Communitarian Soul: Pondering a right not to exercise a right…Written by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was in college and seminary in the seventies. Besides the war in Viet Nam, Nixon, and double knit polyester, I remember many discussions both in and out of the classroom around the gratuitous violence and sex found in movies. The angry violence in Sam Peckinpah’s work often inspired great debate. When Marlon Brando had his “Last Tango in Paris” many felt that Hollywood had gone too far. Some suggested that these films were harmful, making “deviant behavior” acceptable. Meanwhile, the ever present liberal elite would make their standard first amendment arguments that film makers were well within their rights to film what they want. “People don’t have to watch the stuff,” was the common argument (I know, I made it many times), “besides, it’s silly to think that a film would cause a person to act out inappropriately,” was boilerplate.
Later, into the eighties, we discovered MTV and the often raucous videos that seem to capture the imaginations of our youth and the concerns of their parents. Tipper Gore advocated a rating system so parents could decide what was safe for their children. I sat in meetings with church leaders gnashing their teeth over what this “smut” is doing to our youth. Meanwhile I, a card carrying member of the ”liberal elite” would sit back and issue the boilerplate argument about the first amendment.
Then came video games. Once again there was the concern, often by those with conservative voices, that these things were dangerous. The argument that over-saturation will lead susceptible and suggestible youth into unproductive or even violent behaviors was and is greatly debated. Like always, there was the so called liberal elite making the argument about first amendment rights. By this time I had a kid and my liberal biases were no longer so confident on the subject.
Today, it seems that this conversation is not so much what comes out of Hollywood or Nashville. It is about what comes out of talk radio or Fox news or Sarah Palins’ web site. Does a campaign ad by Ms. Palin marking Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ district with the cross hairs of a gun site help create the atmosphere that led to the attack on Representative Giffords and the six who were murdered? Does this talk on President Obama’s alleged hatred of white people, or the need of certain groups or individuals to get beaten up or “taken out” that has become commonplace on cable news shows and talk radio incite violence? Or is it simply hyperbole and metaphor?
What I find fascinating about the conversation is the reversal that has taken place. In the past, the liberal elite was a durable witness in defending the right of the so called artist to peddle his or her wares. More often than not, it has been the right who has raised the question on whether or not these behaviors are harmful to society. But in the conversation about the use of vitriolic language on Fox or Limbaugh or whatever, it is the right that is taking the traditional liberal view about the first amendment and it is the left that is taking the classic conservative view about the damage this practice may be doing to society. I guess, in the end, it all depends on whose ox is getting gored.
I am not as certain about these things as I used to be. Maybe Marlon Brando’s “Last Tango in Paris” has had a small part in the coarsening of our behavior. Maybe Glenn Beck’s many rants about President Obama has created some unhealthy volatility in our society. But I do know this. Just because we have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is always wise to do it. Regardless if a cause and effect factor can be proven or disproven, a little discernment and civility along the way might make intelligent debate possible and problem solving doable again.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist Pastor in Bowling Green.