HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 26, 2007, Herald Journal

What it is, is censorship


The pre-Super Bowl hype has now been replaced by post-Super Bowl wailing about the content of the broadcast.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions this year, but several groups came forward recently to complain about commercials that were shown during the Super Bowl.

What is surprising about this is not that they found ads that were offensive, but that their complaints were limited to so few of them.

One might argue that most television (and radio) commercials are offensive.

Many of them are offensive because they insult the intelligence of anyone with an IQ higher than about 12. The advertisers seem to think that their viewing audience has the intellect of a somewhat below average turnip. That may, in fact, be true for some viewers, but I don’t care to be lumped in with them.

Other commercials are offensive because they include objectionable content.

One must concede that there are all sorts of unpleasant maladies out there, and it is probably a good thing that there are companies that make products to combat these conditions, but that doesn’t mean I want them broadcast into my living room.

I have also noticed that the advertisers have either an incredibly poor sense of timing or a warped sense of humor. It seems that they choose to run the most repugnant spots about the time I sit down to enjoy my dinner.

I can do without hearing about unfortunate bodily functions or feminine hygiene products, and I certainly don’t want to hear about these things during dinner, but it seems that a lot of advertisers think this is the ideal time to pitch their wares.

And, just for the record, trying to mask the unpleasantness of these subjects by using inane animation or romantic music does nothing to improve the situation.

There are a whole range of products that I do not want to hear about.

If the companies that produce these products absolutely have to advertise them, I would prefer that they do so in the middle of the day or late at night when I am not near a television set.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with that kind of thinking.

The problem is that it conflicts with freedom of speech.

If a company wants to spend a fortune to try to persuade the public to buy its products, it has the right to do so.

If a company’s advertising offends or irritates me, I probably won’t buy its products.

This does not mean that I can prevent these companies from trying to inveigle others into buying their products.

With any medium, whether it be print, radio, or television, the likelihood of offending someone increases as the number of people receiving the message increases.

In this dark age of political correctness, one can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who will take umbrage at the most innocuous statement.

Some people have the misguided notion that they should be able to prevent others from expressing any idea that they do not support.

What these people are missing is the fact that freedom comes with responsibility.

And, no matter what media is involved, we have control.

Control means if we don’t like a magazine, we don’t have to read it. If we don’t like what we hear or see on radio or television, we can change the channel, or better yet, turn it off. Most devices are still equipped with power switches, and these give consumers the ultimate control over what they are exposed to.

Control does not mean that just because we don’t agree with something, we can prevent others from hearing or seeing it.

Two Super Bowl ads that have drawn criticism are ads from an auto maker and a candy company.

The first featured a robot jumping off a bridge after it was fired for making a mistake. Protesters say this presents suicide as an option for those who make mistakes or lose their jobs.

The second ad involved two mechanics who accidently kiss while eating a candy bar, and then rip out chest hair to prove their masculinity. Opponents say this promotes hate crimes.

The groups in question demanded that the commercials be pulled and never shown again. That is going too far.

It is their choice if they choose not to buy a product or support the manufacturer. It is also their choice if they choose not to watch a television or radio station that airs ads that they find offensive.

But when any person or group tries to suppress the free speech or expression of another because they don’t like the message or the way it is presented, that is censorship, and there is no room for that in a free country.

Freedom of speech does not only mean defending that speech with which we agree.

It means defending the right of those with whom we disagree to voice their opinions.

In fact, this may be the most important part of free speech.

And, for those who would argue in favor of censorship on the grounds that some kid might happen to be watching, it is still the job of the parents to control what children watch, not the responsibility of the rest of the world to adapt to someone else’s view of what is appropriate.

The real issue surrounding the Super Bowl commercials is not a question of “advertiser insensitivity,” it is an issue of censorship.

The minute we allow censorship to prevail, we all lose our freedom.

Whether the subject is commercials or any other form of expression, if we allow one entity to censor another, we all lose. Not just the manufacturer. Not just the marketing company. Not just the television station. We all lose, and we can’t afford to let that happen.

Too many people have given their lives to preserve the rights of Americans to say stupid things.

We may not like it, we may find things we see or hear offensive, but we have the responsibility to protect the freedom behind them.

So bring on your commercials about foot fungus and incontinence, nasal congestion and personal hygiene. I have my finger on the mute button, and if that doesn’t work, I know where the power switch is.