Thursday, March 10, 2005
Telling it like it is
I've recently become a big fan of Frank Rich. According to his latest New York Times column (registration required) titled "The Greatest Dirty Joke Ever Told" about the importance of a bad joke at the Hugh Hefner roast two-and-a-half weeks after 9/11:
The latest scheme for broadening that censorship arrived the week after the Oscar show was reduced to colorless piffle on network television. Ted Stevens, the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, pronounced himself sick of "four-letter words with participles" on cable and satellite television. "I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over the air," he said, promising to carry the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Never mind that anyone can keep pay TV at bay by not purchasing it, and that any parent who does subscribe can click on foolproof blocking devices to censor any channel. Senator Stevens's point is to intimidate MTV, Comedy Central, the satellite radio purveyors of Howard Stern and countless others from this moment on, whether he ultimately succeeds in exerting seemingly unconstitutional power over them or not.
...I'm not a particular enthusiast for dirty jokes, but that freedom is exactly what I, and I suspect others, felt when a comic with a funny voice in a bad suit broke all the rules of propriety at that Friars Roast. But it was just three days earlier at the White House that Ari Fleischer, asked to respond to a politically incorrect remark about 9/11 by another comedian, Bill Maher, warned all Americans "to watch what they say." That last week in September 2001, I've come to realize, is as much a marker in our cultural history as two weeks earlier is a marker in the history of our relations with the world. Even as we're constantly told we're in a war for "freedom" abroad, freedom in our culture at home has been under attack ever since.