Thursday, January 12, 2012

Can They Do That?

Pearl Cleage, who's a good novelist but a straight-up Obamabot, posted this on Facebook today:
... i LOVE michelle obama. i'm sorry she's upset about the new book "the obamas" where the author speculates on what the first lady might be thinking and feeling about her husband, her marriage, etc. but don't you worry, michelle! we've got your back ... AND we're registered to vote for your husband!
Two things occurred to me: How do you register to vote for a specific candidate? Oh, I know she didn't mean that; she just meant that "we" (whaddaya mean "we", Kimo Sabe?) are registered to vote, and "we" are gonna vote for Obama in November. But even more: how does Cleage know that Michelle wants to spend four more years in the White House? I wouldn't blame her a bit if she didn't. Talk about "speculat[ing] about what the first lady might be thinking and feeling"! Cleage has some friends in high places, so she might have information on that subject that I don't; but I can't shake a mental image of Michelle bolting for the doors and Cleage cooing at her soothingly and pushing her right back in.

Speaking of the coming elections (this generation shall not pass away), Robert Reich has a so-so piece at Salon on Ron Paul's appeal to young voters. In New Hampshire Paul won over "47 percent of primary voters between the ages of 18 and 29", and the GOP leadership, according to Reich, is trying to credit his economic policies for that. "The young," Reich declares, "are flocking to Ron Paul because he wants to slice military spending, bring our troops home, stop government from spying on American citizens and legalize pot." I'd like to see some evidence for either of those claims, but it may not matter. It could be that, as various Obama loyalists are saying, that many people on the left are mistaking Paul for a "progressive." After all, many people on the left mistook Obama for a progressive in 2008.

Democracy Now! broadcast an edited version of the late George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue today, the first time I've heard it in quite a long time. The clip began with Carlin musing on the supposed fact that there are 400,000 words in the English language, and only seven that you can't say on (American) television. As he pointed out, that's quite a lopsided ratio. But as fond as I am of expletives, my first thought was that 399,993 words is quite a large sandbox to play in. Why are those seven naughty words so important to Carlin and his many fans? Carlin jeered at the notion that hearing those words (on American television) would destroy your soul, which is indeed a notion to laugh at; but what about the corollary, that not being able to speak those words (on American television) will destroy your soul? Just to play the devil's advocate, why was Carlin so obsessed with saying those words when 399,993 others were available, many of them quite powerful, especially when someone knows how to use them? Once again I got the impression of Carlin as an angry baby squalling in his dirty diapers.

It also occurs to me that the left in America has often stressed that broadcast media are not and should not be a laissez-faire zone: we want even private commercial broadcasters to have public responsibilities when they get a license to use the public airwaves. As former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps pointed out in the same DN! segment, a sizable segment of the public doesn't like to hear a lot of expletives on the public airwaves, and compromise may be necessary. That segment of the public can't prevent words they dislike from appearing in print or other media, and even cable networks have more freedom in that area.

I am rather disdainful of people who throw tantrums at hearing one of the Seven Words on TV or radio, especially when I consider what they don't object to hearing there. But I'm also disdainful of people on the political and cultural left who throw tantrums over broadcast content that offends them, and want it removed and forbidden. I'd say the first point we need to establish is that the First Amendment guarantees your right to be offended, and that offensiveness should not be grounds for limiting freedom of speech and press. But what does? I don't know where the line should be drawn, and I don't believe a clear line can be drawn. Serious discussion of such problems is anathema in most of the political spectrum, so I don't expect much light to be cast on the subject.

I'm especially wary because I've noticed lately that I'm more bothered when I hear people screaming "fuck" at each other in public, like the middle-aged Hoosier lady who yelled in the middle of the public library about a fucking bitch who called her grandbaby a bitch! In front of her grandbaby, in fact. I didn't, and wouldn't, do anything about it, but I was taken aback. Maybe I'm just getting old. I thought of an old Kliban cartoon which showed two old women walking down the street, passing a young woman having sex on the sidewalk with two young men. "In my day," said one of the grandmas, "nice girls didn't do that."

(I was going by memory, which is never a good idea. Actually not two grandmas, but an old heterosexual couple.)