When the Founders wrote the words "freedom of speech" into the Bill of Rights, they certainly didn't considered the possibility that one day, Americans would buy and sell "crush videos," which depict women stepping on small animals with their high heels. Yet the Supreme Court was recently called upon to determine whether that rather unusual form of expression stood outside the First Amendment. While the Court spends much of its time ruling on highly technical matters of commercial and administrative law, every so often it considers a case like this one, which goes to the very heart of the American experiment precisely because of its unsettling nature.
When I opened TheNew York Times this morning and began to read Ross Douthat's column about the most recent South Park controversy, I said, "Here's a chance to reach across the aisle!" Douthat criticizes Comedy Central for censoring last week's episode of the program, in which the prophet Muhammad is portrayed (or not exactly -- we only see him inside a giant bear costume, thereby hiding his image), in response to a threat posted on an extremist Islamic Web site.
But before I could do my part for bipartisanship, I came to this:
Back in the early days of the Internet, a college student set up a webcam in her dorm room and delivered a live feed to the world of everything she was doing -- eating, sleeping, studying, even changing clothes. It caused quite a stir, with lots of beard-scratching commentary about how this new technology would transform our ideas about the private and public selves.
Although lots of people found the experiment interesting, no one thought that thousands of other people would be doing the same thing. But we may be inching in that direction. From today's New York Times:
The prevailing narrative about our current political moment goes something like this:
Obama took office facing some large challenges. Then he overreached, by doing all kinds of big-governmenty things. This provoked a backlash, and now we're fighting over it.
We see the latest version of this narrative in today's David Brookscolumn, one of surpassing more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger Brooksness. As a moderate, Brooks is deeply saddened by all the arguing that's going on. "Just as America was leaving the culture war and the war war, the Democrats thrust it back into the government war, only this time nastier and with higher stakes," he laments.