Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Freedom of Speech

On the Chicago Tribune's site today, Kathleen Parker's article addresses the "workout" that the 1st Amendment has been getting.

In Gainesville, Fla., where the 1st Amendment argument is more clear-cut, cartoonist Andy Marlette drew an image that has angered some black groups. Yes, a new generation has produced another Marlette. This one is the nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and author Doug Marlette, whose talent as an equal-opportunity offender apparently seeped into the family gene pool.

Marlette the Younger's cartoon in the Independent Florida Alligator was a commentary on rapper Kanye West's remarks following Hurricane Katrina that: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Marlette drew a cartoon of West holding an oversized playing card labeled "The Race Card," with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying, "Nigga Please!"

The N-word makes me cringe ... especially every time I hear West say it. His spicy songs, including his current hit, "Gold Digger," are liberally seasoned with the word "nigga," often couched in violence and obscenity. But when I imagine the immaculate and proper Condi Rice saying it, especially to a "brotha"' who has made a fortune playing the bad boy, it makes me laugh.

Which is to say Marlette's cartoon hit the mark. It was sophisticated, irreverent and funny. His use of West's own language to parody the rapper's political statement was, in fact, the "art" of the cartoon.


When did Kanye West play the "bad boy"? One of the problems that he repeatedly had in getting his first record made was that he didn't fit the bad boy image of most rappers. He's not "from the streets". His music is more complex in that it both criticized Hip Hop's "bling" mentality even as it admits, and at times embraces, the allure it holds.

Why refer to his "music" with quotes? My guess as to the number of times that Ms. Parker has listened to Kanye West's "music":

0. Zero. Zilch.

So, Kanye's use of the "N-word" is "often couched in violence and obscenity"? Well, I guess that must be since he's a rapper, and that's what they do, right? I cannot think of one example of obscenity on Kanye's latest album, Late Registration, and I listen to it regularly. In fact, the album has received accolades for returning Hip Hop to its origins as socially-conscious commentary.

The First Amendment:
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.


The 1st Amendment protects against government limitations, not against private limitations. Organizations have the right to limit speech. In fact they are compelled to limit speech, but not by the government. They are compelled to maintain limits by the potential for other responses, namely civil actions. Consider verbal harassment. Why wouldn't that fall under free speech? Does the government actually limit such speech? No, but organizations definitely limit such speech. To protect themselves against litigation and against loss of revenue, organizations regularly place limits on their employee's speech.

When Louis Farrakahn was asked to speak to some universities in the 90s, protests were held by the Anti-Defamation League. Is there much difference?

The point is that organizations regularly limit the speech of their members, and those limits are not a violation of the Constitution. Removing a person from a position does not limit that person's speech. If anything, it limits the association of that person's speech with the organization. A person can choose to limit their own speech to maintain an affiliation, whether personal or professional.

In fact, either of the people that Ms. Parker mentions could publish their "speech" in another medium. Maybe they could start a blog together and start publishing all their stuff, offensive or not, as often as they want.

Post a Comment

5 Comments:

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6:16 AM  
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8:54 PM  
Blogger Gladys Cortez said...

hey look--a NON-spam comment!!

I read that commentary too, and thought the same thing--since when is Kanye West a stereotypical rapper??? And the "music" thing in quotes bugged the hell out of me. This looked to me like another let's-dogpile-on-the-rappers-for-all-the-evils-of-society thing, which was played out back in the early 90's, when it was 2 Live Crew under all that outrage.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Michael M. Davis said...

Yeah, I've been getting a few spam comments now and again. At least the guy at the top here is somewhat on topic. The comment is on the wrong post, though.

I'd be willing to concede the point that 2 Live Crew or even NWA were getting rich by playing the bad boys, but Kanye West? Come on. The best response: "Jesus Walks".

10:54 PM  
Blogger rokkgod said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:42 AM