Caustic Overreaction: The Importance of Freedom of Speech

Have you ever played Mega Man?  It’s a series of video games about a blue robot boy (or maybe cyborg…I’m not really sure) who runs, jumps, and blasts evil robots with the gun he has on his arm.  The franchise began in 1987 with the release of the first game and has spawned over fifty different games on various game systems.  It’s a classic series that most gamers (and perhaps even some non-gamers) have heard of.  So why do I bring this up?

Cue Mighty No. 9.

Mighty No. 9 is a video game that just came out this month from the original creator of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune.  But before it came out, there was a trailer for the game.  And in that trailer, there was this line:

“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their powerups…stuff that will make you faster and stronger and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”

Some of you might know where I’m going with this already, so I’ll get right to it.  People weren’t happy about the anime fan joke.

“Why do you have this Douchebag Dudebro, Insulting Otakus, or Sexual Innuendo about Combos,” reads one Youtube comment.

“I’m an anime fan. Big fucking deal, I guess I’ll be alone on prom night won’t I? Waaait, nope. I won’t be alone because I’ll be chilling with my friends who are mostly female and are anime geeks as well. Guess that means anime fans aren’t very lonely and this game is completely ridiculous,” reads another comment.

And then there were those who weren’t bothered by the joke.  “Well I like anime but I don’t feel insulted by the trailer, I think it’s pretty funny (please don’t kill me). Sooo, are those dislikes just for that,” one comment asked.

At the time of this writing the trailer is sitting at just over four thousand likes on Youtube as compared to over thirty-thousand dislikes.

Now, was the joke a bit tactless?  Perhaps.  But it serves as an example of the things people should be allowed to say.  It serves as a reminder of the importance of freedom of speech.

I talked a while ago about what I called our “course over-correction”, our tendency to try to limit what people say because others might find it offensive.  You may or may not know this, but some months back the mayor of Superior, Wisconsin was criticized for making a comment that basically accused Obama of being a Muslim who was destroying the fabric of democracy.  Now, when this occurred, two different camps sprung up.  There were those who thought the mayor made a bad move and should apologize to the public.  And then there were those who thought that he had every right to say what he said and harshly condemned anyone criticizing him for it.

Again, here’s the thing: free speech allows all of this to happen.  The mayor could say what he wanted to say.  No one was saying that he couldn’t.  But as an elected official who is essentially the face of an entire community of people, he really should have been thinking about how it would affect public perception of Superior.  To his credit he did apologize and make amends for it, but the point still stands.  When you’re in the public eye, things tend to work differently.  And you have to be prepared to deal with criticism for the things you say.

The bizarre thing about this situation is that I know that if he had been making a derogatory comment about Christians, the sides would probably have flipped.  Those who were defending his Muslim comment likely would have been raking him over the coals and demanding an apology.  Because apparently, some people love freedom of speech until confronted with something they don’t like.

Here’s another example: I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook that show pictures or video of people trampling, burning, or defacing the United States flag in some manner as a form of protest.  Naturally, the people sharing these are outraged.  “If they don’t like this country, then they should just leave,” they often say.  But that’s not what free speech is about.  There’s no law against using the flag as a protest symbol.  In fact, that’s protected under our system of law and known as “symbolic speech”.

It all comes down to something we’re told a lot as children: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  Well, I’m sorry, but I think that’s a load of bullshit.

Sometimes, negative things need to be said.  Now I’m not condoning bullying or anything like that.  I believe in free speech up to the point where speech becomes harassment and infringes on someone else’s rights.  But sometimes, we need to say negative things.  We need to point out stuff like “hey, our education system sucks these days.”  Or “hey, the political system is broken and needs to change.”  Or “hey, that guy is a total asshole.”  Simply shutting up and not saying anything at all because you don’t have anything nice to say is not what freedom of speech is all about.

Freedom of speech isn’t there to protect the people who chant “peace and love”.  It isn’t there to protect the people who proclaim “God is great”.  They don’t need protection.  They’re in the majority.  Freedom of speech is there to protect the guy who says “Hitler had a point”.  It’s there to protect the people who say “I hate America”.  It’s there to protect groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.  Because as despicable as they may be when they picket military funerals, they have every right to do so.

But we have every right to call them out on it.  We have every right to counter-protest them, to speak out against them.  Because freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism.  Freedom of speech is not freedom from things you don’t like to hear.  Freedom of speech means that those who have, for so long, suffered in silence can have a voice if they so choose.  Freedom of speech applies to all people and all ideas, not just those that fit our tight little view of how things should be.  Freedom of speech means that yes, someone can make a tactless joke about anime fans.

Because, as the saying goes, I may not like what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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