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Dec 3, 2004 12:42 am

Brainwashing 101 and Controversial Speech ...

F.I.R.E. has endorsed Evan Coyne Maloney's new documentary,"Brainwashing 101." The link leads you to the film which focuses on problems with free speech and free thought on three American campuses: Bucknell University, California Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Tip of the hat to Glenn Reynolds, who plays a minor supporting role.

College and university speech codes are not the only, perhaps not even the most important, contemporary threats to freedom of speech. CBS and NBC have rejected a commercial produced by the United Church of Christ as"too controversial." You can view it here. The irony of this rejection would be delicious, were it not also vicious. The United Church of Christ is the primary legacy to contemporary America from New England's Puritans. As such, it could not be more mainstream Protestant and, yet, its simple statement of tolerance is judged"too controversial" for American eyes to see and ears to hear. You'd think that if John Winthrop's grandchildren don't have a problem with it, Edward R. Murrow's grandchildren shouldn't either. You can join me in protesting to NBC and CBS officials here.

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Charles V. Mutschler - 12/3/2004

Precisely. This is really no different from the decision to not show _Saving Private Ryan_, for fear of possible prosecution for excessive violence, langauge, etc. This sort of 'chilling effect' has been mentioned before, and often by people on the right, when regarding university speech codes. Quite a bit on the FIRE site, for example. Or see Diane Ravitch's _The Language Police_, in which she observes that both sides of the political spectrum engage in efforts to suppress things which they find objectionable, and the result is publishers seek to remove ALL material that ANY vocal group may find objectionable, and the result is a very thin gruel. However, the thing is, a private enterprise makes these decisions ona business basis, more than an ideological one. The networks, like the text book publishers, would rather remove the material that offends big audience groups. This includes big audiences on both the left and the right.

Perhaps we really need to revisit the First Amendment, and start reminding the various complaining groups, both right and left, that free speech is guaranteed for them only when we protect opinions we disagree with, not just those we agree with.


Jonathan Dresner - 12/3/2004

I'm not really excusing them: I consider their retreat cowardly, and as a member of the public whose airwaves they profit from I am outraged. I think their position is self-defeating, as a consistent application of their stated standards of self-censorship will eventually drive all news and entertainment of any real interest off the air.

But it's consistent with the nervousness engendered by profit motives in an uncertain regulatory environment.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/3/2004

If CBS and NBC are acting in fear of the wingers on this innocuous little ad, what other fears will drive them the next time? I don't think you can easily excuse them on this one. If we do, it will only get more difficult the next time.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/3/2004

Let's be fair: NBC and CBS are acting in fear of right-wingers here.

Michael Meo - 12/3/2004

Here is where we can no longer doubt the era of intolerance that has arrived in our country: when a statement of universal admittance to church is "too controversial" to find a place on our national mass media.

I have trouble believing that the news media are neutral in the culture wars with this obvious evidence of extremist suspicion before me.

Let's be fair: NBC and CBS are acting on behalf of right-wingers here.

David T. Beito - 12/3/2004

That's Hinkle

David T. Beito - 12/3/2004

I generally agree about the first part of the film. It was very good when it focused on speech codes especially the Michael Mooresque section on the harassment of Mr. Hingle.

Some conservatives are so busy wrapping themselves in the flag and condemning the musings of Marxist professors in class that they forget about the importance of defending free speech across the board.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/2/2004

Good of you to speak up here, Anthony. Of course, we'll have different reactions to different parts of "Brainwashing 101". I thought that posing the female student at Bucknell with her outsized purple and white teddy bear made her look pretty simple-minded, for instance. And I thought that the Economics Prof at Bucknell held his own in the conversation pretty well. Still, libertarians (gag!) probably do have a legitimate gripe at Bucknell if readings in economics begin with Marx and work through feminist and Afro- glosses on Marx as if that's an adequate survey of modern economic thought. Where's the Adam Smith? Where are the capitalist critiques of Marxism? wtf!
The film probably does things some disservice by simply counterposing academic support for war efforts in WWII with indifference and opposition in the current Iraq war. WWII is remembered as "the good war" for good reasons, even tho, as John Quiggin put it at Crooked Timber, war is always a crime. It's a crime because it looses the forces of mutual destruction, from which there is no sanctuary. Many of us believe that in WWII there simply was no decent alternative to that. Many of us believe that in Iraq there had to be.

Anthony Paul Smith - 12/2/2004

Dr. Luker,

Maybe I attend an outstanding university of balance (though I doubt it) but, really, they do take about the evils of communism under alongwith the evils of capitalism even in my philosophy course on Marx. Furthermore, it seems hard, though I am not a historian, to argue that America has not committed some pretty horrible crimes of which our government and people have never truly dealt with. Is it such a bad thing that at the university level we talk about those still? I'm awfully proud of the fact that the universities in this country did not support the government during the Iraq war as they did during WWII. If I had to deal with Army recruiters lying to me everyday like I did in high school, this wouldn't be the same safe place of learning that it is.

Hope that this discussion countinues between the Weblog and yourself, as I think we both have a deep love for the University despite our differences.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/2/2004

What I'm trying to say is that the ad is not terribly overt in its inclusiveness: it includes same-sex couples, non-whites, elderly, in a pretty even-handed manner, I think. To take this as a specifically pro-gay marriage or even pro-gay ad requires evaluating the UCC not the ad itself. And, as you said, that's not the network's place.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/2/2004

I don't quite understand the point that you are making. The policy of inclusiveness is, according to the ad and according to your first paragraph, essential to a universal faith. The issue is whether that inclusiveness must overtly apply to certain people. The networks have, of course, no right to make that judgment one way or the other. The ads will, likely, get more attention because of the widespread furor on the net about the networks' rejection of them than they would have if the networks had simply quietly accepted and run them. Some of the usually relentlessly secular sites, such as Atrios, have taken up the hue and cry.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/2/2004

It seems to me that the "controversial" aspect of this is not in the ad itself, and that's going to raise problems for the networks. The message of inclusion is, as the ad points out, fundamental to Christianity (not to mention a lot of other traditions); a universal faith does not turn away seekers.

It is the UCC policy which is being deemed controversial, which puts the networks in the position of judging ads based not on their content but on their sponsor.

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