Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Howard Stern, patriot?

While Larry Flynt and 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell both peddle sleazy, they also provide important case studies in the First amendment. With a Supreme Court case (made famous in the movie the People Vs. Larry Flynt) granted the Hustler publisher the right to make gratuitous sex jokes about Rev. Jerry Falwell, Florida courts granted that Campbell and his band had the right to make filthy raps. Granted that these aren't the ideal guys to help uphold the First amendment but as Flynt pointed out, if the law can protect his rights to spout off, then it will protect your own right too.

Anyone who's still grossed out by the idea of foul-mouths upholding our rights might want to remember a few things. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were also arrested for peddling obscenity and though some people would say that they were being more high-minded that Flynt or Campbell, the same basic issue about individual rights is still key. And doesn't Voltaire's words still hold true today? "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

And so into this lineage comes Howard Stern. Ready to run off to satellite right because he's sick of being pursued by the FCC (though he still might be fined there down the road), he's become the latest poster-boy for free speech. I used to listen to him in high school (this is going back to the early 80's) and thought he was a hoot but noticeably, as I got older, I got bored of him. Funny thing is that waiting in line yesterday, I heard someone else say the same thing: "you listen to him for a while and he just starts saying the same stuff." So even if I'm not a Stern fan anymore, he does fall in line with the cases of Flynt and Campbell. His bad boy persona actually thrives on the fines that he keeps getting- he gets mileage out of saying that he's too hot for the stuffed shirts who want to shut a rebel like him down.

Making a case for martyrdom is a little harder for Stern to do with his audience- possibly, he might think it's over their head. But the case is there for it, if only because his trials and tribulations come about largely because he's an easy target, a lightning rod for cultural conservatives to attack and punish.

And while it's hard for bleeding hearts to swallow, a guy who offers up boobs, farts and weird sex as entertainment might be a... Patriot? At least that's the case that Esquire magazine is making with a petition to the FCC about Stern's fines. It might be more accurate to say that rather than someone who's wrapped in old glory, Stern is a bellwether (doesn't sound as neat though, does it?). Again, just like Flynt's case, what happens to Stern is an indication of what's in store for anyone else in entertainment (or print or even in public) who would dare transgress arbitrary rules of taste and culture. As Esquire notes, this extends to ridiculous scenarios like the TV stations that were scared of airing the movie Saving Private Ryan for fear of crippling FCC fines (which didn't come but also weren't discounted beforehand).

Just as the wing-nuts like the Parents Television Council can try to strong-arm the FCC, why can't saner people try to do so also?

See the Esquire petition for Stern


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