Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Things First

Yesterday, instead of working on the new novel, I spent a great deal of time reading the comments on my friend Michael Rowe's Huffington Post piece regarding the Sacramento, California radio jocks (Rob Williams and Arnie States of KRXQ's Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning) who recently thought it would be entertaining to discuss the issue of transgendered people by referring to them as "freaks" and "idiots" and suggesting that by "allowing transgenders to exist" the next natural step is the acceptance of bestiality. (Why do these people always head straight for bestiality? Curious.) One of them--Arnie--went on to say that if his son ever behaved in a way he considered unmasculine, he would be inclined to smack the behavior out of him. Fortunately he does not, as yet, have any children on which to practice this enlightened approach to child rearing.

Rowe's piece lit a fire beneath activists of many kinds who find this sort of speech unacceptable. A call for a boycott quickly resulted in ten national sponsors--Chipotle, Sonic, AT&T, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Carl's Jr., Nissan, Verizon, Snapple, and McDonald's--and one local sponsor--Guitar World--pulling their advertising dollars from the station. A few days later a message from Rob Williams appeared on the RAD website stating, in part, "We have failed you. As a show, as people, as broadcasters, we have simply failed on almost every level." The show went on hiatus and will return on Thursday, June 11, with a show addressing the controversy and featuring a discussion with transgender activists.

This is not the first time the show has come under fire. As Rowe reports in his follow up piece the show previously was called out (and was fined by the FCC) for skits involving misogyny and incest between a father and his young son. Another segment making light of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also resulted in a backlash.

Not surprisingly, the comments on Rowe's Huffington Post pieces have been lively. Many fans of Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning have weighed in on the situation, and in general their defense of the show centers around two primary arguments:

1. It's entertainment, and everyone should know the hosts were joking around.

2. The hosts are simply exercising their rights under the First Amendment.

I'll save addressing the first argument for another day. As to the second one, what I find most astonishing is that the writers apparently don't understand what the First Amendment says, or guarantees. At all. (Okay, no, I'm not astonished in the slightest. I was just trying to be nice-ish.)

There are many variations on their argument, but this one is fairly representative of the lot:

"Don't think you can decide what people have the right to say or not, the 1st amendment has that covered."

Just for the record, here is what the First Amendment says, in its entirety.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Summarizing something that is all of 45 words in length might seem a little silly, but it apparently needs to be done. So here I go: The government can't tell you what to say and what not to say. The government.

Yes, I know, it's slightly more complicated than that, and there are exceptions. The point is, too many people don't understand the difference between being unable to say something and being held accountable for saying something.

I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point people in America decided to define "free speech" as "freedom to say whatever you want without possibly getting into trouble for it." When Prop 8 (making gay marriage illegal in California) passed last year, the expected outcry turned ugly when some individuals and corporations who had donated financially to the Yes on 8 campaign found themselves the targets of boycotts (names of donors to political parties/causes are public record in CA).

There was a lot of hand-wringing and wailing, and once again the First Amendment was bandied about. The message, of course, being that we should be able to support any cause we want without people giving us a hard time about it. And all I could think was, "Tell it to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Tell it to Halima Ahmed Hussein al-Juburi. Tell it to the Tiananmen Square protesters."

I have news for Rob, Arnie, and everyone shouting about their free speech being taken away. Being fined by the FCC is nothing. Being called out as a bigot is nothing. Having people boycott your radio show is nothing. Being shot in front of your children, being hung from a tree, being set on fire--that's something.

So, yes, RAD fans, your fearless leaders have the right to say what they like. And I have the right to tell them they're ignorant, bigoted blowhards. I also have the right to tell their sponsors that I won't be patronizing their businesses as long as they continue to financially support this kind of show. And those businesses have the right to tell me to bite them. But they haven't. They've listened and they've said, "You know what? We agree. We don't want our money supporting this crap."

Arnie and Rob can still go on saying whatever they like. No one is stopping them from talking. They can make fun of people from other countries. They can demean women. They can talk about smacking sense into their imaginary children. The only difference is that now they might have to be content with saying it only to one another.

Because that is how the First Amendment works.


Eric Arvin said...

Great post!

Sandra said...

Too bad the Constitution didn't have an amendment making it necessary to think before you speak.

What? did they think transgendered people don't have a voice, friends and families to defend them, or radios? Asshats.