Free Speech


To the Editors:

I was surprised to see in your May 21 editorial page that The Crimson editorial board was unable to reach a majority opinion on the Deep Throat controversy. I was surprised because all three editorials indicated both an objection to the showing of the film and a commitment to First Amendment liberties. There appears to be a consensus that Stork's and Hagen's judgement in this case was insensitive and irresponsible, but that it is not the business of the City of Cambridge to punish insensitivity or irresponsibility of this kind. This is, I think, a reasonable position.

Yet no agreement was reached. That indicates that many people have given priority to one or the other of the two principles being challenged. The task for concerned people, however, is not to rank the two principles in order of importance--neither free speech nor women's dignity is more 'important'--but rather to ask: Which principle is truly being threatened? Looking at the question this way, one must be disturbed by the emphasis of the second editorial.

Our society has, for the most part, recognized the adult citizen's right to produce, disseminate, and read/view obscene materials. That an archaic statute remains on the books in Cambridge is perhaps unfortunate, but hardly a significant threat to human freedom. If one really wants acess to pronography, 25 cents will take you to the combat zone and all the filth you could possibly want. This, it seems to me, is the real intent of the First Amendment: a guarantee that no perspective will be silenced.

It is also not self-evident that the authors of the Constitution had in mind, when they talked of 'free speech,' a $4 billion industry which maintains degrading perceptions of a majority of the American population through visual as well as written means. Certainly they could not have imagined the qualitative difference in impact of the mass media as compared to the pamphlets they distributed as revolutionaries. Regardless of one's feelings on this particular interpretation, however, it remains clear that the general right to distribute obscene materials is not threatened.


However, the other struggle in question--that to end exploitative representations of women--has hardly begun. That struggle, which Stork and Hagen consciously decided to obstruct, deserves greater support than the mere lip service paid it in the second editorial. All people concerned with human liberty, as the eight signators of the second editorial surely consider themselves, have an obligation to speak out vigorously on this issue. To speak instead of a freedom which our society has already granted is not wrong, it is just too easy.

The point then is not: Did Stork and Hagen have the right to show the film? Of course they did. But shouldn't their cause--the cause of exploiting women to make money--be a difficult one to get excited about defending? That the editors who did get excited about it were all men must reinforce skepticism about the integrity of those who have jumped on the "protect the First Amendment" bandwagon. Those who use "freedom of speech" as a means of avoiding tougher questions are only strengthening the hand of cynics who view that important freedom as a fraud.

I should add that the authors of the last editorial are also doing a disservice to their cause by implying a lack of concern for First Amendment Freedoms. Stork and Hagen may have abandoned any claims to our respect, but they have not "relinquished their claims to our sympathy on grounds of unfair censorship." It is important to realize that a conviction of Stork and Hagen would be a triumph of puritanism, not radical feminism. And those of us on the left must always remember that any attempts to undermine free speech must ultimately hurt us far more than those in power. For in a society without a First Amendment, history has taught us that it is we and not they who will be silenced. Guy Molyneux, '81-2