May 6, 2010

The too-easy satire of The Onion's "Supreme Court Upholds Freedom Of Speech In Obscenity-Filled Ruling."

Everyone's linking to this thing, and it is pretty funny, but see what my problem is with it:
"It is the opinion of this court that the right to speak without censorship or fear of intimidation is fundamental to a healthy democracy," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority.... "In short, freedom of speech means the freedom of fucking speech, you ignorant cocksuckers."
The decision came Monday in response to the case of a Charleston, WV theater troupe that had been sued by city officials for staging a sexually explicit play with public funds. Reversing the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the theater, an outcome free-speech advocates are calling a victory and Justice Ginsburg called "a bitch-slap in the face of all those uptight limp-dicks."...
The Onion goes after social conservatives clamping down on sexually explicit speech.
"I'm beginning to wonder if you really understand what 'abridging the freedom of speech' means at all," said Stevens, a 34-year veteran of the court known for his often-nuanced interpretations of the First Amendment. "I'm also wondering whether you and your fat-faced plaintiffs over there need to have some respect for constitutionally protected expression fucked into your empty hick skulls."
Hicks.

Are hicks the threat to free speech? Maybe 20 or 30 years ago.

The Onion quotes Justice Breyer:
It likewise bears noting that, even if everyone on this court got brain damage and ruled against protected speech, we're sure as fuck not starting on some harmless bullshit play. We'd start on that ignorant-ass, Bible-thumping, Fred Phelps homophobe shit. How would those Jesus-blowing backwoods cracker motherfuckers like that?
See? The liberal urge — which is what motivates The Onion's writers — is to repress the speech it disapproves of. And that is the real threat to free speech that we experience today. At first glance this satire appears to be vigorously pro-free-speech, but I suspect that it's only pro-liberal speech. Maybe my suspicion is wrong, but I'd find The Onion a lot funnier if its satire caused its readers a little pain, instead of nudging them to laugh at people they already hold in contempt.

To test your commitment to free speech rights, think of some expression you hate and imagine protecting that. Don't think of something you love and imagine someone else repressing it. That's the test of whether you support free speech rights. The Onion doesn't test itself or its readers. And that makes The Onion's speech too bland. Come on, it's The Onion. Onion. Bland isn't true to that name.

72 comments:

shoutingthomas said...

Too easy.

Hate speech and hate crimes.

The writers at The Onion are for criminalizing hate speech and hate crimes.

In other words, special privileges for their preferred groups: gays, blacks and women.

New York said...

I'm sure that law school rankings guy in Texas is willing to be the one who decides which kinds of political speech are protected by the living constitution.

rick said...

The Onion is one of the funniest web sites out there. The "money hole" satire was the best. It is when they include profanity that I suspend viewing, which sad to say, is most of them.

Apparently, this was one will get the Nobel prize for language.

Joe said...

IF you people. It's "quoting" Breyer saying IF we're going to start censoring, we'll start with your homophobic shit, not some play, which is simply extending the parody.

rhhardin said...

It's not clear the writers are for suppressing the hicks; it's Breyer saying that they'd go first; because the court is liberal.

But that's a more subtle note than the parody suggests it was composed with.

New "Hussein" Ham said...

You're humorless, Ann.

This is but-gusting funny and dripping with ironic goodness precisely BECAUSE they put the "liberal line" into the mouths of the liberal jurists.

Everybody knows that the liberals on the Court (Justice Breyer) believe it is perfectly OK to shut down "conservative" speech, or as it is also known "hate speech."

Palladian said...

Self-congratulatory humor is cheap and easy and completely boring. That's why I usually find "The Daily Show" intolerable. I find it quite embarrassing when people hoot and applaud for themselves and their refined sensibilities. An intelligent satire would aim to challenge even those readers who ostensibly agreed with it.

There used to be a MetaFilter taboo against linking to The Onion, because it was just too easy.

Big Mike said...

To test your commitment to free speech rights, think of some expression you hate and imagine protecting that.

That's easy. Everything Jeremy or Ritmo has ever posted here, not to mention most of what danielle, FLS, and garage mahal write.

They know that they're throwing up hate speech -- at least I hope they're that intelligent and self-aware -- and everybody else knows it, too. Back when I was a college student in the 1960's I demonstrated for free speech and for a color-blind society. Forty-five years later I still believe in both.

MrBuddwing said...

Amen, Palladian.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Don Marquis, creator of Archy and Mehitabel. Marquis said, "If you make people think they are thinking, they will love you - but if you really make them think, they will hate you."

Word verification: sliob.

Heather said...

The decision came Monday in response to the case of a Charleston, WV theater troupe that had been sued by city officials for staging a sexually explicit play with public funds

The bolded part for me is problematic, beyond being an easy satire. They have no problem forcing me to pay for such BS. :)

edutcher said...

Ann's point, of course, is on the money. The whole 'hate speech/crimes' business has always been about making people afraid to speak their minds lest they offend the powers that be, that's why you see so many odd stories along these lines coming out of Europe where this is hyper-regulated, de jure and de facto.

As for the article, one can only wonder if any of the usual suspects were consulted regarding content.

Pastafarian said...

I have to admit, I didn't read this as an attack on conservatism; I thought that the humor here is in seeing an incongruous blue streak of profanity pouring from Ginsburg and Breyer. (Stevens, I suspect, actually speaks this way all the time).

So the writers at the Onion apparently think that if these justices actually exercised their own freedom of speech with reckless abandon, they'd say something like this; and they're probably right. Just because one of these parodied justices says "hicks" doesn't mean it's us hicks that are being attacked. Does it?

cokaygne said...

With all due respect, you've got it wrong. I don't usually read The Onion, so perhaps I'm wrong. They are satirizing the liberal dogma that the First Amendment applies to speech that offends people in fly over country, but political speech that offends liberals is hate speech deserving of suppression.

garage mahal said...

Big Mike/HusseinHam (same?) put out some pretty pig ignorant and inflammatory posts, but I could never dream of censoring them.

Palladian said...

"So the writers at the Onion apparently think that if these justices actually exercised their own freedom of speech with reckless abandon, they'd say something like this; and they're probably right. Just because one of these parodied justices says "hicks" doesn't mean it's us hicks that are being attacked. Does it?"

It would be funnier if you were right. But I agree with rhhardin, there's nothing in the writing that suggests that level of sophistication.

Lem said...

Does this mean the Onion is offering Harvard student Stephanie Grace an internship?

I doubt it.

Palladian said...

"Big Mike/HusseinHam (same?) put out some pretty pig ignorant and inflammatory posts, but I could never dream of censoring them."

You're a better man than I.

Palladian said...

"With all due respect, you've got it wrong. I don't usually read The Onion, so perhaps I'm wrong. They are satirizing the liberal dogma that the First Amendment applies to speech that offends people in fly over country, but political speech that offends liberals is hate speech deserving of suppression."

Again, I think it would be really good satire, on par with their better work, if that were the case. But I don't really get that from the writing. Maybe they intended that but weren't quite able to pull it off.

Night2night said...

I agree with the substance of your remarks, but I'm more struck by this entry as an appropriate bookend to "Talk like Rahm Emmanuel" day, which also seems an Onion - like freedom of speech observation.

Comrade X said...

why is Charleston WV wasting taxpayer money on theater troupes? doesn't sound like an essential government function. let people fund their own massively unpopular art.

Ann Althouse said...

It's possible that the piece is really intended as a satire of liberals... but I doubt it. It's for liberals to hoot at the hicks/conservatives and to revel in the fun of sexy expression.

Ann Althouse said...

The Onion chose West Virginia as the place to hit readers over the head with the fact that the bad guys are hillbillies.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Screwtape points out that Hell has a policy of encouraging moral panics about vices that are no longer practiced in order to encourage an opposite vice.

So in a licentious age, we condemn Puritanism. In a brutal age, we condemn sentimentality. And so on.

How often have I heard liberals condemn America for its "Puritanism"? This is a country where thongs are made for nine-year-olds.

Seven Machos said...

the case of a Charleston, WV theater troupe that had been sued by city officials for staging a sexually explicit play with public funds

This is dumb. The funder decides what to do with the fund. He who pays the piper calls the tune. It's a hilariously unnecessarily added detail that gives away everything about the authors provincial attitude and utter lack of acumen.

Pogo said...

I usually forgo Onion pieces that seem to have been written while intoxicated or by high school freshmen.

At that point the humor is all scatological, making one wish for a literary bidet.

Pogo said...

@Gabriel Hanna

Excellent catch, that.

Lance said...

Term that I hate but that must nevertheless be protected:

Teabaggers.

Dave said...

I would think their intent is 'humor,' not challenging their readers, (which is something you could do more of yourself, Ann, if it interests you so much).

CatherineM said...

Gabriel Hanna - quite right.

I have noticed in the last few weeks or since HCR, that the Onion - which I love because it makes fun of everyone - has been slanted. When you go all Jon Stewart...eh...who doesn't had the Phelps family? I think they hate themselves. Wack-a-doos.

It would have been funnier had they gone after the liberals on there censorship of certain speech. Perhaps they could have made fun of the fact that anti-government speech is now out of vogue unless you are in Arizona and pro-illegal immigration. IDK.

E.M. Davis said...

Ann-

You should read The Heath Ledger. We have no sacred cows.

HDHouse said...

Urging violence and urging sex are two sides of the same coin - or are they?

slarrow said...

Pornography.

Not because I think all porn should be banned--reasonable people can come to different conclusions, in my view. No, what ticks me off is the bastardization of the First Amendment that's used to protect it. The First Amendment is designed to protect political speech. It was not built to protect the power of smut merchants to sell dirty pictures. It galls me when court victories are pitched as some sort of great celebration of freedom of speech while campaign finance laws are apparently fine and dandy. It is a legal perversion, pure and simple.

But. The trouble with drawing lines is that once you allow it, it becomes a struggle for power so your side can draw its lines. So I will swallow my gall and grudgingly accept this 1st amendment protection defense because I count it as a price to pay to protect the other things I think are important. It is a cost, not a benefit, but there you are.

Hope that's what Althouse had in mind.

halojones-fan said...

The supposed statements by the justices in that article are pretty much what you get at any liberal blog, including the nominally-mainstream ones like Kos or HuffPo. Give me a day or so and I'm pretty sure I could find sentence-for-sentence matches.

Not only that, but the supposed lower-class hothead on the Court--that is, Justice Scalia--has the most moderate quote in the piece.

Ann, I can't help but think that you're kneejerking because of the word "hick", and you aren't actually reading the article. It's okay, everyone gets it wrong sometimes, but I think it's important to recognize when you're in a hole and stop digging.

Trooper York said...

"Urging violence and urging sex are two sides of the same coin - or are they?"

Only if you are Lawrence Taylor.

See. I made fun of a New York Giant.

Trooper York said...

One of the greatest Giants of all time.

Trooper York said...

Now it's time for hdhouse to make fun of Stalin.

Uncle Joe is his favorite player on his team.

SoCalinTx said...

I was raised about 5 miles outside of Charleston WV and most of us were hillbillies. Three channels for TV, most lived in doublewides, step-father shot squirrels for dinner, we got our water from a stream (ran a pipe up it about 1/2 mile for pressure), burned our trash, etc. So don't get too defensive on behalf of the residents there. Stereotypes don't form in a vacuum.

GMay said...

The last time I saw something The Onion put out that used "colorful" language that was actually funny, was also their best ever.

PatHMV said...

I usually have a sensitive trigger for such, professor, but it's never been bothered by the Onion. That this particular "ruling" was aimed at social/religious conservatives doesn't mean that they don't and wouldn't aim a similar parody in the liberal direction. Maybe they have, maybe they haven't, I don't have time to go check.

At any rate, the particular focus of this humor was on the scatological, and it is the religious and social conservatives who tend to object to such, not the liberals. So criticizing the "cocksucking liberals" for seeking to punish 'hate" speech or something just wouldn't be funny. You'd target the liberals by having Scalia and Thomas write an opinion taking great offense at some hate-filled screed aimed at conservatives, and suggesting. You can't squeeze in too many targets in just one joke, or it loses its funny.

c3 said...

I read the Onion periodically. I find it fairly funny. This was an "easy target". I have noted it slants slightly left.

Why is that so often true? Is it that the objects of satire from the left (i.e. uneducated rural southerners)are still accepted "targets" but those for the right (i.e. Black Harvard professor) are either "protected" or "just not funny".

Having said that, Iowahawk does a good job with "right of center" humor.

miller said...

Easy. Here's something liberals hate: corporations expressing their opinions in the political world (Citzens United, anyone? McCain-Feingold?).

The liberals are desperate to shut down this free speech and are Cirque du Soleil over this.

Ha ha. Letting people swear in public - good. Letting people express their opinions about political topics - bad.

I'd like to see someone from Berkeley form a corporation and publish an ad in the paper supporting a candidate during an election in violation (!) of McCain-Feingold. That would be protesting for free speech. Instead, we have teenagers and scatology as the epitome of free speech.

How far we've fallen.

Seven Machos said...

Miller -- I think there are valid arguments against corporate speech. You don't have to form a corporation, after all. Why isn't The New York Times a mere partnership?

Government definitely, definitely has the authority to limit the actions of corporations, because the government grants life to corporations in exchange for a multitude of legal protections.

It's a thorny issue and I'm torn about it.

YoungHegelian said...

If you want to see the Onion lampoon liberal shibboleths, take a gander at this gem:

http://www.theonion.com/video/use-of-nword-may-end-porn-stars-career,14174/

Be warned -- if you're easily offended, move on. Hell, if you're hard to offend, think twice.

I think I'll take a shower and go to confession after posting this.

WV: likingo -- Oral sex in a jiffy?

t-man said...

I thought that the accompanying picture of Ginsburg was an illustration of her opinion of the First Amendment, given her position (along with "liberal" Breyer) in the Citizens United case. Porn = fully protected speech. Political expression = open for Congressional regulation.

miller said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCyPAaubENE

And 7 - I agree there's room for discussion.

But liberals simply want to shut down the discussion. To them (Schumer, the NYT, and others of their fascist ilk) to let someone unapproved share an opinion that's unapproved - VERBOTEN.

The best way to see liberals lose their liberality is to ask them to consider the opinions of those with whom they disagree.

I'm speaking to you, Bambi.

Niki said...

"What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable." That is the motto of the DNC & its army of libtard potty-mouths.

miller said...

Another example of liberal compassion

Yes, it's the Onion. But imagine this with Keith Olberman instead of Glenn Beck.

You actually can't imagine it, because they'd never do it to Keith.

Maguro said...

Not one of their better pieces, IMO, but overall, I think the Onion has done a better job than most "mainstream" comedy outlets of mocking liberalism's sacred cows.

Media having trouble finding the right angle on Obama's double muder

WASHINGTON—More than a week after President Barack Obama's cold-blooded killing of a local couple, members of the American news media admitted Tuesday that they were still trying to find the best angle for covering the gruesome crime.

"I know there's a story in there somewhere," said Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, referring to Obama's home invasion and execution-style slaying of Jeff and Sue Finowicz on Apr. 8
.

Kind of what Bill Maher was getting at the other day, only funny.

Darrell said...

Fred Phelps, lifelong Democrat and
supporter of both Clinton and Gore,
father of Fred Jr. that ran for Governor of Kansas on the Democratic ticket in 1990 and was an Al Gore delegate on the floor of the DNC in 1988. Leftist agent provocateur discrediting Christianity. That Fred Phelps?

I had a run-in with them at a local Chicago cemetary in 2002. I ask the cops why they aren't shagging the group off the private property (because in this instance that would place them on a busy street and they could be moved elsewhere out of earshot of the grieving family of a fallen soldier) and after saying that they couldn't, one officer told me that Sen. Dick Durbin had advised local departmants to leave them alone and not get into a free speech debate with them. Now I suspect that some of his followers are just useful idiots, but Phelps?
C'mon.

Brian said...

Perhaps Ms. Althouse can give us a free lesson on the 1st amendment jurisprudence. I understand the phrase "congress shall make no law," but since the POTUS isn't congress, and neither are the various state legislatures, it's obvious that they aren't bound by that. But then the 14th amendment's due process clause and equal protection clause provide protection of constitutional rights over the states.

I think if the S.C. justices really opened up like that Onion piece, there would be a movement to draft an amendment to the constitution for term limits for justices.

As it is, I view the piece as satire that takes protected obscene speech to the logical extreme: If it can't be banned, then it must be OK for everyone, including the S.C., which exposes the silliness of it. It's also possible you could view it as pre-emptively short-circuiting the criticism of the decision: just because the S.C. ruled this way doesn't mean we'll have the public discourse suddenly turn into a stream of vulgarity.

A.W. said...

Well, i do think alot of it is misplaced. But still motherf---ing funny. But really this is the kind of thing you look at, laugh at, and whatever.

of course given that you don't have any ideas how how to counter the threat of islamofascist speech, your criticism seems misplaced.

Meanwhile at my site, http://everyonedrawmohammed.blogspot.com/, we have had over 100 cartoons of blasphemy, and nearly 50 that identify themselves by name, town and state. We are doing something, about it, and we urge everyone reading this site to do something, too.

Ralph L said...

the government grants life to corporations in exchange for a multitude of legal protections
For the (usually human) owners of the corporation.

WV - menes - the first "s" has already dripped out this month.

Seven Machos said...

Ralph -- I'm not sure what you are getting at, but the human owners are free to act politically.

I think that spending limits on what people may spend supporting politicians are problematic. At any rate, they are much too low.

TML said...

If anyone is still (honestly and legitimately) wondering why this blog is so damned popular, let them read this and know. Motherfuckers.

t-man said...

Pinch Sulberger is free to act politically, so Congress should have full power to regulate the content of the New York Times (corporation).

Meander said...

To test your commitment to free speech rights, think of some expression you hate and imagine protecting that.

That's easy, Ann - I defend you right to say every sing thing that you say.

Even while I laugh myself silly and mock you for being wrong about EVERYTHING.

The Onion piece was hilarious, and I support public readings of every vile word. You're just mad because they're talking about YOU.

Mark O said...

To test your commitment to free speech rights, think of some expression you hate and imagine protecting that.

Why would this be hard?

Seven Machos said...

Meander failed to get anything at all.

miller said...

Sometimes a troll is just a troll.

Did Jeremy adopt a new moniker or something?

Duh.

kynefski said...

I thought the Onion piece was wonderfully patriotic. When you look at recent news out of the United Kingdom, most recently of a street preacher being hauled to jail just for expressing the opinion that homosexuality goes against the word of God, you appreciate how good it is to have such a robust right to free speech.

"In short, freedom of speech means the freedom of fucking speech, you ignorant cocksuckers."

Indeed.

Trooper York said...

I have to say that I never thought the Onion's stuff was very funny.

Now what you should do is check out Ben Roethlisberger ad on Eharmony.

That's some funny shit right there let me tell you.

Trooper York said...

In fact what I would really like to see is Big Ben and LT talking about woman's rights.

But that asshole Bob Wright is too much of a pussy to put that on.

Big Mike said...

Well, I don't know who New Ham is, but I'm reasonably certain that he isn't me.

I certainly disagree with characterization of my posts as being "pig ignorant," since I go to some trouble to actually look things up and verify that what I write is true. That what I write is inflammatory to those who wish it weren't true, well, that's perhaps the case.

On the other hand, anyone who's been on a working farm realizes that pigs are actually fairly intelligent.

Now what garage posts, on the other hand, that drivel would shame a lobotomized nudibranch.

Because I Said So said...

Agreed.

It's the same complaint I have about Jon Stewart - very funny, but his satire is rarely aimed at liberals. But that's probably because there is nothing that liberals do that could be fodder for a comedian, I suppose.

Hattie said...

Wow. This is really funny. Those justices and their obscenities! I'm glad The Onion isn't taking this outrage lying down!
Gosharooty!

Skookum John said...

@Brian: I understand the phrase "congress shall make no law," but since the POTUS isn't congress, and neither are the various state legislatures, it's obvious that they aren't bound by that.

The POTUS isn't congress, so he makes no laws whatsoever on any subject.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann's wrong - again.

Don't expect an apology for suggesting the rest of us can't read or think.

That's just gravy.

Substance McGravitas said...

See? The liberal urge — which is what motivates The Onion's writers — is to repress the speech it disapproves of

Here is a much funnier link.

A.G. said...

And speaking of safe and lame, the fearless folks at Comedy Central (South Park, excepted) are now making a comedy about...Jesus. Wow, never seen a comedy making fun of Christians before! :-/... How about a shocking show about a redneck, bible-thumping football player...who's actually gay!!! (I know, u didn't see that one coming either)

Jesus Christ (no pun intended), there are some lame-o's out there.

man-with-the-silver-gun said...

The speech i hate the most is communist/socialist and any race-supremacist speech. It would cause me considerable joy that such speech was not uttered. And I completely support protecting such speech by the 1st amendment. I think thats what you're looking for?

jim said...

"The liberal urge — which is what motivates The Onion's writers — is to repress the speech it disapproves of."

Which surely explains the wretched history of ongoing liberal censorship - a social blight of the modern era that has always been met with conservatives' cries for the right to personal expression & artistic freedom. You can even look it up on BizarroWorldPedia!

The liberal urge is to REFUTE the speech it disapproves of.

The liberal urge is also to act to defend & advance liberty (via a crazy little thing we call social progress) - not much of a mystery there, after all it's kind of right there in the name.

The Commissars who endeavor to regulate language or expression may call themselves liberal if they wish - no matter how nakedly their deeds bely the word - for that, too, is protected speech.

Some of us have much less flattering names for them.

Greg Milner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.