Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fearless Speech vs. "Hate Speech"

I usually do not pay attention to news about biblical movies. The Bible has been a subject of film for well over a century, logging in literally hundreds of titles. Although filmmakers know there is a wealth of stories to lift from the Bible, the ones that make it to the big screen are relatively few. The only difference between them lies in the progress of special effects, winding up today with computer generated images to create miracles and swell the sizes of the crowds and to add other technological icing. If you've seen one Ten Commandments or Ben Hur or The Robe, you've seen them all.

When Hollywood runs out of new takes on zombie plagues, alien invasions, capitalist conspiracies to take over the world, and catastrophic "climate changes" that dehydrate or drown the globe, there are always Red Seas to part, waters to walk on, and loaves and fishes to multiply. Jesus himself has undergone a number of make-overs during the film industry's century-plus history, from handsome hunks preaching love on the hill to crowds of extras to a rockin' Super Star."

Anyone for Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson as Moses? Or as Mohammad? After all, we have Russell Crowe gallomping around as a pious but Ark-ready Noah.

A character in "House of Cards," Secretary of State Catherine Durant, played by Jayne Atkinson, too strongly resembles former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think that was intentional. Durant is a frumpy and dumpy white-haired Southern gal, as well, and is Frank Underwood's policy poodle, ready to tailor her diplomatic spiel to Underwood's. Will Hillary's publicity agent protest the characterization? Likely not; it's advisable not to call attention to the similarities between Hillary and Durant when a real life, alleged candidate is already having image and truth problems.

But suppose handsome George Clooney was picked to portray former president Bill Clinton in some improbable "docudrama"? Would his publicist crank out a protest? Absolutely not, not even if Bill Clinton as president were depicted espousing free market principles, siding with the Serbs, nailing bin Laden on the first try, and keeping his roaming hands off of his interns' tushes.

But all it takes is someone's whisper to get the ball rolling to a politically correctness-governed scandal, and the media, for lack of anything else to do, will lap it up and grow it to tabloid headline size.

For example, I chanced upon this February 17th story by Jeff Sneider from MSN:

"Son of God" producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have cast Satan out of their upcoming Biblical epic about Jesus Christ an individual familiar with the 20th Century Fox project has told The Wrap.   

"Son of God" is a reshaped version of last year's hit History Channel miniseries "The Bible," which co-starred Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni as Satan. Burnett and Downey came under fire last year because Ouazanni bears a striking resemblance to President Barack Obama, though the producers said at the time that the casting controversy was unintentional and merely coincidental.

The charge was made last year that the actor too resembled Obama. Tim Molloy of The Wrap reported:

"Someone made a comment that the actor who played the devil vaguely resembled our president, and suddenly the media went nuts," Downey said in a statement Monday. "The next day, when I was sure everyone would only be talking about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead. For our movie, 'Son of God,' I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want his name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting room floor."

20th Century Fox will release "Son of God" on Feb. 28. The 10-hour miniseries has been pared down to two hours, which meant sacrificing Satan's scenes to focus on Jesus.

Coincidence or not, Burnett and Downey caved. They erred on the side of caution – and fear. After all, this is the kind of meat that race card players like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson dine on. And who would want to be their main entrĂ©e? It was more than Satan that was left on the cutting room floor. It was the freedom to express one's opinion about Barack Obama.

But the incident points up to another symptom of the semi-totalitarian malaise that has descended on the country over the last fifteen or so years: a worry that one might offend some individual or group with how that individual or group is depicted publically. Islamic touchiness over images of Mohammad is now old hat. Now it's political touchiness, sensibility, and easily offended men with hemophilic souls from virtually every realm.

Fortunately for modern filmmakers, the dead can't be bruised and return to lodge a protest. There have been almost as many movies made about Abraham Lincoln as about Christ; nearly all of them feature an actor who resembled the man. I have never seen an actor who did justice to Washington. In the most recent TV film, "John Adams," the actor who played the first president looked as though his face had been injected with Botox. Oft times the look of an historic person is right, but the characterization is off. Ralph Bellamy's FDR was simply too saccharine in "Sunrise at Campobello." Given FDR's antisemitism, welfare statism, and fighting WWII on Josef Stalin's terms, he ought to have been depicted as Satan, polio or no polio.

And are you ready to accept Leonard DiCaprio as the Uber Progressive President Woodrow Wilson?

Barack Obama has been caricatured countless times in political cartoons (and in Halloween masks), in the U.S. and around the world. But, for some reason, political cartoonists have rarely provoked the ire of the White House. And it usually isn't the White House that objects, but a politically correct mentality offended by an uncomplimentary depiction of Obama and who dutifully reports it to the PC police in the news media. Political caricaturing, because it is such an individual art, is as sacrosanct as other forms of political speech ought to be. The overwhelming majority of political cartoons of Obama are demonstrably unflattering.

The unintentional depiction of Obama as Satan (or of Satan as Obama), or as a gauche, big-eared goofball in a political cartoon is a freedom of speech issue. Technically, if we accept as proper a government's definition of "hate speech," virtually every political cartoonist is guilty of committing "hate speech." Should they be thrown face-down to the floor, handcuffed, and led away by federal speech-SWATTERs while men in black tear apart their studios looking for more incriminating evidence of hate speech?

What is "hate speech"? The American Bar Association defines it as:

Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.

The emphasis is on groups, not individuals, but because Barack Obama is "black," any derogatory remark about or depiction of him could easily be construed as "hate speech" directed at blacks. Professor Stephen Brooks of the University of Windsor, Canada, had this to say about the alleged ubiquity of hate speech laws in the U.S.:

Virtually all state legislatures have passed hate crime laws of one sort or another, the most common sort being that which imposes additional punishment for hate-motivated criminal acts.  Under Title 28, Section 994 of the United States Criminal Code, hate crime is defined as “crime that is motivated by the actual or perceived race, colour, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” In addition, under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, the federal government maintains a database of crimes that conform to the above definition. 

Neither Congress nor the states have enacted hate speech/propaganda laws that specifically target speech.  State laws cover actual intimidation, harassment, assault, and breach of the peace where hatred toward the members of a group is shown to have been a contributing factor. California’s hate law, section 422.6 of the state penal code, specifically declares that, “no person shall be convicted of [a hate crime] based upon speech alone, except upon a showing that the speech itself threatened violence against a specific person or group of persons and that the defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat.”  There are obvious echoes of both the fighting words and imminent danger tests in this provision of California law.

Could the depiction of Obama as Satan in the "Son of God" film be described as "hate speech"? Possibly, if Burnett and Downey "hate" Obama. But, why would their hatred be punishable? As with political cartoons, the portrayal of Obama as Satan could not be treated as "slander," "libel," or even a defamation of character. If that is what Burnett and Downey originally thought of Obama, why should that be of concern to the government? Why should anyone who is not Obama take exception to it? What business would it be of anyone's but Obama's? Obama has proven to be not as thin-skinned as many of his admirers and supporters. He's taken as many caricatured hits as any other president in the last fifty years.

USA Today ran a Missouri TV station's report on the rodeo clown who wore an Obama mask and was subsequently banned from all Missouri rodeo events. The ban was a consequence of "public opinion," and not decreed by any "hate speech" law. However, the report also shows the clown in the mask. Why would the station or any other news media report that showed the clown in the mask not bring down the approbation of the public (and the tacit approval of state lawmakers)? After all, in order to communicate the issue, the object of the approbation had to be depicted, which meant showing Obama as a hee-haw cowboy. Why wouldn't a TV station not be held to the same measure as the "Son of God" filmmakers, or any other individuals? Why was that one station so fearless?

Because, in that one instance, it was Obama who was being mocked, and, in real life, not in political cartoons, that is verboten. There is nothing to fear from a tyrant if one is lavishing praise on him or defending him from real-life detractors. To the liberal media, lengthy arguments in defense of the First Amendment are abstract and abstruse and don't reach the public. Actions taken in expressing one's First Amendment rights, however, are perceived as threats and potential causes of unrest and violence and an invitation to worshippers of Progressivism to plant their own burning crosses on one's front lawn.

Further, the rodeo clown's mockery of Obama was, by implication, perceived as mockery of his political agenda and that of the Progressives.

Had the station attempted to report the incident without showing the reason for the uproar, it could communicate nothing, not even if it settled for showing the masked clown in a blur of digital pixels, as many stations did when reporting the Mohammad cartoon episodes. No one can get upset over the sight of anything reduced to obliterating fuzziness (except Muslims – and this qualification could be treated as "hate speech," too). People would ask: What's the fuss about?

It is the fear of reprisals by individuals and groups that introduces self-censorship into the minds of a nation's citizens and prepares them for blatant censorship. And a statist government will only be too glad to oblige those groups with statutory censorship to preserve the "public good." It was fear that caused newspapers and even book publishers from reprinting the Mohammad cartoons.

It will be fear – and not immediately any government censorship – that will allow individuals and groups to intimidate Americans into refraining from calling Barack Obama the very real and very visible collectivist Satan he actually is.

One thing that will save the country from dictatorship will be for Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to depict Obama or any other politician as the devils they are.

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