Archive for October, 2011

06
Oct
11

The Hank Williams Firing and the “Social” protection of Freedom of Speech.

For those of you who still watch Monday Night Football you won’t be seeing Hank Williams Jr. and all his rowdy friends anymore. Just this morning ESPN announced it has parted ways with the long time country singer whose song ‘Are you Ready for Some Football” was borderline iconic in identifying the opening of each Monday Night football game for the past 25 years. In case you haven’t heard Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler last week in an interview with Fox News, or did he? To be fair to Hank what he really said was that supporting Obama would be like President Netanyau (the prime minister of Israel) supporting Hitler because, well, Obama and Biden are the enemy. Although the comments were stupid Williams was really trying to make an analogy of his dislike of Obama and the dislike someone like Netanyau (the leader of the Jewish State) would have for someone like Hitler (who as you know killed Jews.) The analogy, however dumb it may have been, didn’t really call President Obama Hitler. More importantly Williams was on Fox News trying to be edgy with a conservative audience. One doubts that Williams really cares much about the President one way or another. In any event I think the firing of Williams was dissapointing for a number of reasons.

First off please don’t anyone send me anything saying that this is not a “Freedom of Speech” case because “Freedom of Speech” doesn’t protect you from getting fired, “Freedom of Speech” doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to your actions, etc. Yes, I am aware of that, and yes, I realize that ESPN has the right to fire Hank. I have used the same argument myself in other cases so I don’t need to be reminded of it. But whether or not someone has the right to fire you for what they say and whether or not that is a good decision is a key point in this blog. In addition to government regulation of speech we should be aware of social regulation of speech. How we handle what people do and say in the public eye is as equally important as what government allows us to say because frankly government takes its cue from the people.

In an excellent essay titled “How to Read a Society” by Theodore Dalrymple he makes the case that Communism would have spread in Russia no matter what because Russian society was pre-disposed to it. Before the Bolsheviks took over the Russian people had an unusual public display of respect and admiration for the czar’s and royal family that controlled the country. In the market or in public places anyone that questioned or criticized the government was frowned upon by the populace and local’s would make money by informing on people to the police. Privately, in one-on-one discussions, the Russians would voice their concerns with the government but it was considered treasonous to voice those concerns openly. Such a climate was ripe for Communist control, and Bolshevicks had no problem silencing dissent once they were in power.

I don’t wish to make too big a deal of Williams firing but it is one in a long string of voices that have been silenced because of rude/inappropriate comments. Just to name a few examples; John Rocker, a relief pitcher for the Braves, traded and eventually drummed out of baseball for criticizng the diversity of New Yorkers; Rush Limbaugh, fired from ESPN for saying Donovan McNabb was propped up by the media because they wanted a black quarterback to succeed; Don Imus, fired from his radio show for calling the Rutgers basketball team a “bunch of nappy-headed ho’s”; Michael Richards, shunned from society, and stand-up for using the “N” word on stage; now Williams, for using a Hitler analogy. All of these examples and probably a half-dozen more I could list if I really wanted to are cases of people in the public eye that were wiped out due to poor choices of words. At what point do we stop this! At what point do we learn to chill out a little bit?

I was at the bar the other night and while there a man next to me kept making some insensitive comments about the woman working at the bar. He was joking about her body and wanting to have sex with her and was clearly drunk. At first I said nothing because I didn’t want to make a scene, but eventually I asked him to calm it down a little. He said he was joking. I said that was fine but the girl is just doing her job, and enough already. To my surprise he stopped making the comments and went back to drinking his beer. I could have fought the guy, the bar could have kicked him out but none of that was necessary. Just leaning over and reminding him that this was a public place and his comments weren’t appreciated was enough. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we handled things like this?

The next time someone uses the “N” word around you or calls a woman a bad name you can simply lean over and say I would rather you not do that, and most of the time that will work. And the next time someone in the public eye says something dumb we could as a society just say publicly,”hey, knock it off man.” We don’t have to get up in arms and send in a thousand hate letters just because we disagree with someone. We could learn to chill the fuck out once in a while. What Hank Williams said was dumb but it wasn’t that offensive and I’m not sure he should have lost his job of 25 years just because of it. ESPN could have had Williams issue an apology (which he did), suspended him for a week, and then moved on. No doubt some people who have nothing better to do with their lives would have still been upset, but eventually all would be forgiven and forgotten.

It is important to remember that the 1st amendment protects our speech from the government, but it is we the people that protect speech for ourselves. The next time you say something dumb or politically incorrect what kind of society do you want to live in? One that values different attitudes and opinions or one like Communist Russia? You decide.

Sincerely,

Jack B.