Way back in 1988, Martin Scorsese unleashed The Last Temptation of Christ on an unprepared world. Weeks….months even….prior to the release of the film, members of the Religious Right started losing their minds over this blasphemous travesty of a movie. A movie that they hadn’t seen. Non-members of their group looked at them as though they were frothing-at-the-mouth madmen, and derisively made fun of them. There was late-night TV fodder for weeks.
So now we have what can only be described as a diametrically-opposed group going ballistic over the film version of soft-porn pulp that is 50 Shades of Grey. I doubt these people see the irony, and I’d bet that quite a few of them were defenders of The Last Temptation of Christ. Or they opposed blaming Marilyn Manson for the carnage in Columbine. Or they deny a causal link between violent video games and actual in-person violence.
I try not to get caught up in these things, as I’m a firm believer in absolute freedom of speech. That means the silly stuff, the insulting stuff, the ugly stuff, and the hateful stuff. Without free speech we aren’t a free people, and it’s the especially ugly stuff that needs the most protection.
Is there a link between media and action? Of course there is, that’s the basis of both advertisement and propaganda (and one could argue they’re one and the same). But at what point do we attempt to silence speech?
I’m not talking about the government stepping in. That’s a clear violation of the First Amendment, and something I want the government to never do. But in the marketplace of ideas, one would think we’d want as many divergent viewpoints as possible. Surrounding oneself with nothing but assenting opinions means that one’s views are never challenged, and ultimately intellect atrophies. Dissent devolves into derision, and an open exchange of ideas, positions, and principles becomes impossible.
Now this is not to say that dissent isn’t allowed. Dissent is healthy. Dissent is a Good Thing. Dissent in the face of overwhelming assent can be downright brave. But dissent shouldn’t be nasty, cutting, or personal. It seems as though many people have forgotten that it’s possible to disagree with someone without calling them “stupid” or “evil”.
This behavior is evident throughout politics, Facebook, and talk shows. It’s a poison, as all it does is divide us into tribalistic groups who have no respect for other groups. As a society, we’ve abandoned respectful disagreement. We’ve been taught by cable news to despise people who don’t agree with “our team”. This binary thinking, this us-or-them mentality, is heralding the end of civility, and ultimately the end of society.
Put simply, just because someone doesn’t like the same book, movie, politician, social position, or restaurant as you, that doesn’t make them a bad person, nor does it mean that they don’t deserve your respect. Basic human kindness and respect are not zero-sum resources. It costs you nothing to give them.
So go see 50 Shades of Grey or don’t. But think for a moment before you criticize the film. Think for a moment about how you’d feel if your personal ox were gored in the way this film has been. And maybe take the time to have a calm, reasonable conversation with someone who enjoyed it….Not as a proselytizer, but as a listener. You might find you have more in common than not.