Is It Just a Joke?

I viewed FIRE’s documentary film, Can We Take a Joke?, on streaming. (FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is the leading watchdog for freedom of speech on campuses.) I do appreciate the film’s effort to present free speech and intellectual freedom concerns in a wider cultural context and to appeal to young people with the importance of these concepts. But I found myself dismayed at the film and have at least two objections.

First, I don’t see how Lenny Bruce becomes the standard bearer for free speech as we understand it in the academic context. I’m not for persecuting foul-mouthed comedy but it’s not the same thing as what we are fighting for in academia, which is the right to engage in the pursuit of truth, to argue points of view with logic and evidence, to uphold the integrity of scholarship, and so forth. As I see it, if Lenny Bruce and his many spiritual descendants are responsible for anything in America, it is not for any new birth of freedom, but for the increasing filth and perversity that saturates our popular culture and media.

Second, I was amazed that the film presents the gay rights movement as one that succeeded through intellectual argument rather than through calls for censorship and censure. Regardless of the merits of the arguments in support of that movement, it is undeniable that it has been one of the most ruthless in the application of political correctness, intimidation, bullying, and so forth. So the example of intellectual suasion given by the film undercuts its own premises. 


Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More