In accusing feminist social critics of being fascists, the gay community is either setting or following the nationwide trend towards intellectual conservatism and away from progressivism. Doublespeak of this kind is echoing across college campuses throughout the land.
It appears that the American Right has learned something from its long surveillance of the feminist, gay, ethnic, and Green movements. It has learned the magical phrase political correctness, so reliably effective in disarming and ridiculing any advocate of social conscience or personal responsibility. The Right has observed that even among self-styled liberals and progressives, it's relatively easy to redefine outspoken criticism as censorship, efforts to redress injustice as favouritism, and any exhortation to change one's habits as P.C. The Right is not stupid. Neither are the pornographers.
Critics of the product or practices of the sex entertainment industry, whether at the corporate or the entrepreneurial level, draw an inevitable barrage of accusations: prudery, right-wing collaboration, Nazism, etc. It doesn't matter whether the feminist (or anti-racist) critic of the entertainment biz is questioning the social value of Rambo II, Clockwork Orange, or Pretty Baby - Norman Mailer or Larry Flynt - or more amateurish local thrill-vendors. In a reductionism worthy of Mr. D'Souza himself, she is transformed in the public mind into the all-powerful Agent of Repression. She is the advance-guard of an enormous conspiracy dedicated to stamping out art and literature, reducing us all to semiliterate peons permitted to read, watch, and sing only the drab and repetitive propaganda of Big Brother.
At one time sex-industry proponents argued their case (during the progressivist sixties and early seventies) in terms of social good. Free access to sex goods and services, they contended, would provide a cathartic outlet for male aggression, and all sex-related crimes (springing wholly from sexual frustration and repression) would vanish in a free society. However, during the decades of increased sexual license for men, limited social liberation for gays, and enormous growth in the sex trade, violence against American women has in fact escalated (or remained constant, depending on whose statistics you believe; but no one seriously asserts that violence in general, or violence against women in particular, is declining). The catharsis theory is dead, and a growing body of research indicates quite the reverse: that violent pornography intensifies hostility to women in male consumers.
So the apologists for the traffic in women have changed their tune, with the times and with the evidence. They now adhere to the libertarian line and entrench themselves firmly behind the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union is their best friend, and their (highly profitable) business is the highest expression of their all-Americanism and dedication to freedom. And the ACLU, which once distinguished itself by conspicuous courage and gallantry in the defence of persecuted unionists and peaceniks in the hard years of the twenties and thirties, has degenerated in our day into a pathetic defender of male privilege. Consider, for example, the ACLU's involvement in the case of Douglas Oakes. One wonders whether the ACLU would exist at all, if it defended freedoms and rights other than those traditionally exercised by men at the expense of women and minors.
Increasingly, the ACLU and the general public can find no better meaning for freedom of speech than the license to lie, offend, and insult. I have been noticing lately the use of the phrase in advertising: a catalog of comic books came to me recently, with an invitation to those who love and exercise their First Amendment rights to mail in money and a form so as to receive the company's adult catalog. A consumer book and audio catalog recently advertised a taped collection of the (in)famous Amos 'n' Andy shows as finally available to you again, a triumph of First Amendment rights. The First Amendment, genuinely noble in concept, is now used as a marketing ploy: the consumer can feel righteous about buying racism and sexism.
A corporation, of course, can sue the daylights out of you for publishing allegations or assertions which might impair its business standing; an individual who is slandered or libeled has legal recourse. But the underdogs of American society: women, people of colour, queers€can be insulted in print, film, audio, and video as often and as nastily as will sell; and the First Amendment guarantees their inability to do anything about it, other than to publish whatever refutations or counterattacks they can afford to print.
This reduces the American intellectual scene indeed to a marketplace of ideas in which we are all hucksters - and the huckster who can afford the biggest and best PA system wins. This is Free Marketism applied to the world of art and politics: a naŃve belief that some innate quality in human beings, or in truth, will guide the invisible hand of the market so that truth prevails. We might as well revert to trial by combat.
But, of course, many people will say, consumers of the media are not idiots, nor are they children (though children are routinely exposed to the same materials that I find objectionable even for adult consumption). It's common for porn apologists and First-Amendmen to caricature the feminist critique of pornography as a claim that perfectly ordinary men are transformed into Mr. Hyde after just one little peek at offensive materials. After reducing the feminist position to a cardboard cutout of this kind, they have little difficulty in ridiculing it.
But what is a perfectly ordinary man? If exploiting, hating or abusing women is a perversion, then the average man is a predisposed pervert. The last twenty years of violent crime statistics and gender-psychology experiments can lead you to no other conclusion. No one, except a handful of embattled and increasingly dispirited radical feminists, wants to admit how much hatred of women there is in the perfectly ordinary man, how much it is a part of everyday life, how often ordinary men act it out, every day.
Which is odd; it should shock and surprise us no more than the efficacy of Mr. Bush's Willie Horton soundbite in arousing the latent racist fear and hatred in the white voting public's heart. Or, to put it another way, it should be equally shocking. The leftist press spent untold hours and uncounted reams of paper denouncing Bush's opportunistic exploitation of white racism to get a few cheap votes, repeatedly calling the Horton ad outrageous and unacceptable and so forth. The Nation was particularly eloquent on the subject.
In this case, apparently, the President's freedom of speech did not evoke their solicitous protection, as it surely would were he any ordinary pimp or panderer exploiting hostile male fantasies about women to make a buck. The essential difference is that the Horton ad was selling racism - something that leftist men don't want, or don't want to want, or have been forcibly taught that it is uncool to want - whereas for the sex industry they are still willing consumers. I personally find it rather gutless to take brave stances of principle against Bad Things when they don't appeal to you anyway; I would have more respect for the Left if there were more John Stoltenbergs among them, men who are capable of saying that the merchandise offered by the sex trade is as dirty as any of the other goods they faithfully boycott - no matter how it may appeal to them.
It's about time the male left (New and Old) and the gay male subculture came to grips with, or were made to come to grips with, the one bastion of privilege all their rhetoric never challenges: male sexual consumerism. If that's too much to hope for, then at the very least it's time for the crowd of lesbian wannabes that follows them around to wake up and smell the coffee. A free speech that is merely a new name for age-old male libertinism carries no whiff or taste of freedom for women.
Furthermore, to meet serious social critics with threadbare reductionism and name-calling is a copout. We are all here, all in this together, and we are answerable to each other for what we do and say. Art is not magically excepted, sex is not magically excepted, any more than business or politics or the nuclear family or private property. The Censor is the Great Fear of the Nineties, exploited as was the Red Menace of the Fifties, in the best interests of business as usual. Freedom of speech has become the last refuge of hate-mongers and profiteers; we live in sad times.
But the Right seems very active in the cause of repression. Shouldn't we be very, very worried about them? Can we afford to permit any kind of State intervention in the media and arts, knowing what the agenda of the Right will be?