Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

'Tis The Season To Hack People Off

Here's the dichotomy -- if you believe in Freedom Of Speech, if you honestly, really, and truly believe in Freedom Of Speech, then you have three types of speech you must defend.

1)  Speech you agree with.  This is easy to do.

2)  Speech that makes no sense.  If someone is talking about some whacked out conspiracy, like Obama being in league with extraterrestrials to prepare the world to be run by sasquatch, all you can do is shrug.

3)  Speech that you don't just disagree with, but it pisses you off or offends you.

That last one is the hardest one, but the most important one.  It says that your rights do not exist at the listener's whim.  We must defend even those we disagree with.

But then, there's the question of appropriateness of time and place.  It's one thing for a person to espouse a point of view that triggers anger.  It's another when they intentionally try to trigger anger, as much anger as possible.  And it gets slippery because how you react to such things, you aren't sure if your response is the correct one.

On Veterans Day, the Garfield comic strip ran a piece where Garfield was about to smash a spider (Jim Davis REALLY needs to retire the strip) and the spider said he would be remembered, commemorated, and become a symbol to his people.  The scene then cut to a schoolroom for spiders and the teacher saying, "...and that's why we have National Stupid Day."  People took this to be a slam on soldiers and their sacrifices.  Davis stated that it was coincidence, the strip just happened to run on Veterans Day, he didn't mean offense.  And I remember they supposedly found proof that he planned it, blah blah blah....

I didn't give it all that much thought, mainly because I can't stand Garfield anymore.  I simply didn't care.  Admittedly, it smelled like an insult to troops, which is a really sore spot for me.  But ultimately, I couldn't allow myself to get really offended.  Davis made a statement that bothered me.  All I could really do was shrug it off.  It's his opinion.  Nothing more.  I express incendiary opinions in my comic strip all the time.  If there was anything to be offended about, it would be what seems to be a blatant trolling attempt, but that's not a question of Freedom Of Speech.  It's a question of him being an asshole.  So I objected to the timing, but not the sentiment.  After all, he isn't the only one who thinks war is a waste of human life.

Why am I bringing up a stupid irrelevant comic strip from almost two months ago?  As an illustrating example.  Yesterday, another strip did something incendiary, and there are some people up in arms, and I notice my reaction is a little bit...different.  The perpetrator?  Doonesbury.  I used to read Doonesbury all the time, and I even have the animated special on VHS.  I didn't really quit for any particular reason, it just sort of fell away from me (I loved Zonk).  It was an exploration of ideas, not a high and mighty critique of them.  The animated special in particular, where the Walden Pond gang wonders where their activism went as they got older, was something I really got, having wondered about my own trajectory at times.  Every once in a while, whether in response to a news article or just reflecting on myself, I will hear Thudpucker's "Do You Remember What The Winds Of Change Were Like?" playing in the back of my head.

So, what did Gary Trudeau do that was so bad?  Here's a transcript of the relevant parts of the strip that ran yesterday, Christmas Day:

SOLDIER:  Yes, ma'am, I talk to our chaplain.

SOCIAL WORKER:  Good.  A chaplain can be a good resource.

SOLDIER:  Mine yells at God a lot.

SOCIAL WORKER:  He deserves it.  In my extremely humble opinion.

Okay, we are going to assume that this is something Trudeau is saying using a character as a mouthpiece instead of something the character would say.  There is a difference.  I have characters who say and do things I don't, but the character is supposed to.  There's a difference between self-inserts and true characters.  Or even using a character, not as a mouthpiece, but because they would say something he agrees with and gives them the spotlight.  Bottom line:  we are going to assume Trudeau has a problem with God and this whole thing was planned.

Ultimately, I can't get upset.

I mean, what's next?  You can't say anything like this on Sunday because that's the Sabbath Day?  You need to book an appointment to speak your mind?  Not everyone believes in God, and even among those that do, not everyone loves Him.  There is a very vocal section that feels anger, that God has basically turned his back on the world and if He truly loved us, why isn't He doing something about the wickedness of the world.  After all, He's God.  It's not like He has to put up with this.  Trudeau is actually voicing a relatively common opinion about God, one that can be said any other time of the year.  Did he time it for Christmas just to hack people off, or did he do it because that was when the idea he had to communicate would have the greatest impact?  Does it matter?  If he can't say such things, then no one can.  And not only does that mean we have to patrol people's thoughts, but it violates the very liberty God granted us when he brought us to life.  It's a different philosophy.  Can't we just let it be?

Now, admittedly, my opinion could be absolutely wrong.  What's more, it could change, sometimes quite rapidly.  My opinion of the Ground Zero mosque, for example, flipped instantly from "Let them build it" to "They shouldn't build it" after a very reasoned discussion with an Iraqi War veteran who put the whole debate in a new light, one I couldn't just ignore.  I used to be a "ban the guns" type person.  Mornblade sat down with me and addressed all my concerns, treated me with respect, and presented his ideas.  Result:  I flipped, and I no longer want to ban guns.  So it's not like my stances on anything are truly absolutes.  There may be some details about Trudeau and the strip that I am unaware of, and things could change later.  But frankly, whether it ran on Christmas or not, Trudeau has ultimately voiced an opinion, and unlike the Veterans Day one (which only happens once a year), this opinion is very dangerous to restrict when it can be expressed.

A lot of us disagree with Trudeau's opinion.  Some agree with it.  He's not advocated hateful action, he's simply stating something.  Given the true evil in the world, the things that really require opposition, the things that really cannot stand, why waste time on a stupid comic strip known for radical and unrepentant opinion?  That's what Trudeau does -- expresses opinion, whether they are agreed with or disagreed with.  Allow him the freedom of opinion we give ourselves.
Tags: art, comics, important life lessons, politics, religion
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