Over at MSNBC, a news story regarding what might seem a small kerfluffle that happens quite often: a woman in a small town who wants a local art gallery to take down and destroy one of its paintings.
The trick? The painting is a portrait of Adolf Hitler. It’s hanging in a young artist’s gallery, and apparently it’s part of a gallery of “icons”, portraying various figures both good and evil. And the local paper seems to just about sum up my position on the subject.
What sharpens me on the point, however, is the fact that the woman’s comments (though she’s free to make them, as I’ll get to in a second) offer a glimpse into a problem I see too often: people seem to assume they have a “right” to not be offended. Her quote: “Freedom of speech? What happened to taste and sensitivity in our country?” Unfortunately, it’s precisely this form of argument that is so odious. It’s obvious that this woman has every right to be upset; she has a very close family reason to despise Hitler and all he stood for, and if she thinks the painting doesn’t get the portrayal right, then she’s going to be offended. On the other hand, if speech is to be censored for reasons of “taste” or “sensitivity”, then certain subjects will never be debated.
Working at Southern Tech University, I’ve seen plenty of examples of odious, disgusting speech. Anti-abortion displays like this one, bizarre displays of raw anti-semitism masquerading as “palestinian solidarity”, and so on. I worry about the violence potential of the second (especially after having been stalked on-campus by members of said racist group), but as long as they stay peaceful, I subscribe to the notion that the proper response to their hate speech is not censorship, but counter-speech exposing them and whatever factual misrepresentations (hell with it: outright lies) for what they are.
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