Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!

November 8, 2011 in General

New Zealand has a long history of sad, joyless, puritan wowsers, out to point their finger and tell us what is best for us. They know better than we do what we should read, listen to or see, of course, because…well…just because.

Yeah, I ‘m writing about the ban on Odd Future’s appearance at the Big Day Out next year.

Apparently the idea that some of their lyrics might offend us gays is enough to get them banned. Goodness knows that we homos are such delicate wee flowers, it is obvious  that hearing people voice nasty words about us will lead to mass suicides.

Or not.

As Craig Ranapia has pointed out at Public Address, the process around this has been disturbing to say the least. Who the fuck gave Sandra Coney and others the right to act as our censors, on the pretext that some people might be offended?

In a free society we have freedom of speech, and that means that sometimes we will all be offended by what others say. Is it mean? Are those words cruel? Are they sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic? Are they the complete opposite to everything I hold dear and believe? Tough – that’s the price we all pay for a free society.

Yes, of course I am aware of the damage done by bullying and homophobia – I have spent a good deal of my time as an adult fighting it. Banning speech, music or songs that can be classified as homophobic is not the way to go. And if they believe that banning OF is the right thing to do, why don’t they go further? Why don’t they try and get their music banned totally in the country? Or is it all just a little bit of sanctimonious grandstanding? What next? Will our self-appointed moral guardians start burning the CDs and books that also contain language that can be seen as offensive and bullying? Because there are thousands of them out there. That’s a lot of bonfires.

You don’t have a right not to be offended.

And the pretext that what someone might say, or has said before, is enough to deny them the right to say what they want is characteristic of totalitarian states, like the old USSR, the old South Africa, or Iran or North Korea today.

Noam Chomsky said it better than I can:

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” (Chomsky 1992)

And for your aural pleasure…

 Swag Me Out


Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!


    1. John says:

      What’s the difference between freedom of speech and speech that incites homophobia? Of course people should have freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean we have to give them a megaphone through which they can air those views.

    2. Craig says:

      I can’t help but think that this is going to breed hatred for gays far more than it would have should they have let Odd Future in (which I imagine wouldn’t have sparked any).

    3. irishkiwi says:

      Hate speech is hate speech and has no place in NZ. And anyone who thinks that the western world has 100% free speech is dreaming. Good on the BDO for giving these drop kicks the flick.

    4. Patrick says:

      The main concern is not about the offence the group will cause, but the harm it will do to gay youth. Gay youth are six times more likely to commit suicide, and this is in part due to the constant verbal and physical bullying they must contend with.
      The concert isn’t so much about the offence this group will cause, but about the repudiation of homophobic vilification and the harm it does to gay youth. When gay youth are six times more likely to commit suicide, in part due to the constant verbal and physical bullying they must contend with, it is irresponsible for a council to endorse such content.
      You have falsely and ridiculously compared this to situations in North Korea and the USSR. More disgusting is that you compare those concerned for queer youth to Nazis, when they murdered queer youth. The aim of the complainants is not to support an outright ban of this group’s music, but for mainstream organisations to repudiate and disassociate themselves from homophobic vilification that harms and deeply disadvantages queer youth. We can all agree free speech is a right, but nobody has a right to an audience, and a council has a right to associate with who they choose. Nobody has been subject to state censorship; they are free to play at any venue which wishes to let them play. Just don’t deny our equal right to protest, pressure, and publicise in opposition.
      To rephrase your argument- you apparently seem to oppose councils from choosing who they should let perform on their property. You oppose a council able to consider the message sent to our queer youth by associating with and legitimising the content of ‘Odd Future’, and to then decide against allowing them access to property they have responsibility over.
      This group denigrates and harms people who are among the most vulnerable- those who had ‘misfortune’ of being born differently. As for the reverends wife and every other militant Christian theocracy supporting group, they seek to ban content which insults their dainty ears, but which harms nobody. We are far from being anything similar to them. If a group were denigrating a particular race or ethnicity, not only would most organisers rightfully disassociate with them, but they would likely be boycotted by the general public, as per the boycott of South African rugby. Further, while we don’t have a right to be offended, the law accepts we have a right not to be denigrated for aspects of our character which weren’t our choice. Obviously you oppose public bodies from disadvantaging those who vilify people because of their race, and support a complete end of racial vilification laws- or you’ve got double standards.

    5. Patrick says:

      The main concern is not about the offence the group will cause, but the harm it will do to gay youth. Gay youth are six times more likely to commit suicide, and this is in part due to the constant verbal and physical bullying they must contend with.

    6. Michael Stevens says:

      I don’t usually respond in here, but I will in this case.

      1) I think freedom of speech is the basis of a free society – and that includes the freedom to say things that others find offensive – I do that often.

      2) I am very uneasy that any government body, be it local or national, would use what seems to be a very ad hoc process (Sandra Coney read Callum’s letter and watched some videos on youtube) to ban someone from public premises.

      3) I am all too aware of the issues facing gay youth – I see no evidence that banning this group will do anything to change these

      4) It now looks as though OF will have a non-BDO performance in Auckland anyway – I trust that all those who are so offended by them will go along to that concert and use their right to protest.

    7. Peter Saxton says:

      Michael while I share your questions about the process leading to this decision I don’t agree with this article. First of all the group hasn’t been banned – it had its invitation to a public music festival revoked. They’re already organising a separate performance for anyone hungering for ironic misogyny and homophobia. There’s no “freedom of expression” restriction to get worked up about here. Free speech is never absolute, and in this case has been balanced by the Council’s obligation to promote equal respect and human dignity for its citizens, who include GLBT.

      The broader argument that words can only cause “offence” is both misleading and naïve. “Being offended” is something we all have to suck up. But it’s “being treated differently”, not “being offended” that’s the pernicious effect of prejudice. The last time I looked, GLBT still haven’t been granted full legal equality, our mental and physical health status is worse, bullying is rife in schools, coming out is still difficult for many kids because of the attitudes of their family and peers – or the anticipated attitude of their peers. In many countries homosexuality is illegal, some have capital punishment; in NZ some still consider it proportional and reasonable to knife “faggots” to death following an unwanted advance.

      Likewise, while it’s methodologically difficult to link specific acts of prejudice to actual harm, there’s sufficient ecological evidence associating cultural homonegativity with worse outcomes for GLBT around the world. Our health and wellbeing is generally worse in places like the Caribbean, Russia, USA and Africa where anti-gay rhetoric flourishes (Chris Banks gives a lucid account of Africa’s experience on his blog Bipolar Bear). In the USA, the elevated HIV prevalence between gay and straight men is even more pronounced for Black gay men; ongoing stigma associated with homosexuality in some Black communities is one explanation given for this. It’s therefore particularly sad to see Odd Future jump on the bandwagon here. I guess it’s profitable for them.

      So I support our Council’s decision, and am grateful for advocates like Calum Bennachie and Sandra Coney. I like to think of it as an act of solidarity with our gay cousins living in cities where antigay prejudice goes unchecked, and who don’t have any voice at all. The right to equality and dignity is just as important as free speech, and both should be promoted.

    8. Craig Young says:

      Peter, I am afraid that I will have to disagree with you on this one. I’m sorry, but we cannot cite a multicausal model of media effects in one context (as we did with gay adult erotic media in the eighties and nineties), and then turn around and disavow the validity of that same methodology when it comes to very real questions about matters like disparate geographical and historical contexts when it comes to ‘hate speech’ or ‘hate propaganda’. New Zealand is not Jamaica.

    9. Peter Saxton says:

      Hi Craig, I believe New Zealand isn’t like Jamaica precisely because our country confronts homophobia. In all forms of media.

      Challenging homophobia always causes resentment because it invariably spoils someone’s party. Often among the 95% of people who aren’t GLBT. It forces a spotlight onto our communities that can sometimes be embarrassing and uneasy. Some of us just want that attention to go away. That doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do.

      It’s easy to mount an argument around freedom of speech. It’s a fundamental right and should be jealously defended. We as GLBT benefit hugely from wide ranging free expression. But it doesn’t automatically trump every other right every time in every circumstance. Otherwise it descends rapidly into a belief that intervention is never justified at all – an argument to do nothing. I think GLBT deserve better than that – most of all those least equipped to wave it away.

    10. Craig says:

      I’m afraid I still disagree with your prognosis, Peter. And ask yourself, what is the *chief* source of homophobic and transphobic discourse in contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand? It would have to still be religious social conservatism, which has far more resources and social status than a relatively marginal youth subculture.

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