More and more it seems like the divide in politics and society isn’t so much left vs. right as it is between individualism and collectivism. Cultural issues are becoming politicized. One’s entertainment interests, sexual preferences (including kinks and such), and other personal issues are fodder for political analysis.
To be sure, politics and cultural and social issues have been intertwined throughout history. If homosexuality is a crime, as it in 79 countries, and as it has been in the West, even up until 2003 in the U.S., then one’s sexual orientation has necessarily been made an issue by the government. So, too, is one’s gender an inherently politicized issue in countries that ban women from driving or stone women to death under adultery laws in cases in which they have been raped.
However, having dropped most of those archaic practices, we are not all utilizing our freedoms to live our lives as we see fit. Some people can never give up a fight, and these career activists, called “social justice warriors” by some, having nothing more to fight for, want to regulate our personal interests.
It isn’t about left vs. right. A liberal should support women or men expressing their own personal sexual desires, right? From a sex-positive point of view, no one should be ashamed of liking a particular kind of sexual practice. Yet there are debates on feminist blogs over whether “Liking BDSM Makes Me a Bad Feminist?”, as if the practice done consensually causes someone to support the oppression of women.
Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have long waged war on rap for its lyrical content. “A lot of the music by those artists is chock full of the n-word and the b-word and the h-word, and racist, misogynist, sexist anti-woman slurs none of those retail executives would be caught dead using,” Hannity said, while calling for rap albums to be banned from stores. He sounds like the feminist groups that want the Australian government to ban Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Tyler the Creator from touring the country for the same reasons.
I happen to believe Jay-Z was right when he rapped, “If you don’t like my lyrics, you can press fast forward.”
Although I am not a big enough fan of any of those artists to purchase a ticket (though Collective Shout activist Talitha Stone apparently is*), I don’t want to deny anyone else the right to attend the concert. Hell, one might even think their lyrics are distasteful but still think that no individual, group, or government organization—beyond extreme circumstances like that of terrorist recruiting—should have the power to make the decision to censor someone. I happen to believe Jay-Z was right when he rapped, “If you don’t like my lyrics, you can press fast forward.”
(*“When she attended Tyler’s show at Sydney’s Enmore Theater, the rapper, apparently unaware she was present, abused her from the stage, saying “f***ing b*tch, I wish she could hear me call her a b*tch, too, f***ing whore.”)
The tides of political correctness have ebbed and flowed in the past. Music and drama have always been attractive targets for the wrath of censorious busy bodies. Going back to the Puritanical 17th century, stage performances were banned during the Interregnum from 1642-1660. Go back to 1985, and rock stars were called before Senate to testify about their lyrics, as Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Council was lobbying for albums to be rated.
There are different levels of anti-free speech sentiment. On the one hand, criticism is itself free speech. Yet the idea that calling something “offensive” is in and of itself enough to discredit something, to cow its supporters, and, if a social media mob is raised, to end the career of a Nobel laureate, goes against the spirit of free speech. The First Amendment in the U.S. and other such free speech protections abroad only legally protect people from government suppression, but someone who believes in individualism and tolerance would, as a matter of personal beliefs, be open to a wide range of thoughts being expressed in the private sphere as well.
Having thought about this, I decided to create a political compass charting this paradigm of individualism vs. collectivism. Often political compasses chart government power (or “authoritarianism” vs “libertarianism” in some examples) on one side and economics vs. social issues on the other side. I plotted left vs. right and individualism vs. collectivism. (A social conservative who opposes gay marriage, abortion, or birth control and wants to apply those views to the whole society is taking a collectivist view.) Recognizing that there is a range of tactics people can use to attack speech, I put outright bans at the top, with boycotts, labeling, and shaming criticism or “suggestions” on down. The actions of a government body or of a private organization are all taken into account, with allowance given for the fact that a government body, by virtue of having power over all entities in a locality, has more power to suppress. Many of the campaigns start with an activist organization lobbying the government to use its power to ban something, as you can see with Britain’s ban on advertising a weight loss product.
Britain bans “sexist” ads
Charlotte Baring started a Change.org petition to ban Protein World ads that advertised weight loss and featured a skinny woman. She said, “They’re about image. Is it really necessary to sexualize a woman or even a man to sell a product? It’s not everyone’s top priority to look a certain way.”
However, it may be some people’s priority to look good, as evidenced by the existence of the ads and of the weight loss program. Just because some people don’t personally care about losing weight, Baring wanted to ban it for everyone.
And sexualizing people isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From a liberal, body-positive point of view, there is nothing wrong with sex or with skinny bodies. Furthermore, one should not view a woman as being sexualized just because she is wearing a bikini. That would be a sexist point of view that polices how women should dress and views women primarily as sexual objects.
The UK Advertising Standards Authority banned the ads in Britain, and ads in the U.S. have been defaced.
Everyone vs. Video Games
Video games are a big target for a lot of reasons, and the reasons cross the left-right spectrum. Some of the same reasons can even be applied to either end of the spectrum for the same reasons. For example, while conservatives are often against violence in media, liberals are increasingly against violence, too, when it is directed against female characters. Conservatives are offended by seeing too much skin or open displays of sexuality. Yet feminist critics like Anita Sarkeesian attack video games for exactly the same reason: they too are offended by sexually-empowered female characters dressing in certain ways.
Sarkeesian said this about Lara Croft: “[E]ven female protagonists like Lara Croft are still objectified and sexualized for a presumed straight-male audience.” The statement manages to shame both women and straight men for their sexuality. Women should be able to dress like they want without being presumed to be looking for sex. Maybe a woman just likes to dress that way? Maybe she likes to tease men, for all we know? Would there be anything wrong with that? On the other hand, straight men are born with their sexual preferences innate, and there isn’t anything wrong with them being attracted to beautiful women and enjoying such imagery. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to the shirtless vampire men in “Twilight” who were thrown in specifically to attract female viewers.
Politicians across the spectrum like Hillary Clinton (Dem.), Rick Santorum (Repub.), Joe Leiberman (D) and Sam Brownback (R) fought Grand Theft Auto. Jack Thompson has sued video game companies that he claims have influenced violent kids to shoot up schools. Nichole Survivor started a Change.org petition that resulted in Target pulling GTA from its shelves.
Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center
Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore, cofounded the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985 due to her concerns about the lyrical content of music. She wanted music labeled for references to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, and even the “occult.” She got a lot of support from Congresspeople, and hearings were held, in which musicians, like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, pwnded the Washington politicians.
As with video games, concerns about music span the political spectrum. On the one hand, male rock stars with big hair and leather, some of them dressing androgynously, should be good examples of self-expression, a liberal value that would offend the sensibilities of traditional conservatives. Furthermore their songs about sex and drugs offended conservatives. Yet liberals who felt that women were sexualized in songs about sex were also offended. Some even read (or misread) references to rape into songs.
Sen. Al Gore thought “Under the Blade,” a song about surgery, was about BDSM. In showing such concern that BDSM content (if it did exist) should be labeled, he showed a bias against BDSM, yet such acts, when performed consensually, of course, should be viewed from liberal, sex-positive perspective as normal things that some people are attracted to that shouldn’t be the cause of shame.
(In fact, many liberal-leaning artists and bands like NOFX, Rage Against the Machine, and Ice-T slammed PMRC in their songs.)
Because PMRC was asking for labeling (under political pressure) and not outright bans, they don’t rank as high on the collectivist scale as some other campaigns. Ultimately they succeeded in getting Parental Advisory stickers applied to records, which helped increase record sales among teens.
On an additional note, I should say that I positioned the Clear Channel memorandum on songs to avoid after 9/11 at the bottom end of the spectrum because it was an in-house decision, not influenced by government or outside pressure, and because it wasn’t a not mandatory ban but rather a suggestion, according to Snopes.
Collective Shout, Russia, Conservative Christians Ban Concerts
Collective Shout, a radical feminist group in Australia, has incited controversy by trying to ban rapper Tyler the Creator from entering Australia to perform a concert. The group claims that his “misogynistic” lyrics, some of which refer to violence and rape, should be grounds for denying him a visa. The group has a long history of targeting rappers. This is the second time since 2013 they have gone after Tyler. In the past they have also tried to get Eminem and Snoop Dogg banned and denied visas.
Not only is Snoop Dogg guilty of “woman-hating lyrics and pimping,” he even does drugs!
“You may be aware that he violated Australian law while in the country including smoking and promoting marijuana on stage,” the group wrote in a public letter to the immigration minister.
According to Urban Dictionary.com, the word “narc” means, “the lowest form of human being on this earth. a person who in first grade is labeled as a “tattler”. Most commonly used while talking about someone who tattled on them for having or doing drugs.”
Both protest campaigns are reminiscent of a long-running campaign by American Christian fundamentalists against Manson. In 1997, the conservative Christian group the American Family Association protested Manson’s nationwide tour and succeeded in having a number of his concerts canceled. After pressure from the governor, the University of South Carolina canceled his concert that would have been held on their property, and the state legislature passed an unconstitutional bill banning him from performing anywhere in the state. The city manager of Richmond, Virginia announced the concert would be banned, but it was reinstated after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit.
Countries ban “Fifty Shades of Grey”
India banned the film “Fifty Shades of Grey” for sexual content even after nudity was removed. Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, and other countries have also banned it.
Boycotts, attacks on anti-Islamism speakers:
Change.org: Ban Bill Maher from giving commencement
The ‘Stop Bill Maher’ UC Berkeley Petition Is How Islamists, Not Liberals, Promote Free Speech
Brandeis withdraws honorary degree for Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali
My own article: Duke University Sides With Islamists Against Feminist Speaker
On the other end of the spectrum, here are some individuals who promote freedom of expression and personal choice. There are many philosophers and thinkers who have espoused views on free speech. However, in real life, most of this section would be harder to fill, because someone who lives their life on the basis of “live and let live” wouldn’t be going out of their way to do something about something they don’t like or care about. It would be someone not attending someone’s concert. It would be a Collective Shout activist not attending Tyler’s concert because she doesn’t like his lyrics. Or a conservative attending a NOFX concert, because even though Fat Mike rocked against Bush and expresses liberal sentiment in the lyrics of many of his songs, that person still likes NOFX’s music and doesn’t think everything should be evaluated on the basis of politics.
I chose a few people from recent news to illustrate how you can hold views on hot button issues but still support free expression:
Bill Maher on “Stop Rush”
“This might surprise you, but I am not a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. However, if you are the one with a website devoted to making him go away, you are part of the problem. And, ironically, you are not even a proper liberal, because you don’t get free speech. You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you.”
Romal J. Tune on being a pro-choice Christian
You see, for many of us who are Christians and support choice it is because we believe that it is unfair to try and make people who are not Christians live their lives based on our beliefs. Just as we cannot force someone to become a Christian, changing laws to force women to do what we believe God requires still will not make them a Christian, it will only make them followers of the law. That person would not be changing their behavior because of their relationship with God. Pro-choice Christians understand that a relationship with God is based on accepting God’s love for us; it cannot be forced on people nor can they be manipulated into it. The Gospel is “good news,” not a scare tactic or a tool used to control people. We are also mindful of those historic examples of when Christianity has been used to perpetuate discrimination and injustice.
Feminist Video Game Critic Liana Kerzner
on “Why Feminist Frequency Almost Made Me Quit Writing About Video Games: Part 1”
[I]t’s important to have female villains as well as heroes. However, the desire demons of Dragon Age have vanished from view, despite being the only visibly female demons in the canon. Granted, the demons have always supposed to have been genderless, but they’re also reflections of heightened emotional states from the mortal world. If they’d made over the desire demons the way they redid the sloth/despair demons to make all demons amorphous blobs, that would have been one thing. Instead, however, they kept the vaguely masculine-looking pride demons and just removed the desire demons from visual participation.
The thing is, I want gamers to be my audience. Because I’m a gamer. Not a “girl gamer.” Just a gamer.
I love video games. I love that they usually make me feel good. I love that they push limits and take risks, even when those risks don’t work. But I can’t find a place in the video game community that will pay me a living wage unless I’m prepared to draw blood against “the Enemy.” What is this? A religion?
Borrowing that metaphor, I won’t sell my soul that way. And when developers who lent me a sense of belonging express open support for the leaders of factions that are actively bullying me, I lose the sense that these developers who I have supported, in turn, support women like me who don’t conform to a false modesty paradigm. There are women like me all over the world who have found ways to be proud of our flawed, unique bodies, and we refuse to accept that breasts or hips over a certain size indicate anything inherently immoral. This puts us in direct opposition with Feminist Frequency, since they call out characters in the Tropes vs. Women videos just for having large breasts.
Gaming was founded on people who were bullied in other places. I won’t be a part of becoming bullies ourselves. An attempt to oppress ones oppressor does not end oppression. We can’t solve sexism with Mean Girling, and we can’t solve a sense of female inadequacy with Queen Bee tactics. Anita Sarkeesian should not have the right to determine that my body type is inherently bad when used in video games.
More similarities between social justice warriors and the Parents Music Resource Council
Social justice activists who get offended by seemingly anything often try to define their campaigns as a matter of “choice.” People should know that Tyler is offensive to women. They should know in order to be able to make an informed choice, even though, if they had any interest in attending his concert in the first place, they would have already heard his lyrics. So too was the PMRC’s campaign framed as being about choice, letting the parents of children know through “voluntary” labels on the cover of an album—rather than the artist’s “Satanic” imagery—that rock song might surprisingly contain lyrics about drugs and sex—even through white-haired bureaucrats and politicians are the worst judges of lyrics and meaning.
It began with lyrics, but it starts looking like it’s branching into other areas.
Yet the very fact that the musicians were in front of a government panel defies that claim. What interest does the government have in something voluntary? “Record lyric labeling” is something an OCD music fan with too much time on his hands should be doing, not a Senate committee. As Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) said at the start of Zappa’s testimony, the Senator wanted the industry to “voluntarily police” lyrics, not the government, and he would only support legislation if the industry didn’t “voluntarily” do what the government wanted under government pressure.
The testimony of musicians Dee Snider and Frank Zappa and the comments of the Senators is still relevant today.
Zappa pointed out, for example, how these kinds of anti-speech campaigns can lead to a mob effect or a bandwagon effect and get out of hand:
“You have a situation where, even if you go for the lyric-printed thing in the record, because of the tendency among Americans to be copycats—one guy commits a murder, you get a copycat murder—now you have copycat censors. You have a very bad situation in San Antonio, Texas right now where they are trying to pass PMRC-type individual ratings and attach them to live concerts with the mayor down trying to put San Antonio on the map as the first city to have these kind of regulations against the suggestion of the city attorney who says he doesn’t think it’s constitutional. There’s this fervor to get in and do even more, even more.
It began with lyrics, but even looking at the PMRC fundraising letter in the last paragraph at the bottom of the page, it starts looking like it’s branching into other areas when it says, ‘We realize this material has pervaded other aspects of society…’ And it’s like, ‘What? Are you going to fix it all for me?’”