On Politics and Censorship in Modern Times

On Politics and Censorship in Modern Times

Given the international public’s unique readiness to equate “business” with “criminal,”  it’s auspicious timing for the question of corporate money’s role in politics to return to the Supreme Court. 

The question put before them, Should contemporary campaign finance laws ever put at risk our noble First Amendment?  What is the Court’s place if a corporation makes a film supporting one candidate over another?  The slope seems classically slippery.  


The Times coverage of the Hillary Clinton “slashing documentary” perhaps said more about the Court, and the place it continues to occupy in American life, than it does about the threat of banned books—or, even, the threat of banned tacky bio-pics of Presidential candidates. Justice Breyer’s note of the Clinton film that “It is not a musical comedy” was emblematic of what we think about when we think about judicial restraint: it should be leveled with wit, subtlety, and strength. Yet, are works of art which take—or twist—views on political candidates at risk?  Likely, not.  The First Amendment is strong.  And while a Farenheit 911 was funny, did it really rock the polls?

Remember obscenity.   There were years on the Court when the question of what was obscene was necessarily defined as wholly and, judicially speaking, subjective (if, infamously, recognizable). In The Brethren, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s close look at the Court over seven terms (1969-1975), the authors describe what was known as “Movie day.”

“Movie day was the humorous highpoint of most terms.  Year after year, several of the Justices and most of the clerks went either into a basement storeroom or to one of the larger conference rooms to watch feature films that were exhibits in obscenity cases that had been appealed to the Court. Douglas, and Black during his years on the Court, never went. In their view, nothing could be banned.  ‘If I want to go see that film, I should pay my own money,’ Black once said, and he wondered aloud why nine men, many in their seventies, should make judgments about sexuality . . . Burger too preferred not to go . . . During his later years, Harlan watched the films from the first row, a few feet from the screen, able only to make out the general outlines. His clerk or another Justice would describe the action.  ‘By Jove,’ Harlan would exclaim.  ‘Extraordinary.’ Clerks frequently mocked Stewart’s approach to obscenity, calling out in the darkened room: ‘That’s it, that’s it, I know it when I see it.’”

A Movie day for political documentaries might be even tougher to judge (if less stressful).  In 2009, any Government claiming that it possesses the power to “ban” any work of art is deeply troubling, and tough to grasp. Yet if the phrase “corporate-backed” provokes reaction today it’s perhaps not surprising that some congressmen might take steps to try and “claw-back” the power of those, as it were, creative contributions, if not the actual contributions themselves.

Justice Scalia had the finest line of the day.  “I’m a little disoriented,” he said. 

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).

Credit: Jenny – Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less

What is the ‘self’? The 3 layers of your identity.

Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.

Videos
  • Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
  • Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
  • In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Here’s how you know when someone’s lying to your face

When someone is lying to you personally, you may be able to see what they're doing.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast