Friday, March 26, 2010

All Joking Aside

As I was reading this soporofic rant about the Coulter flap by an academic with the piquant name of Ozlem Sensoy (his name may be the zestiest thing about him), I couldn't help but recall the absolutist comment of another fun guy, the Ayatollah Khomeini. It seems like just yesterday that the bearded one was heard to intone: "There are no jokes in Islam." And darned if here comes Sensoy to tell us the same proscription on humour applies (more or less) to our own proud dominion. From the Vancouver Sun (my bolds; h/t KS):

On Tuesday, a speech by controversial American Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa was cancelled because of fears there might be physical violence.

One of the arguments I've heard over and over about the cancellation is the "free speech" argument: Coulter has the right to say whatever she wants. This, her supporters argue, is what free speech means and what Coulter is being denied.
What people who launch the charge of "free speech" (and other charges such as "anti-democratic", "censorship" and "lighten up, it's just entertainment") fail to acknowledge and understand is the social concept of power.
Sexism, racism, ableism, heterosexism, classism and anti-semitism are not about individual acts of discrimination (what some conservative commentator might have specifically said to offend someone or some group). These terms do not primarily refer to acts of discrimination (expressions of prejudices like Coulter's). They refer to systems of privilege that "normalize" a particular way of talking about and thinking about particular groups of people in society.
That is why Coulter's speech is not just "free" (i. e. bias-free, objectively sent out into the atmosphere). The effects of her speech when launched into public space are not simply situational. They are another series of burps in the historical and existing framework that has normalized a particular way of thinking about Muslims, gays and lesbians, and other marginalized groups...
I prefer to think of it as a fart. Coulter speaking in Canada was like letting a big one rip in Cathedral of Political Correctness--and what a wondrous sound it made! It's exactly what we needed to hear--a loud, rude noise to blast us awake. As for Sensoy's spiel about "free speech" not being "free" unless it's free from bias--only someone really smart (and no doubt tenured) could dare say something so stupid; it should be clear to all that the only "bias" he wants speech to be "free" of is a bias he doesn't share.

Also--we "understand the social concept of power" just fine, Sensoy. And we understand that it's the lefty ideologues with their palavar about "hegemony" and "community" and "marginalized groups" and blah blah blah who want--who demand--the power to control things. For the greater good of all, of course, and not because they're, you know, a bunch of power-hungry control freaks.

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