Artists have a responsibility to defend free speech. More importantly, they have a responsibility to push back against those who wish to limit the expression of those with whom they disagree.
After all, if the very people who use free speech to create their livelihoods and to fulfill their dreams and create don’t defend it — who will?
America offers an unprecedented amount of freedom for people to express themselves. This is how artists are able to thrive here.
It’s also why it’s so disappointing to see scores of celebrities fall silent when bullies and thugs come out of the shadows to attempt to push back against the rights of some to express themselves.
When conservative commentator Ben Shapiro recently spoke at the University of California, Berkeley, it was an embarrassing sight. Major security measures were needed, including metal detectors and barriers outside the venue. It all cost roughly $600,000, all due to fear of the potential riots Shapiro could spark.
Protesters held up signs claiming Shapiro — an observant Orthodox Jew — was a “white supremacist.” Some marched down the street, yelling, “Nazi scum off our street.”
Yes, it is 2017 and a devout Jewish man is being called a Nazi for holding conservative principles. You read that right. The scuffling with counterprotesters and police officers that occurred after the speech led to a reported nine arrests.
What opinions does this “Nazi scum” hold that are so offensive? Hard to say. Shapiro has actually been one of the prominent conservative critics of President Donald Trump, and he tends to lean libertarian in many of his views.
“Thanks to Antifa and the supposed anti-fascist brigade for exposing what the radical Left truly is,” Shapiro told his audience when he took the stage.
“Thanks to Antifa and the supposed anti-fascist brigade for exposing what the radical Left truly is.”
How much celebrity support was there for Shapiro? Crickets. Save for a few conservatives such as Patricia Heaton, who expressed support for him, there was absolutely no outrage over the fact that bullies took to the streets for the sole purpose of try to keep an individual from exercising the right to free speech.
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Where was George Clooney? Matt Damon? Sean Penn?
You don’t need to agree with what Shapiro says to agree with his right to say it. This is an idea creative people should not only understand, but passionately defend.
Imagine for a moment how much it would positively change the cultural and political division in this country if a prominent liberal celebrity stepped forward and defended a conservative’s right to free speech. Such an act would help people on both sides of the political aisle see that there is a way to coexist, to exchange ideas, to respect the opinions of those with whom you disagree.
A partial example of this is a recent interview Ben Shapiro did on “The Joe Rogan Podcast.” Comedian Rogan is a well-known libertarian who often disagrees with the social values of conservatives. However, he invites anyone and everyone onto his show — despite criticism.
He’s talked to everyone from Shapiro to Alex Jones and many others; he’s argued with them and had light, colorful conversations as well. He’s proven it’s possible to simply talk to someone of another viewpoint and to like that person — rather than discarding the individual as an extremist. “I want to talk to everybody,” Rogan often says on his podcast when it’s mentioned he gets pushback for speaking with people like Shapiro.
To top all of this off, Shapiro deserves some respect as a member of the artistic community. Next to his nonfiction books about conservative principles and his reporting at The Daily Wire, Shapiro is an author of a published collection of short stories and a novel. Does this not earn him some sort of consideration from Hollywood creators? No? That’s probably because conservative artists seem be to treated like second-class citizens in the industry today.
However, at the end of the day — and whether Hollywood likes it or not — these people are artists and creators as much as anyone else.
How many artists will stand up and say, “Enough is enough”?
The next target of free speech bullies and thugs will likely be Free Speech Week, an event at the University of California, Berkeley that will include speeches from people like Steve Bannon, Breitbart executive chairman, and conservative commentator Ann Coulter. The event starts September 24.
How many celebrities will push back against those who will no doubt take to carelessly throwing around phrases like “white supremacist,” destroying campus property and marching against free speech? How many artists will stand up and say, “Enough is enough,” and defend the very principle that makes their creations possible?
Sadly, there may be none.