It’s always been a personal but very real fear of mine that an individual’s own views could be suppressed or censored. And, inevitably, opening up the doors completely will eventually spawn some pretty opinionated or downright offensive material at times. You open up the possibility of some awful things that probably shouldn’t happen and probably aren’t always the best, like neo-Nazi demonstrations in towns with a large Holocaust survivor population or blatant hate speech towards a certain race or ethnicity. But maybe, just maybe, if you can’t speak the absolute worst things without fearing retaliation then maybe that world isn’t so perfect after all. Maybe the extremes are a necessary evil so that more moderate but equally provocative opinion of an individual can be respected and heard. Regardless, the extremes will always be exactly that – extreme – but the system set in place, established to protect individual expression should always remain steadfast.
That much is clear, at least in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Regardless of the irreverence of many of the publications by the satirical newspaper, it clearly stands for the ability to be able to speak one’s opinions freely, no matter how distasteful that may be in the public eye. Now some people who would normally scrunch their faces at the sight of some of the drawings stand out to speak out against those who would shape the world into one that is dominated, or rather suppressed, by censorship.
It’s not all that dissimilar from the case of the temporarily canceled release of The Interview near the book end of 2014. To be fair, it was moderately offensive (more offensive was actually how underwhelming and disappointing the film was), but to have pulled a creative form of expression due to the threats of no more than a playground bully demanding attention seemed like more than just a mistake – it was really more of a betrayal. Betrayal that an entity as prominent as Sony Pictures Entertainment, admittedly brought to its knees by the hacking, would so freely give up its right of speech.
Which brings us back to the attitudes of the public after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: overwhelmingly resilient. The “Je Suis Charlie” movement is, at the very least, heartening to see in the aftermath of the violence. Just as President Obama announced his disappointment in Sony Picture’s decisions last month, people in the movement are sharing the same idea – Voltaire’s words have never rung so true. It’s people taking a reinvigorated stand in the freedom of speech, in something so fundamentally necessary, now more than ever.
At least in my lifetime (miniscule as it may be), I’ve seen the world start to turn itself away from that which we don’t always find perfectly agreeable or settling. Our world always needed to be cleaner and cleaner, and after 2001, we went a little overboard with that whole cleaning up thing. Fear ran a little too rampant, and along the way we lost a lot in the way of our ability and attitude to speak freely, even controversially, about causes or ideas we believe in. And now in the past three years, everywhere seems to contain a hint of the encroaching tides of censorship, from issues ranging from net neutrality to the consolidation of the media in the nation. Our choice to see what we want to see and say what we want to say is still in danger as we enter the new year, and not just by masked gunmen.
There is a lot to be determined in the coming days, what this will mean exactly for the future in the way of Islamophobia, gun control and continued acts of terrorism. But if there is one thing that should be abundantly evident, it’s that personal and creative expression should be always be defended, by individuals, corporations and governments alike, at all costs.
Christopher Chen is excited to continue expressing his creativity in whatever way he sees fit.