Too much air time on GrassRoots’ hands
October 25, 2007
The communitywide flap about whether or not our local public television station should air an idiotically fictitious account of the Holocaust has forced a decision: Should GrassRoots Television continue to exist?
We are having an uproarious debate about free speech in which both sides are feeling smugly patriotic. Folks are penning letters to the papers, klatches of coffee-breathed pundits congregate at the regular breakfast joints, and chatting at the post office is back in vogue. But, about all this recent dispute has effectively pointed out is that our local community access television station has too much spare air time.
This thought occurred to me as I watched just enough of Kid Nation to know that the half-penny worth of electricity it would take to finish the episode could be much better spent. Apparently, this show is some of the best CBS (see B.S.?) has to offer. Regardless, the fact is that all the major stations have gobs of programming garbage to choose from and we can only guess at what junk doesn’t make the cut for their lineups … until we tune to FOX. But, even FOX has its limits (primarily that a day is only 24 hours long) and the plethora of awful shows that they must reject gets passed on to the hundreds of other stations available on satellite television.
Now, bless every last one of these television stations because they serve to promote the American ideal that has caused this country to become what it is, even if most of us aren’t sure of what that is anymore. They are all trying to make a buck. If not morally bound, they are certainly economically bound to show programs they think we want to watch while doing the dishes, helping the kids with algebra, or killing perfectly innocent Sunday afternoons.
So get this: Through all of this sorting, sifting, and V.I.P. private screenings, “Judea Declares War on Germany: A Critical Look at WWII” never saw the dust on the editing room floor at any of these stations. Nobody running the hundreds of channels in the free-enterprise television ether-world thought that this program was anything that anybody wanted to see ” not late at night, not early in the morning, not up against infomercials about fat-burning grapefruit juice massage creams, not even in the backwoods of Idaho where satellite dishes, augmented with aluminum foil and wire coat hangers mounted on the sides of reclaimed frontier shacks, do double-time in the war against UFOs. This Holocaust revisionist documentary hasn’t even risen to the bottom of the heap of electro-dung that is force-fed to us through coaxial cable one charged particle at a time.
In Aspen, we are often in the envious position of being chosen to host all kinds of special things. This film is not one of them. It has not arrived here because we are the supreme arbiters of Constitutional law or the keenest interpreters of our Founding Fathers’ words. We are simply left to handle this A/V toxic waste because we had space available on our community television station.
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Our local, primarily taxpayer-funded, community access television station is continually hurting for programming. Had their backrooms been full of even moderately decent stuff, they could have simply told Steve Campbell, and the rest of the purveyors of rewritten history, that their shows simply aren’t good enough to knock other programs out of a time slot. The argument becomes about quality (i.e. historical accuracy), which is not a Constitutional issue.
This mess is our fault. We, the vigilant-for-the-moment advocates, protectors, and interpreters of free speech apparently don’t have enough to say about who we are so that there is dead air space available for others to come in and tell us what to believe.
The word is out, too. Right now GrassRoots is a vacuum primed for sucking up loads of dirt. Our local controversy has proved that there is a crack in the door for more garbage to blow through. If there continues to be empty airwaves for it to gather on, eventually we will not be able to say “no” to all the stuff that we find offensive. We risk looking like every dim-witted community that ever put a match to the pages of a controversial book.
If a library has room on its shelves, then no new tome that arrives at its door should be banished from appearing there. However, if the library is full, we can gracefully and reasonably select the books we want and exclude the ones we don’t. Supply and demand is the tenet of free enterprise, which we can righteously defend. We will never diffuse evil ideas by expelling them in favor of nothing else. We can only hope to crowd them out with good ones. We should apply this same rationale to television programming.
The drafters of our Constitution did not differentiate between hate speech and free speech, not because it didn’t exist in their time, but perhaps because they were wise enough to know that it was impossible. The bad guys forced us to answer a question about liberty that we couldn’t, and as a result we answered it poorly. I didn’t feel like cheering at any of the responses I read in the Letters to the Editor section of our newspapers or at the many statements made during the GrassRoots forum on the subject. Showing the documentary would not have been the right answer, just as not showing it wasn’t either.
The thing that should frighten us is that people with malevolence in their hearts have forced us to wiggle the line where the freedom to speak stops. With that inertia broken, the line is now much easier to move, and its momentum is in the wrong direction.
The bad guys won his time. Although they undoubtedly wanted to show their hateful Holocaust film, I am sure that they are heartened to know that the freedom of speech is not sacrosanct. If it’s not sacred in an enlightened town like ours, it’s not likely to be anywhere!
Free speech can indeed be dangerous. It can be more lethal than a loaded gun. When jammed, it has been used as a weapon of mass destruction. GrassRoots Television is an idle tool of free speech available for misuse. We need to start utilizing it for our benefit, or get rid of it. We can’t afford to have it used against us again.
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