Freedom of Speech: Why Are Sex and Comedy Censored?

Release Date
September 10, 2015

Topic

Civil Liberties Education Free Speech
Description

Should comedic and sexual speech be censored on college campuses? While universities often like to show themselves as being progressive by supporting sex-positive speech, they are also increasingly clamping down on sexually explicit speech, imagery and even jokes.
Countless examples abound, but at one college in Alaska, students were investigated for months for running an April Fool’s edition of the student newspaper discussing vagina-shaped buildings.
A second type of expression where norms were once very constrained, were then liberalized, and now seem to be going back in the Victorian direction is comedy. Famed comedian Lenny Bruce was sentenced to prison for his racy comedy act in the 1960s. But after he died, the right to offend in comedy became not only widely accepted, but expected.
This idea prevailed for several decades. However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back, particularly on college campuses. And this time, it is not the police or Feds who are demanding inoffensive comedy, it’s students. Even comedians as prominent as Chris Rock and the late, great George Carlin said that they didn’t like playing college campuses because these venues have become too uptight.
For the last few decades, the idea that you should not censor expression you dislike because one day you could be the censored seems to be falling on deaf ears on campus. This is because a generation of students seem incapable of imagining their own opinions ever being the target of the morality or thought police.
However, they only need visit another country or part of the world to understand how different the situation could be. Meanwhile, there are far better reasons for believing in free speech other than the fact that you could be next. The truest support of free speech is to defend those ideas and, yes, jokes and pictures that we may hate,  not out of concern for the protection for the ideas we love, but because we prefer to live in an open society rather than a closed one.

Does Free Speech Offend You? (Video): Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, discusses whether offensive speech be banned.
 
Free Speech Is Not About Being Sensitive (Video): Jim Doti, President of Chapman University, shares concerns and says campuses are worse off now than they were ten or twenty years ago.
 
Free Speech: At What Cost? (Video): The Agenda explores the boundaries of what you can say, what you can’t say, and how the notion of free speech is changing.
 
Freedom of Speech: Crash Course Government and Politics #25 (Video): This video takes a look at a couple significant Supreme Court cases that have gotten us to our current definition of free speech, and also discusses some of the more controversial aspects of free speech – like hate speech.
 

Colin Cowherd: I’ve talked to Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy, they don’t even wanna do college campuses anymore.
Jerry Seinfeld: I hear that all the time. I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me don’t go near colleges, they’re so PC.
Greg Lukianoff: Censor not, lest you be censored.
The offensive speech of one generation is often the freedom movement of the next. This can result in a never-ending cycle where the roles of oppressor and oppressed switch back and forth. Speech about sex is probably the most instructive example of this historical process. Sexually provocative speech and images remain largely unprotected by the First Amendment until the 1950s.
Even James Joyce’s classic tome Ulysses was banned in the United States for obscenity, as was D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But then in a series of Supreme Court cases, spurred both by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. And by a strong interpretation of the First Amendment, sexual speech gradually earned its proper place among the kind of speech that should be protected.
An early high watermark for acceptance of sexual expression or low Point depends on your point of view, came with the 1972 mass release of the XXX film, Deep Throat. What’s hard for a lot of people to fathom today is that Deep Throat was shown in many mainstream theaters across the country.
This permissiveness did not last long, the sexually open minded 70s gave way to the more conservative 80s and a strange coalition started brewing between social conservatives and anti pornography feminists like Catharine MacKinnon. The seemingly opposing groups agreed for different reasons that pornography was dangerous and should be stopped.
We see this strange double mindedness on campuses today. While universities often like to show themselves as being progressive by supporting sex positive speech, they are also increasingly clamping down on sexually explicit speech, imagery and even jokes. A second type of expression where norms were once very constrained were then liberalized and now seem to be going back in the Victorian direction is comedy.
Famed comedian Lenny Bruce was sentence to prison for his racy comedy act in the 1960s. But after he died, the right to offend comedy not only became widely accepted, but expected. This idea prevailed for several decades. However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back, particularly on college campuses.
And this time, it is not the police or feds who are demanding inoffensive comedy. It’s students. Even comedians as prominent as Chris Rock and the late great George Carlin said that they didn’t like playing college campuses, because these venues have become too uptight. For the last few decades the idea that you should not censor expression you dislike, because one day, you could be the censored seems to be falling on deaf ears on campus.
The truest support of free speech is to defend those ideas and yes, jokes and pictures that we may hate. Not out of concern for the protection of the ideas we love, but because we prefer to live in an open society rather than a closed one.