I am going to preface this with a warning.
First the warning: This entry may contain language or sentences that may be offensive to some.
Okay, everyone take a deep breath. Ready? I will proceed then. I wanted to say a few words about my views on censorship. Now I understand that these are my views and not your views, so feel free to post an opposing view, I promise you won't hurt my feelings.
I feel very strongly about censorship, especially when it comes to language and the ability of an individual to form an opinion and express it publicly without fear of retribution. There are really only two forms of speech: popular and unpopular. Both of these forms can be dependent upon who sees hears or reads that speech. As an example, if a right wing pundit were to preach about the dangers of Islamic Extremism within the confines of a predominantly white community that might be considered popular speech. In contrast to that, such discussion might not fair out well in an Islamic community and might be considered unpopular. Whether I agree with the example is really irrelevant to the fact that I believe both forms of speech need to be protected. The reason I believe this is because I am a free speech advocate and communication should never be stifled just because it might have the potential to hurt someones feelings.
Warning possible offensive language ahead.
There are words that have been deemed so offensive that to utter them in any context is considered out of line and can bring about a wrath of criticism. The "N" is likely the most unpopular in today's society and even when used in context of a discussion can lead to false accusation, career action and one sided criticism. We use the "N" in place of the actual word because we as a society have become so hypersensitive that we feel that censorship is appropriate in all cases.
Okay, are you ready? Nigger is a very offensive word that was used by clearly ignorant people to describe African Americans and found its place during an era when it was the norm to keep black people as slaves. It would later be used by equally ignorant people who considered their own race to be superior.
Today if someone uses the word nigger in a similar context to the one above they can face serious consequences, from career to personal.
Really though, it is only a word and anyone who would criticize me for using such a word in the context that I have likely has their own agenda and very little grasp of why we need to protect all speech. Comedian Louis CK summed it up like this. "Don't say "N" word, because when you say that all you do is forfeit ownership of the word and pass it along to whoever it is your addressing." In a nutshell he's saying that you are too gutless to say the word, so you say "N" word when everyone really knows your really just saying nigger.
Why do we need to protect such a vulgar and filthy word like nigger? Well, if you're a writer it should be obvious. Language should be your gospel. All language, good, bad, mean, sad, happy, dirty, should be protected.
"Well I don't like vulgar language, I find it offensive," you might counter.
My answer to you is this: Good, be offended, form an opinion, even call it offensive, but never call for its censorship. Because something you deem offensive may not be offensive to another. Certainly we can warn people of explicit or offensive language, but we should never hide it just because it might be unpopular. The minute we start censoring each other is when we begin chipping away at language and for writers that should be a scary prospect.
Just recently I was critiqued on a story I submitted to a web forum back in December of 2010. The poster was pretty clear that they found the language in my story graphic, even vulgar and that it displayed no talent or skill. My primary concern when I received this criticism was not that someone might agree with the poster's view, because to be a writer you have to thicken your skin. My concern was that the Administration on the Web Forum might view this as someone getting personal and strip the post altogether. To date they haven't and I'm glad. The individual who posted their opinion is entitled to air it, whether I disagree with it, or anyone else does for that matter, is irrelevant.
The great thing about language is that when you take ownership of it, you are judged on it. So if someone says that Gay People are mentally ill and should be locked away, we are given an opportunity to judge that speech and form an opinion. If we strip the person who says something unpopular or even hateful of the ability to do so we do two things.
- We take way the ability of others to form an opinion; and
- even worse, we drive people, sometimes dangerous people, underground.
Personally, I like when the hate-mongers are in plain view, it's easier to get a bead on them. Otherwise they start whispering behind their hands and aren't as easy to spot. Those are the kind of people who go on shooting sprees or blow things up or kill someone because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation. We want the hate-mongers in plain view, their words serve to educate us about things like hate and while we think we might be sanitizing the world of their nastiness, we are really just cloaking that which we fear. When you pull back the curtain the hate is still there, pretending its not and throwing a blanket over it doesn't make it go away.
THEN THEY CAME FOR ME, AND THERE WAS NO ONE LEFT TO SPEAK FOR ME.
--Pastor Martin Neimoller in reference to the rise of the Nazi's.
As writers, when we allow ourselves to chip away at speech, we are inevitably destroying that which we claim to love. I love the written word, it is truly mankinds most profound accomplishment. From it we learn, communicate and evolve. Even the ugly stuff helps us to be better people as we are able to identify the differences between right and wrong, truth and lie. Today we see classic books being stripped of words, people burning books because they are considered blasphemous and even threats of death for writing literature that insults a particular faith. We should never self-censor or live in fear of criticism for that which we write just because someone with an agenda sees it as an opportunity to distort what we are saying.
My fellow writers, poets, bleeding hearts and artists I submit to you that this language we use to communicate must be protected by the people who use it most. Censorship is an attack on that language, whether popular or not., the words we use and hear are just that, words.
If we allow those who use language to preach hate we also saddle them with ownership of their hateful agenda.
If we take away that ability, we drive them underground and before we know it those language police who censored the hate-mongers will begin to scrutinize our own words without consideration of context or intent.
I hope that people who read thisl look past the ugly words and see the context and intent of this essay or rant or vulgarity or whatever you want to call it.