01 December 2008

Freedom of Speech

Today Neil Gaiman got an anguished letter from a fan named Jess about his support for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
The question, for me, is even if we only save ONE child from rape or attempted rape, or even just lots of uncomfortable hugs from Creepy Uncle Dave, is that not worth leaving a couple naked bodies out of a comic?
He answered, at length, with the post Why defend freedom of icky speech? Some key bits:
If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't. This is how the Law is made.
I was born the day of the conclusion of the Lady Chatterley trial in England, the day it was decided that Lady Chatterley's Lover, with its swearing, buggery and raw sex between the classes, was fit to be published and read in a cheap edition that poor people and servants could read. This was the same England in which, some years earlier, the director of public prosecutions had threatened to prosecute Professor F R Leavis if he so much as referred to James Joyce's Ulysses in a lecture (the DPP was Archibald Bodkin, who also banned The Well of Loneliness) , in which, when I was sixteen and listening to the Sex Pistols, the publisher of Gay News was sentenced to prison for the crime of Criminal Blasphemy, for publishing an erotic poem featuring a fantasy about Jesus.
you could rewrite Jess's letter above, explaining that only perverts would want to read Lady Chatterley, or see images of women being abused, or read Lost Girls or the works of Robert Crumb, and mentioning that if only one person was saved from a hug from a creepy uncle, or indeed, being raped in the streets, that banning them or prosecuting those who write, draw, publish, sell or -- now -- own them, is worth it. Because that was the point of view of the people who were banning these works or stopping people reading them. They thought they were doing a good thing. They thought they were defending other people from something they needed to be protected from.
So when Mike Diana was prosecuted -- and found guilty -- of obscenity for the comics in his Zine “Boiled Angel”, and sentenced to a host of things, including (if memory serves) a three year suspended prison sentence, a three thousand dollar fine, not being allowed to be in the same room as anyone under eighteen, over a thousand hours of community service, and was forbidden to draw anything else obscene, with the local police ordered to make 24 hour unannounced spot checks to make sure Mike wasn't secretly committing Art in the small hours of the morning... that was the point I decided that I knew what was obscene, and it was prosecuting artists for having ideas and making lines on paper, and that I was going to do everything I could to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Whether I liked or approved of what Mike Diana did was utterly irrelevant ....

It's worth reading the whole thing; Mr Gaiman really kicks out the jams.

And this makes today a particularly good day to donate to the CBLDF.

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