Saturday, March 7, 2009

The wisdom of Comedy

From the Colbert Report, apparently just recently:

A bit of interesting rhetoric near the beginning where the pol is saying that "people with cable TV shows have a responsibility to at least know what they're talking about" in response to some pundit criticising the government for offering relief to people who signed mortgage contracts they couldn't afford. Awfully high standard, since "knowing what you're talking about" is at the core of all debates. Have we abdicated the responsibility of judging for ourselves?

But more importantly, how far is that politician's assertion from saying that saying bad things about the economy meets the "crowded theater" test for limitations on free speech? In that original free speech case, it was ruled that the government could prohibit acts of free speech which endangered the public good, in this case the "public good" was the draft for World War I. Could not the same argument be applied exactly to the question of pundits making negative statements about the economy? I think its even easier to see: "saying something negative on TV causes the markets to decline, and everyone is poorer. Why wouldn't we ban that!"

The answer being, of course 1. that when the truth is negative, we should take it into account and not ignore it, and 2. no person, group, or party has absolute privileged access to "Truth," so a plurality of perspectives is important. Individuals must make sense of the disparate voices and come to their own conclusions about "Truth."

Granted, the original supreme court decision was later overturned. But just because a law exists doesn't prevent people from breaking it, sometimes even at the highest levels (eg: Nixon). Given that the FCC has the authority to revoke licenses to broadcast if the programming doesn't meet their standards, given that the FCC is a political entity that is subject to all the same pressures as the rest of the government, is there even a chance that there wont be behind-the-scenes pressure on television types to tone down the rhetoric? How long could that sort of pressure occure before it was brought before a court and (hopefully) struck down? How much bad news is not reported becasue of this? And how inflated are our expectations still, since we lack that information?

Ah, but we have the internet! That unadulterated medium where anyone can and will say anything, regardless of its claim to truth! We can ignore TV and get our raw news straight from the wicked source! Sadly, I think that the proportion of the voting populace that gets their news online (and is able to filter out the blatant falsehoods) is still relatively small. As a result, we can expect public policy to be formed by opinions that are increasingly isolated from bad news; the old "king whose advisors are afraid to tell him anything bad" syndrome.

I'll be excited when I start getting hits from the DC area on my blog. Doing battle with the government over censorship would be something I could get behind.

An amusing "historical" bit of television: from 2006, see SNL's take on the coming crisis:

oh how wise! And oh what a contrast to the official rhetoric: "Everything is fine! Just as long as you keep spending! Buy more new things, we need your demand to keep production running!"

Ack, I remember in my first year as an undergrad, Professor Earhardt strongly recommended that I (and everyone) read Brave New World. I did, and I was unimpressed. I found it alarmist in a misguided way; I didn't think that consumerism and conformity was the biggest threat to civilization (as it seemed to imply). Turns out... well maybe the book had more merit than I gave it credit.

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