Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The proof that shock sells is in Bumfights. Four men are responsible for the controversial video series. Two of them are film students. One of those film students is from UCLA. Ironically, these men and their videos are now famous, primarily through the publicity provided by people who have strived to silence them. These efforts were not only self-defeating but unnecessary.

Look at Ty Beeson’s 2006 appearance on the Dr. Phil show. This show should be studied in communications classes. First, Dr. Phil introduces his guest as the man you must warn your children about. After he gives the parental warning, he shows the audience clips from the Bumfights video. At just the right moment, he cuts the tape and he performs his rehearsed display of indignance.

Dr. Phil has seen this video before but his goal is to make his own feelings accessible to his viewers, who are just now seeing the video for the first time. He uses his therapist voice to order his guest off the stage and once his guest is gone, the doctor makes an appeal to the audience and their sense of dignity.

His message is to his audience is thus: I am a guiding light for intelligent and moral people. In contrast to me is Ty. He is a role model for fools. If you are intelligent, you will listen to me. If you are a fool, you will buy Ty’s video.

Dr. Phil might act degusted but his intent was never to silence the Bumfights videos. His goal was to use Ty as a boogieman by which to make himself look good. Despite criticism from bloggers, it is fair to say that Dr. Phil succeeded.

Talk show hosts such as Dr. Phil go inadvertently inspire the Cosmeticians to write their congressmen in hopes that the government might step in and override The First Amendment and apply prior restraint in the name of obscenity. These motions have enjoyed minimal success.

This objection to obscenity has been most successful on a capitalistic rather than legal level. Merchants reserve the right not to carry a product for any reason. Most traditional and online stores have opted not to carry Bumfights.

Other enemies of Bumfights have sought to silence the videos on basis of Bad Tendency. Several incidents of violence targeted at the homeless have been vaguely connected back to the entertainment videos. These motions have enjoyed less success than the former.

The most effective motions against the makers of the Bumfights videos have not been related to The First Amendment at all. Rather, legal action has been taken against the creators for staging the illegal fights. In 2004, the city of San Diego sentenced two of the four creators to jail.

Freedom of speech and capitalism go hand in hand. In many ways, they keep each other in check. When freedom of speech comes into question, as in the Bumfights issue, capitalistic principals are there to do what government cannot and should not do. That is, to shut down offensive speech by making it unprofitable.

Most importantly, the two depend on each other to co-exist. The free flow of ideas, no difference how absurd or offensive, is closely tied to the free markets. To silence any speech, even Bumfights, would be to make silent the life force that makes America great.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

westboro baptist church

It is difficult to discuss the first amendment rights of the Westboro Baptist Church because, before we may do so, we must separate the content of the message from the offense. Of course once we do this, our argument against the church begins to fall apart.

The first thing we must agree upon is that our sensationalized corporate media landscape paints a distorted image of the funeral protests. That is not to say that I agree with the message of the church, nor with the tact with which the message is delivered. My point is simply that it is difficult to maneuver the maelstrom of hate and outrage that our subject creates. It is difficult to look through the opinions and find the facts, to see the objective reality of the situation that we feel so objectionable.

We are here today to discuss the law and it is not the function of the law to decide which is obscene or in bad taste. So let us discuss the facts.

The protests occur on public property. Technically, the Westboro Baptist Church does not protest at funerals. They protest near funerals, at pre-designated spaces that have been permitted by city counsel prior to the event. Although a landslide majority of the public would like to silence the church, we must also recognize the church’s legal right to peacefully assemble.

There are no documented accounts of violence on the church’s behalf, physical or otherwise. The church may have a message of hate, but they do not direct that hatred at any specific individuals. The church paint their portrait of hate by drawing on abstract concepts.

Fagots are to blame, they say, for God’s hatred. It would be a different situation if the church was to address someone like Snyder by name. But this is not the situation.

For those who are not familiar with Snyder’s case, he is the man from Maryland who was initially awarded $11 million by a jury for emotional distress caused by the church. This ruling has since been reduced in half by the judge on grounds that the jury’s decision was both unreasonable and unconstitutional. Experts on the first amendment expect the ruling to be reversed entirely as it ascends to the Supreme Court.

I would like to bring to light information that I scoured, cited to an article in the Baltimore Sun. The city permitted protest of Snyder’s son’s funeral was 1000 feet away from the funeral. Snyder did not see the protestors on the day of the funeral and did not see them until he saw the report on the television news. Unfortunately, I have been unable to acquire this article because it is no longer hosted on the newspaper’s official website. If this fact is true, it would ruin the prosecution against the Church because it would remove the offense away from the site of the funeral and onto media airwaves.

In closing arguments, I must convey that I disagree with the church on many levels. To say the least, the Westboro Baptist Church is off the mark. We would almost be better of if only the church had never formed. Unfortunately, they are here and we cannot silence them on basis of content because there is some truth within their fallacious arguments. That is not to say that there is any truth in their faith or vulgar commentary on American culture. But if I could rewrite the wording of the Westboro Baptist Church message, I would say that soldiers, foreign and domestic alike, are fighting and dying to preserve an American way of life. The Westboro Baptist Church identifies this American way of life as homosexuality. You and I might identify the American way of life in a different light. However, I believe that we can all agree – you, me and even Fred Phelps - that we have fallen onto challenging times and we should take this opportunity to reflect upon our American way of life and decide which values are truly worth fighting for. I believe we can come together here, that freedom of speech, no matter the consequences, is one of those values.