Is Censorship “Hate Speech”?


“A name makes reading too easy.” — Michel Foucault

Why can Karl Lagerfeld say he is against gay marriage with minimal backlash? ‘Cause Lagerfeld is gay. Talking disparagingly about yourself and your social group is acceptable most of the time. You aren’t hurting an outsider as much as you’re making fun of yourself or revealing an earnest truth derived from your concrete experience. So, another example, an Asian man can say Asian people have annoying social habits without making a blip on the radar. But if an “Aryan Princess” says the same thing — abandon hope all ye who enter here, this princess is going be digitally lynched, her life destroyed. What’s the difference here? Why does the presentation, the glossing, determine the way the message is interpreted? Why are we so fixated on the superficial aspects and not the more nuanced arguments at the heart of things? Why is the medium the message?

I started thinking about this because the other day my homosexual friend said I can’t use the word “gay” to describe something uncool, like Coldplay or The Newsroom. He wanted to censor me in a well-meaning effort to ensure I didn’t hurt anyone. Shortly after, he used the word “retarded” to describe this article. And I called him out on it and he said: “It’s okay because I’m kind of legally retarded.” And I was like: “You can’t just pull the ‘mentally challenged’ card when it’s convenient. And what the hell dude? Does that mean if I’m gay I can call things that are lame gay? Let me find a dick to suck so I can have a hall pass to use language freely.” He gave me an ambiguous smile.

Why do we do this? Why do we read the person instead of the output? The artist not the artwork? Should we ban Alice Adventures in Wonderland because Lewis Carroll might have been a pedophile? Are the writings of David Foster Wallace invalid because he was a horrendous person? Should we discount Martin Luther King because he cheated on his wife and supposedly abused women? Can we no longer enjoy the music of Chris Brown because he beat up Rihanna? Should personal lives of people supercede their output and contribution to the world?

I don’t know the answers to these grander questions on person vs. product, art vs. artist. But one thing does feel irrevocable to me after thinking through this. Identity should not be used as a justification for censorship. Real dialogue happens when the power of language is unbounded, not restricted. Dangerous or “bad” words, actually particularly these words, should be at everyone’s linguistic disposable (or arsenal). And if this offends and hurts? All the better, because pushing the violence of language under the rug dosen’t eradicate anything. It just conceals it. And indeed, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And let me tell you, faggots, he does.

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Image – Kanye West