“Netflix…the tech company that revolutionized Hollywood, is now in an uproar as employees challenge the executives responsible for its success and accuse the streaming service of facilitating the spread of hate speech and perhaps inciting violence.”
1. It’s time—way past time, in fact—to emphatically define what “hate speech” is. First of all, hate speech, whatever it is, is 100% protected speech. It is Constitutional, First Amendment, lawful, beyond all argument speech. Second, I use “whatever it is” because the phase is deliberately vague and subjective so those seeking to censor discourse, advocacy, non-conforming points of view, satire and insults can place the expression of ideas by someone else into a category that suggests malign agency and intent.Then, those crying “hate speech” can advocate silencing whatever it was they are labeling.
We’re on to them, or should be by now. Calling something “hate speech” is like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s dishonest “hate group” label. It’s a cheat.
2. Hate is not a good thing in human relations (there are exceptions), but it is legal and, like all emotions, not unethical. Acting on the hate may be unethical, but not hate itself.
3. I have watched “The Closer,”Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special now under fire, twice. There is nothing hateful in it, unless one thinks that all mockery, satire and jokes with an edge are hate.
I don’t think “The Closer” is very good, especially by Chappelle’s standards. It’s not especially funny, for instance. It’s also not very smart, and Chappelle, if nothing else, is smart and usually shows it. It’s not smart because the controversy over how society should regard transgender individuals is interesting, perhaps difficult, raises interesting ethical and practical issues, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just not as important as the attention paid to it makes it seem. This is a tiny minority: yes, these issues are important to them. But Chappelle’s show is like a deliberate employment of the Streisand Effect: he’s obviously annoyed about having to deal with trans issues, so he spends a whole, high-profile special complaining, explaining, and riffing regarding it. Since he’s a comedian, this could be justified if he mined it for comedy gold, but he doesn’t.
If he isn’t going to be funny, then he has to be profound, or he’s wasting our time. Not only is the thing not profound, it’s barely coherent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: stand-up is a high wire act, and the best comics sometimes fall hard. But the contrived controversy over “The Closer” is giving the performance more significance than it deserves, and allowing Chappelle to accept accolades for a performance that was really subpar.
4. The default attacks on “The Closer” are centering on the silly “it makes me/they not feel safe” trope, which works on campuses because administrators are weenies and cowards, but which is transparent dishonesty designed to falsely represent words as conduct. Netflix has shown itself to be ethically inert by saying that as long as its audience likes and watched programming, that’s good enough for them. However, the executive quoted in the Times piece as asserting that stand-up comics don’t incite violence (except occasionally against the comic) is completely correct.
Netflix’s more general proposition that “content onscreen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” is framed in weasel words, however: what does “directly translate” mean?
5. One employee, in a company meeting about Chappelle, asked whether Netflix was “making the wrong historical choice around hate speech.” Speaking of hate, I hate the thought process that leads anyone to make a statement like that. Such an individual believes that it’s inevitable that the U.S. will eventually censor speech. Over my dead body, maybe. He or she also either thinks that’s a good thing, or is the kind of person who wants to be on the winning side, and principles be damned.
The primary observation, however is the pure hypocrisy and double standards being applied here by Chappelle’s critics. Virtually all of them saw nothing wrong with every televised late night comedian, as well as virtually every comic on cable stations, viciously mocking, attacking and insulting President Trump, his family, and those who voted for him or support him for four long years. Every single day, unrelenting, often angry, obscene and personal. Most of it made Chappelle’s jibes about the LGTBQ community seem like knock-knock jokes. And there is an argument to be made that this 24-7, total immersion in hate—and it was (and is) hate, did “directly translate” into tangible harm. Ask the people who were harassed and assaulted for wearing MAGA hats. Ask Nick Sandmann. Trump voters and supporters are not a tiny minority, and the Trump-Deranged nightly assaults on the President of the United States played a major part in dividing the culture and American society. If hate speech has any meaning, what has been directed at Trump by smug comics like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, John Oliver and more is hate speech.
But the people not laughing at Chappelle thought that “hate speech” was hilarious, so it doesn’t count.