name actually impacts a large number of people within a minority community. I don’t expect to get clear answers now, but I hope they become clearer in the next few years. I also expect those answers to raise even more distressing questions.

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Filed under censorship, NFL, political correctness, politics, rants, sports

A Quick Perspective On Controversy, Scandals, Politics, And Elvis’ Hips

Every controversy seems absurd when you look at it with enough hindsight. Think of all the big social and political controversies going on right now. From mansplaining and safe spaces to all-female movie remakes to sexy Super Bowl Halftime shows, there’s no shortage of outrage and moral panics. In general, I try to avoid contributing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected to some extent.

Even if the issues feel genuinely serious, it’s worth taking a step back and maintaining a certain perspective. What seems serious now won’t always end up being that serious in the grand scheme of things. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis were serious. The impact of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t even come close. For the most part, these controversies become obscure footnotes in the history of pop culture.

In the interest of preserving a balanced perspective, I find it helpful to think back to Elvis’ hips. For anyone under the age of 50, I’m sure that sounds strange, but make no mistake. At one point in time, Elvis’ hips were the most controversial thing in the world.

It’s hard to imagine now, given the accessibility of sexy music videos and internet porn, but there was a time when Elvis Presley shaking his hips on live TV was the most scandalous thing in the free world. People at the time deemed his dancing too sexual and obscene. There was serious, genuine concern that this was just too shocking and lurid for innocent eyes to see.

Granted, this took place in 1956. The world was a very different place in 1956. However, that’s not exactly an ancient time period. There are plenty of people alive today who were alive in 1956. They lived through that controversy. They might have even watched that fateful episode of the Ed Sullivan show where Elvis dared to shake his hips in too sexy a way. Now, compared to a standard Beyoncé video, it almost seems quaint.

Even if it sounds absurd now, take a moment to appreciate the context of this controversy. There was a time when people genuinely thought Elvis shaking his hips was too obscene. These same people genuinely thought such overt sexuality would do serious damage to society.

Now, look at everything we deem too obscene, controversial, or damaging today. How much of it will seem just as absurd as the sexiness of Elvis’ hips several decades from now? We may think that our standards have been fully refined, but history has shown time and again that this rarely holds. What is obscene today may be mundane tomorrow and obscene again a decade from now.

Controversies are fleeting, petty, and often build on a foundation of absurdity.

People are often irrational, following emotions over logic while claiming every emotion is perfectly logical.

Trends are unpredictable and fleeting. In 1956 it was Elvis’ hips. In 2003 it was Janet Jackson’s nipple. Who knows what it’ll be this year or in the years that follows?

With time and perspective, it rarely ends up being as serious as we thought. Even if it was, people and society adapt. That’s what we have to do, as a species. We might make fools of ourselves along the way, getting worked up over something that ended up being so petty and contrived. The best we can do is laugh and learn from it.

Think about that the next time someone complains about a halftime show or a music video. Remember Elvis’ hips and the perspective they offer. It’s every bit as powerful as his music.

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Filed under censorship, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, Uncategorized

“Paradise PD” Season 2: My Take (And Hopes For Season 3)

Some TV shows aren’t made to be dramatic, profound narratives on the human condition. They don’t stop at just being entertaining, either. Sometimes, a TV show is just there to be hilariously obscene, absurd, and funny. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, but there’s a place for it in the entertainment landscape. It’s a dark, dirty place that few admit to liking. It’s there, none-the-less.

I’d argue that, at this moment in time, “Paradise PD” has anchored itself in that dirtiest of dirty places. Not long ago, I cited the trailer for Season 2 as a means to call out the people who whined and complained about shows like “The Simpsons” and “South Park” back in the 90s. At the same time, I consider myself a fan of the show. I’ve been eagerly waiting for season two since it was announced late last year.

Well, this past weekend, I reserved a good chunk of my time to binge all of season 2. I bought myself a box of donuts, a case of beer, and an extra-comfortable pair of pants so I could take in this wildly obscene show in all it’s glory. After completing all eight episodes, catching my breath from all the laughter, and cleaning the entrails off my now-tainted soul, I feel I can make a full critical assessment of this season.

Simply put, it’s goddamn fucking awesome.

Yes, it’s obscene. You will see graphic depictions of male genitalia, fecal matter, breasts, and blood. You will also hear un-bleeped profanity, including the kinds of F-bombs that even “South Park” can’t drop. There are entire plots revolving around public masturbation, the ability to take a shit in a public restroom, and grown men comparing the size of their testicles.

Trust me, it’s every bit as NSFW as it sounds and then some.

It still works. You’ll hate yourself for laughing at some of the gratuitous violence and sex, but you’ll still laugh hard. It’s the kind of show that takes full advantage of being on Netflix and not subject to the censors of cable or network TV.

In many respects, “Paradise PD” feels like what its predecessor, “Brickleberry,” should’ve been. That’s not just because it has the same creators in Roger Black and Waco O’Guin, as well as the same aesthetics. “Brickleberry” barely walked the line in terms of how absurd and obscene it could get. “Paradise PD” doesn’t just jump over that line. It shoots in the balls and pisses on the entrails.

The characters in “Paradise PD” don’t try to be deep or introspective in the mold of “Bojack Horseman.” However, they’re a bit more balanced compared to “Brickleberry.” The main protagonist, Kevin, is still an idiot with many pathetic shortcomings, but he is sincere. He wants to be a good cop and, at times, he proves that he can be in the right situation.

Other characters, like Gina and Dusty, have a few defining traits, but they’re allowed to mix things up every now and then. Everyone in the show gets a few more layers in Season 2 and while their conduct still makes them walking FCC fines, they’re still likable, more so than almost every character in “Brickleberry.”

There’s even an overall arc, of sorts, for the season. It’s not overly complex. You can even skip a few episodes and still not be lost. It still has some dramatic stakes on top of the dick, poop, and sex jokes. They even build on some of the stakes that were established in the first season. It also leaves room to develop them even more in Season 3, if there is one.

I genuinely hope this show gets another season and not just because this one ended on a cliffhanger. This show, as obscene and dirty as it is, fills its niche perfectly. Again, it’s not for everyone. If you’re a child, a devout Christian, a radical feminist, or just someone with incredibly thin skin, this show probably won’t appeal to you. If you have a healthy sense of humor and a strong gag reflex, then “Paradise PD” is definitely binge-worthy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a long shower while trying hard not to laugh at everything Hobson said.

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Sex Vs. Violence (And The Distressing Standards Behind Them)

What makes something obscene? I know the law has its own esoteric definition, but there’s no universal standard. What’s obscene to one person may be mundane to others. How else do you explain old cigarette commercials to millennials or the Super Bowl halftime show to baby boomers?

I ask this question because someone pointed out recently just how many of the biggest, most successful box office movies of the past 10 years rely on violence to sell tickets. I’m not knocking it. I was among those cheering during the final battle scene at the end of “Avengers Endgame.” I also freely admit I watched every season of “24” and was entertained by all the violence it included.

However, that same person who pointed out how much violence was part of these big-budget entertainment products, but was still PG-13. At the same time, if even one of those products included a single image of a female nipple or a depiction of a male penis, then it wouldn’t just be rated R. It would be deemed too obscene for children.

Think about that for a moment. A network TV show can freely depict a scene where Jack Baur tortures a prisoner and a PG-13 movie can depict Captain America beating the crap out of nameless thugs in an elevator, but the viewing public just can’t handle the sight of a female nipple. That’s just too much.

The only thing that could make it worse is the depiction of a penis. That wouldn’t just make a movie or TV show rated R. It would be classified as porn. Never mind the fact that half the population has a penis and even kids know what a penis looks like. Just a depiction of one in any form of media is enough to make it obscene. Meanwhile, you can buy a shirt that has Captain America punching the President.

Now, I know I’m bias because I write sexy stories and talk about sexy topics, but I feel it’s a relevant question to ask.

Why are we more comfortable consuming violent content than sexual content?

I get that sex makes people uncomfortable. I also get why parents don’t like talking to their kids about it. However, when it comes to violence, it’s okay to keep that in a proverbial blind spot.

I remember cartoons in the 80s and 90s. Those cartoons, in addition to being glorified toy commercials, used some form of violence to resolve a plot or tell a story. Some parents complained, but nobody thought it was obscene.

I remember watching “R-Rated” movies as a kid too. I put that in quotes because, by today’s standards, these movies would barley qualify as PG-13. The first “Terminator” movie was rated R. I saw it as a kid. My parents didn’t make a big deal about the sex scene in it, but that was often cited as the scene that made that movie R-rated.

If those same kids watched a simple depiction of two naked people making love, minus the violence, then that content would still be considered mature. If that scene didn’t hide genitals, then it would be considered porn. It doesn’t matter if the scene is romantic, tasteful, and completely consensual. It’s still as pornographic as the most depraved parts of the internet.

Why is that the case?

Why is this a fair standard?

Why do depictions of violence get a pass while depictions of sex are subject to rigid standards?

I understand sex makes people uncomfortable. I also understand that people can be immature about it. They can be just as immature about violence too, but people are willing to confront and tolerate it. With sex, however, it’s always obscene. It’s always taboo. There’s no room for nuance or context.

Going back to the standards of obscenity I mentioned earlier, I think there’s room for improvement. Violence, by definition, harms people. Sex, when done right, does the exact opposite. If we’re going to have standards for obscenity, then let’s at least keep things in perspective.

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Filed under censorship, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, video games

Why We Should Stop Bleeping, Blurring, And Censoring

free-speech-censored-min

Over the course of history, certain tools, traditions, and words have become obsolete. It’s just part of the ever-changing nature of society. It’s why we don’t use VCRs or cassette tapes anymore. It’s also why we don’t use words like jargogle, corrade, and kench. Those are all real words that used to be common in the English language. Now, they’re relics of history.

Given the chaotic, yet evolving nature of language, why do we still censor certain words in the media? I don’t ask that question as someone who thinks Big Bird should start dropping F-bombs on Sesame Street. I’m genuinely curious as to how we can still justify bleeping certain words when they’re said on TV or over the radio.

I know the history of censorship in mass media in the United States. I know there are laws like the Communications Decency Act and famous Supreme Court cases like FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. Many of these laws have a basis in protecting the eyes and ears of children from hearing or seeing something objectionable.

At a time when the media had only a handful of accessible channels, the might have made sense to some extent. I say might because I certainly don’t agree with bleeping or blurring anything. Hiding something, be it profanity or female nipples, doesn’t make it less real. If anything, it gives it a greater allure, but that’s beside the point.

We live in different times now. That FCC v. Pacifica Foundation decision was rendered in 1978, a time before the internet, smartphones, and comments sections. Today, anyone with a cell phone and an internet connection can look up any amount of obscene, indecent, profane content, plenty of which is accessible to children for free and without a credit card number.

Kids know what these words are. Chances are, they know what female nipples look like too. However, TV shows and radio stations still blur and bleep these things as though they’re as damaging as a pack of cigarettes. I know the law is often slow to catch up to trends in technology, but at this point, bleeping or blurring anything is more a joke than a legal mandate.

That’s easy for me to say as a legal adult with no kids, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid. I remember hearing these dirty words and seeing these dirty images. I knew what they meant. My parents didn’t hide that from me. They didn’t like me saying those words or talking about those topics all the time, but they told me the truth and I understood it.

Kids may be impressionable, but they’re not stupid. Most kids are smart enough to understand that words carry certain meaning and the human body is composed of many parts, some more visually appealing than others. Censoring it doesn’t change that. If anything, it sends the message that everyone thinks they’re too stupid or weak to handle these concepts.

Aside from insulting kids as a whole, it also operates under the assumption that just hearing certain words or seeing certain images somehow damage them, as though human beings are ever that simplistic. While there is some research on this topic, the conclusions are fairly limited. The only common thread seems to be that, when it comes to dirty words, context matters.

There are times when we, as human beings, need to verbalize our emotions. When we’re angry, in pain, or upset, we’re going to want to communicate that. Profanity is just a byproduct of that. I know that when I stub my toe, I don’t stop to censor myself. I drop as much F-bombs as I have to and the world remains intact, even when there are children nearby.

That doesn’t mean I want kids to cuss like me all the time. Again, there is a context. There’s a time and a place for that sort of language. That’s an important lesson to teach someone at any age. That way, they’ll know not to sound like an asshole at a job interview or while on a date. Bleeping words doesn’t teach that lesson. It just gives these words more power than they deserve.

Standards are always changing. There was a time when Clark Gable saying “damn” in “Gone With The Wind” was considered shocking. When I was a kid, I certainly got plenty of scorn when I said words like that, even while not in public. However, hearing them on TV and movies didn’t change my understanding of these words. It just sounded stupid.

This used to be considered mature.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “damn” in a TV show or song. It doesn’t get bleeped or censored. More and more, words like “shit” aren’t being bleeped either. Rick Sanchez says it at least once an episode on “Rick and Morty.” There was even an episode of “South Park” that made saying “shit” on a TV show a big deal.

In terms of knowing when something has become obsolete to the point of absurdity, that’s as clear a sign as any. The same goes for blurring certain body parts. The widespread availability and accessibility of internet porn has removed all sense of mystery from the imagery of breasts, butts, and genitalia. Kids today no longer need to find someone’s porn stash to see these parts in all their glory. They just need an internet connection.

Now, that’s not to say I’m okay with every prime-time network show depicting the same level of profanity, sex, and violence as an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Like anything, there can be too much of it and if overdone, even the most obscene or indecent concepts lose all meaning and are devoid of impact.

There are also some people who are genuinely uncomfortable using certain words and seeing certain images. That’s perfectly fine. That’s their choice. Since there are plenty of options in terms of channels, websites, and radio stations, they don’t have to listen to or see this kind of content. Even if they do, the world doesn’t end because they’re temporarily distressed.

When the late, great George Carlin famously listed the infamous seven dirty words that became the basis of a Supreme Court case, there was a context and a situation at the time that made this kind of censorship seem reasonable. That context and those times are long gone. Carlin himself understood that. When it came to deconstructing the absurdities of language, he said it best when he made this observation.

These words have no power. We give them this power by refusing to be free and easy with them. We give them great power over us. They really, in themselves, have no power. It’s the thrust of the sentence that makes them either good or bad.

 

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The Hard Consequences Of Soft Censorship

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If you walked up to any random person on the street and asked them how they feel about censorship, chances are they would say they’re against it. Absent any context, most people equate censorship with tyranny and rightly so. Historically speaking, tyrannical societies are not beacons of free speech.

When you add context to that same question, though, then people are a bit more diverse in their response. They may say they’re against censorship, but they’ll also oppose hate speech and even support efforts to remove it from certain venues or platforms. It’s not the same as government-suppressed speech, but it’s still censorship on some levels.

A government’s effort to prohibit or punish speech is more daunting. That’s exactly why we have things like the First Amendment. Governments are big, powerful entities with armies and tax collectors. Their brand of censorship is a lot more concrete than others. That’s why such extensive legal protections are necessary.

When it comes less overt forms of censorship, though, the line isn’t as clear and neither are the legal protections. It can take the form of de-platforming a controversial speaker, which has happened on college campuses. It can also take the form of banning certain websites or certain subgroups within a website. These efforts aren’t usually called censorship. They’re usually referred to as preventing the spread of hate.

Personally, I don’t buy that excuse. As much as I abhor some of the things people say, both online and in person, any attempt to indirectly silence them is still censorship in my book. I call it “soft censorship” because it doesn’t involve government force. In many cases, it’s a grass roots effort to combat certain ideas that many find offensive.

That seems to be the most notable standard these days, the offensiveness of certain speech. That’s understandable, given how the world is more connected than it has ever been in human history. It’s now easier than ever for hateful, offensive speech to spread. Conversely, it’s also easy for the outrage to that speech to spread as well.

As a result, the forces behind that outrage are often the most powerful forces behind soft censorship. That outrage takes many forms too. It can be driven by political correctness, religious dogma, and general trolling. Censorship or suppression of speech is not always the stated goal, but it is often a desired result.

Given the ongoing changes to the media landscape, this brand of censorship seems to be getting more prominent than anything government effort. In fact, the reason I chose to bring this issue up is because of a few notable incidents that highlight the growing disconnect between free speech and movements to combat hate speech.

The first incident happened earlier this year and came from the gaming world, a domain that is no stranger to censorship and targeted outrage. The outrage in this case, though, had nothing to do with how beautiful women are depicted and everything to do with the policy of the popular Steam platform by Valve.

The particulars of the issue are simple. Valve was getting criticism for allowing too many violent, adult-oriented games on their platform, including those with overtly erotic themes. For a while, it looked like they would follow the same policy as Nintendo and Apple, who don’t allow anything that can’t be shown in a Disney movie.

Surprisingly, and refreshingly for some, Valve opted for a more libertarian policy. The standards are simple. As long as the content isn’t illegal or outright trolling, then it’s permitted. In the context of freedom of speech and creative freedom, this should count as a victory. However, that’s not how some saw it.

Almost immediately, Valve was heavily criticized for this freedom-centric policy and for all the wrong reasons. Some went so far as to call it irresponsible and cowardly, daring to permit games on their platform that might be overly graphic, crude, or sexy. Being a private company and not a government, that’s certainly their right.

Even so, it generated outrage. People didn’t see it as an act to promote free expression. They see it as a means of spreading hateful, offensive, sexist content and profiting from it. At at time when the video game industry sparks outrage every time it depicts a female character, Valve really took a chance by taking this approach and it’s sure to generate plenty more controversy, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Those same reasons showed up in another incident involving Reddit, a site on which I’m very active. Specifically, it involved a subreddit called KotakuInAction, which emerged in wake of the infamous GamerGate controversy in 2014. As a result, it has a reputation for being pretty brutal in its criticisms of regressive, far-left attitudes.

It’s oftent cited as one of the most “toxic” places on Reddit. There have been more than a few efforts to ban it. At one point, for reasons that I’d rather not get into, it was actually removed by its original creator. However, it was saved and put back up within less than a day, much to the relief of the nearly 100,000 subscribers.

Few will call that a victory for free speech. Those who criticize Valve and Reddit for permitting it don’t see their actions as suppressing speech. They see it as combating harassment and hate. Therein lies the problem with that effort, though. Harassment and hate are serious issues, but attacking only the speech is like attacking a single symptom of a much larger disease.

Even if Reddit had permanently banned KotakuInAction and Valve had opted to censor offensive games, it wouldn’t have made the ideas behind them disappear. Like putting a censor bar in front of female breasts, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re there and that they have an impact.

You could turn off the internet, burn every book, and shut down every newspaper tomorrow. That still wouldn’t stop people from thinking and feeling the things that lead them to want to say something offensive or create an offensive game. Speech is just a byproduct of ideas. Attacking the speech is not the same as confronting the source.

In fact, doing so can be counterproductive. There’s a real phenomenon called the Streisand Effect wherein efforts to hide, remove, or cenors something ends drawing more attention to it. The fact that Area 51 is a super-secret government facility that everyone knows about shows how powerful that effect can be.

In the context of combating hate, efforts to censor those behind it can end up elevating their message. When someone is censored, there’s an application of force implied. Whether it’s from a government or a moderator on a message board, censorship requires some level of force. Applying it to anyone is going to put them in a position to feel oppressed and that oppression tends to fuel hatred.

Harassment is different because when it comes to free speech, the line between discourse and threats is a bit less ambiguous. The Supreme Court has established a criteria for what constitutes “fighting words,” but it’s when things happen on a computer screen where it gets tricky.

Like hate, though, there’s a right and wrong way to deal with harassment. The right way to deal with a direct threat is to contact local law enforcement. The wrong way is to make it into a spectacle that requires that both the harasser and the platform they used to be condemned.

It’s an inescapable fact of life in any functioning society. The same platforms we use to interact will be used by others for disgusting, hateful, and offensive activities. We may feel disgust and revulsion for these things, but trying to silence both the people and the platform doesn’t make the sentiment behind it go away.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t wired that way.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Considering the impact of the the Streisand Effect, it’s utterly backwards.

I’m all for confronting hate and combating harassment, but not through censorship, hard or soft. It’s hard enough trying to change someone’s mind in an era where they can customize their news feeds. At the end of the day, we can only truly affect someone’s heart and mind by focusing on the person and not what’s on their computer screens.

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How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

toxic-comments-e1516922359181

The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars