Tagged: First Amendment

Martha Thomases: Banning Yourself

This week is Banned Book Week. Read a banned book.

Luckily (I say sarcastically), more and more often, this means to read a comic book or graphic novel.

I think this happens because, despite nearly three decades of graphic novels aimed at adults, comics are still perceived as a children’s medium. Almost all defenses of censorship wrap themselves in the guise of protecting kids from “harmful” ideas. What constitutes “harm,” is, of course, wildly unspecific. It can be sexual content. It can be political content. It can be the idea that racial differences don’t make one group of people less (or more) human than another.

Most recently, it seems that most objections to graphic novels have to do with LGBTQ content as if the mere existence of queer people is in and of itself obscene. To quote Marika Tamaki (This One Summer), “I stand by my assertion that any person who wants a book removed from a library for having queer content should have to make their case to a panel of LGBTQ readers as to why their lives shouldn’t be represented in the library.”

Banning other points of view doesn’t make reality change, it only makes the perception of reality change. So banning books with queer characters doesn’t make everybody straight.

I assume most of you know how strongly ComicMix supports the First Amendment. I also assume you know about the many such organizations that support free speech and diversity of opinion.

Therefore, I’m going to talk about another form of censorship — self-censorship. This isn’t a First Amendment issue, but I think it can be just as relevant to you, Constant Reader, and to living your fullest life. I’m going to talk about going out of your way to encounter other points of view.

It is easier than ever to live one’s life without ever hearing a significant disagreement. I, personally, live in one of the most progressive zip codes in the country. I read lots of news and opinions, online and on paper, and while I watch less television news than I used to (talking heads drive me batty, because they rarely dig down into facts but rather tend to blather in sound-bites), I still spend a few hours a day trying to keep up with the world.

And I still don’t see every perspective.

Here’s an example. During the debate over the GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, I heard a lot of different perspectives about what was wrong and right about Obamacare. However, I didn’t see any actual defense about what was in the specific bills designed to replace it. The CBO said the plans would push tens of millions out of the insurance markets, and I couldn’t find a single Congressperson who said this was a good thing, or why.

When we discuss what’s wrong with the news media, I would say right there is a problem. Reporters weren’t asking that question.

Lucky for me, the New York Times did, finally, run a few Op-Ed pieces defending the Republican plans or criticizing Democratic plans on policy terms, not popularity contests. I disagree with both of these columns (and we can discuss that in the comments, if you like), but I appreciated the thoughtful — even wonky — articulation of the situation.

As a fan of graphic story-telling, I especially enjoy a deep dive into other worldviews. Most recently, I’ve found it in Irmina and The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The first showed me how it felt to be a loyal German in World War II, and the latter immersed me in the history of Singapore that was entirely new to me (and I studied Asian history in college).

Censorship is wrong, not only because it shuts people out, but because it shuts them up. I will never be able to consider every opinion and perspective, but my life would not be worth living if I couldn’t try.

Martha Thomases: alt-truth


The end of the year is a time to contemplate our lives, to count our blessings and enjoy the company of family and friends. It is a time to celebrate peace and goodwill.

It’s also a hell of a time to raise a ruckus.

Most of us here at ComicMix are passionate in our adoration of free speech and the First Amendment. At the same time, we revel in diversity and equal opportunity and think minority groups are worthy of respect.

Some people think these two impulses are mutually exclusive. These people are wrong. And it is more important than ever to say this.

Let’s take a rather frivolous example. There is currently some controversy about the use of the term “alt-right” to describe an assortment of racist and misogynist American nationalist groups. Some people find the label confusing, since it sounds remarkably like “alt-country,” a musical genre that emerged in the 1990s. Some people find it a whitewash (you should pardon the expression) of opinions that had previously been labeled “Neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist.”

In general, I believe it is polite to call people what they wish to be called. Just as one example, over the decades, I’ve called people of color “colored,” “Negro,” “Afro-American,” “black” and “African American,” depending on which term I thought was preferred at the time.

However, in this case, I think “alt-right” is deliberately misleading. Just as I can’t call people who favor the death penalty “pro-life” no matter what their views on reproductive rights, I can’t describe Steve Bannon with a term that shares its syllables with a kind of music made by Steve Earle. I also think “alt-right” is insulting to principled conservatives (and, yes, those people exist).

Clarity, in this case, is more important than good manners, especially when those who are using the term are journalists. In a perfect world, the media would only publish facts, along with opinions that are based on those facts. Since we live in an imperfect world, we use this ideal as something to which we aspire.

Which brings me to a more important and more complicated issue. In Germany, where there is no United States Constitution as law of the land, and therefore no First Amendment, they have laws that prohibit hate speech. We can have a discussion about whether or not this is a good thing, and I can take either side of that discussion, depending on what day it is.

In the link above you can read how Germany’s laws are difficult to enforce in this digital age. Neo-Nazis frequently use social media (in this case, Facebook) to spread their bigotry. In some cases they publish names, addresses and phone numbers of those people they consider too foreign for their tastes. Those people, in turn, get harassed and threatened.

The German government wants to hold Facebook liable for the content of this speech. Facebook doesn’t want to do that.

Personally, I don’t want Facebook to determine what is and isn’t hateful. We probably won’t agree. I also don’t want Facebook to act as some kind of police force, enforcing German laws in Germany. Just as we don’t prosecute cable companies if someone streams child pornography on a computer, Facebook, in this instance, is more the conduit than the content.

At the same time, Facebook is a private company and not a public utility. As a private company, it is entitled to enforce whatever code of conduct it chooses, as long as that code doesn’t break the law. It can also draft these rules according to the kind of business deals it wishes to make. People who want a social network that allows them to spew hate speech are welcome to find one, or create one.

My pal Mike Gold (who occupies this space each Wednesday) likes to say that he prefers it when people say racist, sexist, hateful things, because then he knows with whom he’s dealing. I get that. I also know that those on the receiving end of such bigotry can suffer from the cumulative effects of such speech, a death of a thousand cuts that ultimately inhibits their own ability to speak freely.

If you, like me, often use the end of the year as an opportunity to donate to worthwhile organizations as a way to celebrate, please consider the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for its commitment to free speech for everyone, and to Feminist Frequency for its commitment to encouraging diverse voices.

Because this holiday season, the truth is the gift that will be most needed in 2017.

Mike Gold: The Internet – Meet Your New Boss…

Doctor DoomThe thrill is gone / The thrill is gone away / The thrill is gone baby / The thrill is gone away – Roy Hawkins and Rick R. Darnell

I was going to write about something else today. Actually, I had several topics to choose from. Then I had a conversation with Glenn Hauman, the invisible hand of ComicMix, and then this screed shot out of my fingers.

As this new medium flourished, I was excited about the opportunity for anybody to communicate in virtually all ways (print, audio, video; instantly, eventually, historically) and to do so directly without outside interference. As I’ve said before, I am a first amendment absolutist: people should be able to express themselves the way they want, in the form they want, using the language they feel most appropriate. The Internet, I felt, allowed all of us to communicate without these ridiculous and unwarranted barriers.

Sure, there’s a price to pay. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, options and outright lies presented as fact. And the rush to judgment that we see on cable’s 24 hour “news” channels (which, oddly, don’t offer very much in the way of news) is exceptionally prevalent. I literally come from the “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” school of journalism. But those are growing pains, and the outrageous lies and distortions generally are limited to sites where they wear their prejudices on their sleeves. I don’t except a eulogy about the three teenagers Hamas slaughtered in Israel to appear on an American Nazi Party website. Or vice versa.

I don’t want or need big business or the government – any government – to tell me what I cannot say… to the extent that there’s a difference between the two. But it didn’t take very long before big business did exactly that by banishing that which they find objectionable from their services.

Ironically, for me this started with Apple. They do not distribute magazines or books that they find violates their standards. Do they have the basic right to do this? Of course. It’s their tubes and wires. But they enforce these standards in a hypocritical manner. There is a ton of music, television and movies for sale on iTunes that Apple would not sell in electronic print form on iBooks, had that content been presented in that medium. And if the object in question is from a big name author or has an enormous amount of buzz about it, well, often it manages to be listed on their service anyway.

Does this differ from, say, Wal*Mart? No… except that Wal*Mart (et al) is consistent. If it doesn’t meet Wal*Mart’s standards, popularity or mass-salability doesn’t enter into it. Playboy could have an interview with Jesus Christ and Wal*Mart wouldn’t stock it.

And then we have Google.

Google may very well be the Doctor Doom of the Internet. They have so much information on each and every one of us that the National Security Agency actually tapped (taps? who’s to know?) Google’s files in their spying-on-the-citizenry jag. That’s bad and ugly and evil, but for the purpose of this particular column it illustrates their corporate culture.

If Google divines what you’re posting is objectionable, they de-list you. In fact, this almost happened to ComicMix. If you’re de-listed by Google, you are screwed. You are left alone in outer space, where nobody can hear you scream.

There’s a good graphic novel in that. But I doubt Apple and Google and their fellow travelers would allow you to use their tubes and wires to sell it.

“Meet your new boss,” Pete Townshend famously wrote. “Same as your old boss.”

And I won’t get fooled again.