Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Muzzling those who cause trouble...Fred Phelps and his God-Hates-Fags family were barred from entering the UK about two weeks ago. The British government had determined that Phelps was "inciting hatred" and "provok[ing] others to violence". Phelps had planned to come to England to picket--doubtless in his typically coarse and vicious manner--the production of The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in the American town of Laramie, Wyoming. Two weeks after the Phelps heave-ho, on the other side of the globe, speeches made during the Oscar ceremony by Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn wee censored for millions of Asian viewers by an Asian satellite network. Black and Penn were memorializing gay leader Harvey Milk, murdered 30 years ago. Censoring the Oscars was roundly decried as an offensive, fascistic action, while the Phelps dust-up was greeted largely with agreement and satisfaction. Why would muzzling the Oscars be condemned while muzzling Phelps and his clan be acceptable? The answer may lie in the brand of speech employed by the Phelps family, speech which reviles and denies gay people any element of respect as human beings, speech which provides an alibi for violence against gay people--a sense of entitlement to do violence. While merely saying "Shut up" to those whose speech offends us is obviously not the way to resolve antagonisms, those who want to speak should also bear some responsibility to rationally articulate and defend their views. The Oscar winners would be probably quite willing and able to do so; Phelps and his family do not explain much--they berate and employ gutter terms of hatred. Snarling is a step down from speech. As such, his level of discourse won't be much missed.