Thursday, March 31, 2005

Censorship- It's the American and Russian way!

A recent article in Reason magazine, Cathy Young's Religion in Art? Nyet!, chronicles the troubling return of art censorship in Russia. The government is looking to pass laws to harshly punish these supposed miscreants while a court case looms over their head. The article concludes:

"The absurd witch-hunt in Russia is a cautionary tale for the United States as well. If nothing else, it should show us the true worth of President Vladimir Putin's protestations that Russia is firmly on the road to democracy. It is also a demonstration of the dangers of hate speech laws, of criminalizing expression that offends people's sensibilities, and of equating criticism of religion with bigotry. These are relevant issues we face at home, too. "

All of which might seem a little harsh if it wasn't for current events. A New York Times article, Under New Chief, F.C.C. Considers Widening Its Reach, explains how new honcho Kevin J. Martin wants to extend the amorphous indecency fines to apply to cable, satellite and the Internet. Anything that's deemed 'offensive' by their ever-changing standards is going to face stiffer penalties than ever. Congress is gung-ho as it can be about this and Dubya is just ducky with the idea. Which is pretty funny as we were supposed to be lecturing Mr. Putin on the benefits of a free, open society recently. In Young's article above, talk of how certain art 'offends people's sensibilities' sounds chillingly familiar. Jail time isn't a option here yet but how smug can we get when we're ready to use six figure fines and threaten to take away broadcasters' licenses?

What this means is that ANY form of mass entertainment may become subject to these rules. Right now, the focus is on TV and radio but that's sure to also include music and movies, two of the favorite scapegoats/bogeymen of Washington when they need to point to reasons why American society is drowning in a cesspool of immorality. A government dictating morality doesn't sound very democratic and if we're really trying to teach the Russians anything (shining example that we are), we're teaching them the wrong lesson here.

Part of Putin's recent crackdowns has also included the press. So far our own government has decided to plant their own people in the 4th estate's ranks and I don't think their goal is to arrest any unwanted elements there (though I'm sure they'd be happy to if they could) but instead to discredit the profession so that their own 'news' will get out the way that they want it: Beat the Press from the San Antonio Current is a excellent survey of this problem.

And again, to anyone in the entertainment world who thinks that this messy political stuff has nothing to do with you, then you're just burying your head in the sand. As we have less and less outlets for our writing and the ones that remain get more and more neutered, except that you'll have to be doing a lot more online writing if you want to get your words out there in a way that you can live with. As such, I'm so damn grateful that I have a day job that has nothing to do with this industry.


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