Carol Callicotte

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Censorship September 4, 2008

Filed under: Censorship,France,Sticky Topics — A French American Life @ 4:14 pm
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Censorship has been on my mind lately, especially with banned books week coming up at the end of this month. Not to mention our recent peek into China. I told myself I wouldn’t get political on my blog – but as this relates to writing, it seems an appropriate topic.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spend a lot of time in France (I married a Frenchie). I’m a passionate supporter of first amendment rights, particularly freedom of speech, so I found the contrast between free speech laws in France vs. the U.S. fascinating when we were there this summer. Swear words on the radio or in television aren’t nearly as restricted in France as they are in the U.S. Here, there’s a constant flux between what is and isn’t permitted on TV or radio, and for the most part, certain words are never allowed. The “f” word, for example, garners a serious fine. “Penis” moves in and out (no pun intended, of course) of restricted use. I think freedom of speech should include all words of our colorful vocabulary, not just those considered appropriate by the FCC. There’s a diverse enough market that people will be able to find the channels that appeal to them, and radio and TV stations will adjust for their target audience.

In contrast, free speech in France is more restrictive than the U.S. when it comes to certain topics. Bridgitte Bardot, France’s iconic beauty of the fifties and sixties, has found herself in hot water several times over the last decade or so with the French government. Her crime? According to the government, “inciting racial hatred.” They’ve fined her five times as of this year. She’s made quite a few statements over the years, both verbal and in print, citing her hatred for Muslims and what she perceives they have done to her country.

I’ll pause right here to say that I have found her comments to be offensive and ignorant, and I’ve lost all respect for her. Yes, I think those that spout this sort of hateful nonsense show a very poor level of awareness and judgment. And I think that is my – and everyone else’s – personal judgment call to make. Not the government’s. Should being verbally offensive and ignorant be a crime? Or do we all have a right to say what’s on our mind – even if others don’t like it? Where do we draw the line? Who decides what is and is not offensive? Mind you, she didn’t start a violent riot, or harass any one particular person. She said and wrote some stupid, hateful things. Should free speech laws put restrictions on stupidity? This kind of censorship is a slippery slope to try to stand on. I mistrust any government going down this path.

Along the same lines, I look back to the McCarthy era – interesting in and of itself, and in the context of today’s world. I’m a huge fan of The Kingston Trio. Perhaps many of you don’t know this group. You should. They brought folk music to the mainstream in the late fifties. McCarthyism had blackballed many, notably The Weavers, Pete Seeger’s band, for daring to sing protest music. The Kingston Trio managed to avoid being blackballed by sticking to tamer topics – at first. But they gradually began to sneak political lyrics and dialogue into their concerts, and are credited with helping to pave the way for bands of the sixties who helped start the protest movement against the Vietnam War. Ever heard the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” written by Seeger and performed later by the Trio? Try googling “The Merry Minuet.” Written in 1958 by Sheldon Harnick and sung by The Kingston Trio at the Hungry i, this song remains timely, 50 years later.

Books are still being banned. Our First Amendment rights are continuously challenged. Often these things occur under the guise of the U.S. being a country at war, or a need to return to American/ family values.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes. Benjamin Franklin said, in 1784, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”