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#NoFreeSpeech is growing goal of social media

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POSTED July 31, 2017 9:56 p.m.

One wonders whether Samuel Clemens would have written any of his classics if social media had been around in the mid-19th century.
Clemens — whose pseudonym Mark Twain was taken from his days as a riverboat pilot working on the Mississippi River as crew members yelled out depth checks — penned politically incorrect works such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.
I can see the social media campaign now: “#NoMarkTwain”.
What brings this up is the social media campaign to kill an HBO series dubbed “Confederate” even before production starts. “Confederate” is set in modern-day America. HBO described the storyline as “a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone” that includes freedom fighters, top brass of slave-holding corporations, abolitionists, and politicians.
The HBO announcement triggered a typhoon of social media outrage dubbed “NoConfederate” from those who found the premise and concept offensive and racist.
Frankly, you could argue much of what passes for television today to be “offensive and racist.” Shows such as “Fresh off the Boat” play on Chinese stereotypes while “South Park” employs offense to make points all over the political and cultural map.
There are some that argue had the producers that came up with the idea for “Confederate” had been black, there would be no issue. Whether that’s true, the real issue is what people perceive as offense speech or offensive ideas.
Sight unseen people aren’t only offended but they are working mightily to silence the idea ever making it to TV.
That’s fine. It’s their right. But they are employing a chilling tactic — pre-emptive censorship.
Every show and movie has the opportunity to offend someone. Even the “Planet of the Apes” movies in the depiction of slavery can be found offensive given the choice of animals to enslave humans. Perhaps the problem with the “Confederate” idea is that the premise lacks subtlety.
Personally, I don’t see much value — if any — in producing a TV show such as “Confederate”. Not  only can I say that about a lot of TV shows, movies, and even music that I view as offensive or downright idiotic but I can say the same thing about modern art or Andres Serrano’s photograph of placing a crucifix in a jar of his own urine. To make it clear, I’m not Catholic. I just find it repulsive, idiotic, and obscene. That said, there were people that thought it made a powerful artistic statement. I probably wouldn’t have formed an opinion if Serrano hadn’t relied on federal funding from the National Endowment of the Arts to create the photograph. Seriously, how much does it cost to buy a Mason jar, a plastic crucifix, Kodak film, and then to urinate into a jar? The answer from Washington, D.C., was in the form of a $15,000 federal NEA grant to fund the photograph.
Freedom of speech or expression is not absolute. You can’t get away with yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and triggering a panic where people can get hurt when there isn’t a fire. Speech can and should have consequences in specific cases based on relatively narrow circumstances.
You can call a politician a “dirty, lowdown horse thief” — unless you are actually accusing them of stealing a horse and it’s not true.You can’t accuse them of “stealing $10,000 for a government agency” if it isn’t true and not risk  being sued and held libel for speech that damaged a person’s reputation.
No one is saying racism isn’t repulsive and insensitive. But then again if certain segments of society watched most MTV programing they would likely find it repulsive and insensitive.
I take great offense at fat jokes. I know, it’s not the same as slavery or being ridiculed or demeaned because of skin tone, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or a handicap. But if you’ve ever been the target of vicious jokes, ridicule and even unwanted physical actions such as a jerk grabbing your spare tire and then announcing the obvious “you’re fat” you wouldn’t appreciate HB0 coming out with a fictional series dubbed “Fatsoes” depicting overweight people as somehow being sub-human.
I guess in that case I could start a social media campaign dubbed “#NoFatsoes” but what’s the point?
Even though I don’t like the idea of slamming fat people as I think it just re-enforces sweeping generalities and serves no useful purpose except to demean and ridicule, is it right that I try to censure such a show? Besides, for all I know it could end up being in the genre of “South Park” that employs crudity and repulsive dialogue to not just solicit laughs but to drive home a basic moral point.
I have no desire to watch “Confederate”. While I’m sure there is a way to develop a new take that has a strong storyline that re-enforces slavery is morally repulsive and driven by greed, bigotry, prejudice, hatred, and fear, I really don’t see the point.
But then again many of Mark Twain’s contemporaries made similar observations about much of his works that are credited with effectively communicating to the masses the follies, absurdities, and corruption of soul and mind when it came to politics of the day and general culture.
Perhaps “Confederate” might do the same thing. Even if it doesn’t, muzzling speech and expression in advance is never a good thing. Just ask people who have been slaves.

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