Bad Taste, An American Right

One of the many great things about America is that you have the right to tell me that you think that I am an idiot. Not only do you have the right to tell me that I am an idiot, but you can also tell wealthy, powerful men that you believe them to be idiots as well.

This hasn’t always been the case throughout human history.

In fact, telling a wealthy or powerful person that you think that they are an idiot has historically been a great way to find yourself excommunicated, hanged, impaled, or burned.

Because of this, the right to speak your mind is a relatively new freedom, and one of the chief reasons that America was invented.

The First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees every American citizen the ability to freely express themselves, with very few exceptions. While obscenity, slander, and even “fightin’ words” aren’t allowed, you might be surprised to find that many forms of expression, commonly believed to be culturally offensive, are actually protected by our Bill of Rights.

Sexism,
Racism,
Hate Speech,
Bigotry,
Even a Jersey Shore Accent.

This week our First Amendment faces a new challenge, in the form of Colorado high school senior Sydney Spies.

If you haven’t heard, Sydney Spies is currently protesting a recent decision made by the editors of the yearbook staff to not include her senior photo in their yearly publication.

They think her Senior picture is tasteless.

The not unattractive Spies opted for a “less than-scholarly” portrait; she’s dressed minimally …and casually draped across what appears to be a fire escape.

“I feel like they aren’t allowing me to have my freedom of expression,” Spies told the Herald. ”I think the administration is wrong in this situation, and I don’t want this to happen to other people.”

In efforts to keep this type of censorship from “happening to other people”, she has secured an attorney to not only fight for her rights, but to also protect the freedoms of ordinary Americans.

This isn’t just the story of an 18 year-old girl who wants to use her body to get attention, it’s the story of an 18 year-old girl who uses her body for attention AND wants to be a freedom fighter/advocate for others.

How American is that?

Upon further inspection of the issue, a problem arises for our democracy’s newest wonder woman.

Our First Amendment only promises that we have the right to freely express ourselves, it doesn’t guarantee that others will agree with our expressions:

It can’t ensure that you’ll stay privately employed after an “expression”

Because your boss can still have a right to fire you,  even if you think he is an idiot.

It doesn’t guarantee that others still like us after a “freedom exercise”

Because he certainly won’t enjoy your company after you tell him that he’s an idiot.

It also doesn’t mandate that others promote our espoused views.

Because even idiots tend to limit the spread of negative opinions about themselves.

When Sydney Spies posed for her senior picture she was expressing herself, and no one had the right to stop her from expressing her very specific tastes about both clothing and fire safety equipment.

But

Was she expressing herself when she asked the editors of the yearbook to publish the picture in their yearly publication?

Or

Was she was asking them to validate her expression and then promote it?

The beauty of this situation is that here in America Sydney Spies actually does have the freedom to express her thoughts and feelings in words, actions, and pictures, even if she does have bad taste and terrible judgement.

What she can’t do is force anybody else to enjoy, affirm, and distribute those expressions.

Putting the picture in the school yearbook, a book that her classmates have paid for, is an endorsement of the picture and her “expression”. By law, the school doesn’t actually have to do that.

By keeping the photo out of the yearbook the editors aren’t censoring Ms. Spies, they are protecting the integrity of their product.

And

No one is saying that Sydney can’t publish her photo, they are just saying that THEY won’t do it; because a high school yearbook isn’t the appropriate place for her very specific statement.

There is, however, a very specific, free, and effective place for attention seeking individuals to publish photographs of themselves. A place where the poor and the wealthy, intellectual and ignorant, taste-filled and tasteless converge.

It’s called the internet.

Idiots like me use it all the time.

“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” -Proverbs 17:28

5 Responses to “Bad Taste, An American Right”

  1. Leslie D. Martin January 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    “It’s called the internet.”

    Of course, there is also reality T.V.

    • Jon January 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Sooo true!

  2. Cody January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    People have the right to say ‘I hate my country’ to whomever they choose. Burn the American flag without consequence. March down streets whining and complaining on any given topic, usually in a manner disruptive to ‘the 99%’ of the people around them (of course). Express their feelings (whether thought through, truthful, intelligible or otherwise). Call themselves ‘experts’ (on a whim) and the list goes on. The best is when our people choose to stand for something even when the something they stand for is really nothing (and we’ll join them if we want to or not if we dont – we are Americans. Dammit!).

    I believe ‘Wisdom’ summarized it best in Proverbs 1:30-32 “They rejected my (wisdom) advices and paid no attention when I corrected them. That is why they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way. They must experience the full terror of the path they have chosen. For they are simpletons who turn away from me-to death. They are fools, and their own complacency will destroy them.”

    There is of course a wonderful hope and a promise for those of us willing to accept wisdoms correction. She say’s to us in 1:33 “But all who listen to me will live in peace and safety, unafraid of harm.”

    I love your thought Mr. Furman. Thank you for freely expressing yourself. It’s an expression I often choose to accept, support and promote!

    Mr. X

    aka – Cody

    • Jon January 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

      Hey Cody, hope you are doing well. I love your point about eating the fruits we’ve picked. There’s nothing more exciting and terrifying to me than the idea that God will let us have what we want; Him or destruction.

  3. Matt G January 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    In this era of the unquenchable self, people routinely, and mistakenly, believe that with the right of free speech comes the right to be heard.

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