Someone sent me the link to the National Post article, written by the very verbose, if very tortured Rex Murphy, and I find myself contrasting his version of the big picture with reality.
Rex can be a silly man. He rightly points out that “free societies” seem to have a lot of trouble defending “free speech” in the best of times. Seems nearly every day there’s some sports hero, actor, or other public figure, apologizing or backtracking on statements they meant at the time. Corporations and media outlets self-censor vigorously, no one moans about that, they are just averse to liability. So much of speech and the dissemination of ideas has been categorized as bad, as hate speech, or incitement, or other felonious derivatives.
Except that Rex forgets, living in the bubble that he does, that it’s the corporations who are cowards, not the majority of the people. People outside of public spotlight, really don’t worry about ratings or backlash. Sure there are a vocal minority who get fired up about everything, like a Prius owner attacking a family of four, for driving a giant diesel pickup truck, just because she doesn’t approve. There are some generally vicious, and morally strict people out there, but don’t be fooled by their loud voices, there really aren’t many of them.
Now we know politicians are never going to speak their minds and keep their jobs doing it, at least very rarely. On a local level, scandal and accusations of bad ethics, are more frightening to them than Ebola. Politicians lie to be the least offensive to the most amount of people, specifically the people voting for them, which makes regional politics so different than federal. A mayoral candidate could be surrounded by self-centered, social policy hating, racist, moonshine distilling farmers, and win because they are very representative of those values. Then if that same politician tries to run for a larger regional post, they face the inevitable backlash from communities who think those flagrant moonshiners should be thrown in jail for hating foreigners. As a politician, you need the support of both, but can’t support both positions, without cleverly fabricated opinions, and speech coaching.
Yet someone like Jon Stewart is not a coward as Mr. Murphy brands him, Jon has spent more than a decade grilling and mocking the establishment on a level that was unprecedented, even among late night talk shows. The reason he was allowed to escape the repression of the serious types, is because he was always labelled satire or comedy. He was behind a thin dividing line, like the fancy rope and pole setup at a posh theater, separating his scathing remarks over the mass media’s lies, from the mass media’s fervent protection of their own deceit. Jon is therefore not a coward, but a pioneer. Stephen Colbert successfully launched from that franchise, and belatedly so has John Oliver. They’ve all managed to navigate between the rules, between the behemoths of power, and between the limitations on speech, to deliver us from BS. If we could all approach their level of scathing honesty, publicly, without having to resort to humour to make it acceptable, then we might be Charlie Hebdos in spirit.
How many times in history has a fake news show been the subject of real news reporting? Stewart’s show regularly appeared on Fox and MSNBC among others, either for saying what they don’t want you to think (Fox), or saying what they wish they could say (MSNBC), all the while drawing ever more loyal fans who saw the total hypocrisy of discussing a comedy show as content. Where is the “free speech” then? Why, in the wake of attacks, are certain columnists afraid that we’ll have more freedom of the press? Where was the spirit of Charlie Hebdo, when the media was cheerleading going to war with a handful sovereign countries in the past decade? Why did no one but some fringe comedy shows, and some YouTube channels point out the fallacies?
Therefore it’s entirely hypocritical to label the political leaders in the G20 countries, especially America, for backing away from the religious issue, as cowardly. Of course the politicians are afraid of their local voting base, but they are actively trying to demonize Muslims in specific areas to further their agenda. It’s a game of lies and misdirection, where lots of people end up dead, the platitudes are to narrow the battlefield from the entire Muslim world, to just the ones they want to fight at the moment. One by one, Muslim governments are being toppled, one by one Muslim leaders are being assassinated, with millions of ordinary, kind, loving Muslims are being held in tent camps permanently, without rights, without property, without hope. Are we actually supposed to think, that these politicians care about cartoons of Mohammed?
There’s going to be a backlash against the backlash as well. Ripples in a pond, reflecting off each other, causing interference until it’s all just a bunch of noise. People will say it is silly for us to defend what Charlie Hebdo did as tactless, and difficult to defend the idea of offending everyone. This topic will rage like a warm fireplace on Christmas in boardrooms of media organizations everywhere, do we celebrate together, or do we just send $1.99 cards to those we claim to care about?
In the end, Rex Murphy is the coward, he uses long sentences, with long words, to describe his arduously contradictory positions, without coming across as being for anything, or really against anything. He uses his careful prose to suggest ideas we should pay some modicum of attention to, but stops short of telling us they are important.
If Rex thinks he’s some great public defender of freedom of ideas, how come his diatribes never go viral like Jon’s?