July 9, 2010

Free Speech vs. Common Decency

As the government of Kazakhstan is hating Borat more and more for making a movie and TV series in which their country is shown to be a backward East European backwater and a poor Third World jumping off place, and in the aftermath of the cartoon riots, many Muslims around the world are steel reeling under the weight of the controversy, many Western media leaders are citing the right of free speech in their defense.

Many are saying that a movie is not real life, and a cartoon is just a cartoon. However, how do you know about the effects that such movies or cartoons will have on people in real lives? People’s reputations can be ruined. They can be mocked. They can be refused jobs and apartments. They will be shut out of social lives. It’s been known to happen. Who is reading such newspapers or watching such movies? It is mostly working-class people the majority of whom aren’t that sophisticated and who, while realizing that a movie was made at a studio, will still form harmful subliminal associations in their minds which in the future will only increase bigotry and discrimination against various groups. So, while free speech is allowing you to make funny movies and caricatures, keep in mind that you are harming many people’s lives in the process.

I keep hearing things like- well, most people know it is really nothing serious, just a parody. But most people, even in the West are not necessarily open-minded, international, politically correct PhD holders with majors in Intercultural Communications. Landlords and employers are watching such movies and seeing such cartoons. And next time a Muslim or a Kazakh comes to apply for a job or to rent living space, they stand a bigger chance of being rejected than before such things have been put into the organs of the media. In social situations people will be ridiculed- "Hey, I saw a show about Kazakhstan- it looks like a very poor, third world dung hole (Kazakhstan is an oil rich country that is almost on par with Brazil in GDP. A normal middle-income country, that's what it is.) I have even seen comments on the Internet stating that Kazakhstan was a “small” Third World country- hey, when was the last time you looked at the world map-the country is about the size of the entire Western Europe!

Such irresponsible journalism and movie making is creating a very harmful effect. Think about one thing, for example: it is called "word association". People are asked to give the first other word that comes to mind when a certain word is uttered. Teachers in classrooms would give an exercise to students quite often when I was younger. Say the first word that comes to mind if I say “Italy”, for example. What are you going to say if you have been seeing movies on TV that show Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo? You will probably say “Art”. If you always see articles about Italian food, you will think of spaghetti and pizza.

However, if the media keep churning out one movie about Mafia after another, you will associate Italy with Mafia. So, next time an Italian applies for a job, even if you are an open minded person, such an association will flash through your mind. Now, what will happen if you are not an open-minded person but just an average Joe? Most probably you will transfer these associations into your dealings with that person. You may, if angry, call him names and defame him. He may even be passed for a promotion and refused various social interactions.

In such a way, organs of the media are, with total impunity, sowing seeds of poison by planning one negative stereotype after another in the common people’s minds.

Granted, Italians are now quite well accepted in America, or other “Anglo-Saxon” countries, but the media, under the umbrella of “free speech” still keeps slandering other groups while arguing that they have the right to do it, and “it is just a movie”. However, by constantly portraying other groups in a negative or ludicrous light they besmirch the reputation of such groups and destroy their right to live with dignity and self-respect. This way, a Kazakh will become associated with a “poor, third world fool” and a Muslim with terrorism. Then, people will start reporting more cases of work-place harassment, losses of friendship and rejections of all kinds in society. Or most noticeably, as a member of such groups, one will simply not be respected.

Sure, there will be some very cosmopolitan individuals who will not form such stereotypes, but how about store owners? Hotel owners? Supervisors at work? Friends? Neighbors? Who are they going to treat members of such groups after the nearly hypnotic associations of such groups with various contemptful and negative things have been inserted into people’s minds?

Media should not take the very sacred right of free speech as a license to slander entire groups and, in process, virtually ruin their lives. Free speech is there to expose true evil, not sow tribal scorn and hatred. So, please have some decency, media people. We cannot legislate decency, only suggest it to you. Think about all those who may be affected by your gross and false generalizations and by the associations you are repeatedly inserting into the minds of the common working public worldwide in the name of 'free speech' and the Almighty Dollar.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i agree with this... though it's very idealistic :)