We often hear the critics of the current administration talking about "taking our country back", which implies that the people running it today don't deserve it, despite winning in a landslide. There is also an implication that the country does NOT belong to the winners of the election, that the REAL America got gypped in 2008 just because their guy got about 10 million less votes than That Guy and missed getting an electoral majority by 97 electors.
A fair question to be asked when they want to take "their country back" is, exactly how far back? There is a nostalgia for the good old days felt by a lot of people who weren't there during the good old days or who have very bad memories.
Let me be honest and say I'm old enough to have been there. Let me be immodest and say my memory is much better than most.
Many people decry the crudeness of our society, and I would not argue that point. My point is that we have gained in freedom and made a more just society, but that did not come without a cost. I am glad to live in a country where you can't be arrested for buying or selling a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover or Tropic of Cancer. When I was a boy, there were places where that was against the law.
Censorship against the written word had been going on for a very long time, but when I was a kid the battle went from print to performance. While some of the Beat Poets were harassed by the law, one of the first performers known to the general public as a threat to the public morals for having a dirty mouth was Lenny Bruce. He had been a comic for quite a while, working in burlesque houses and nightclubs. There are old recordings of his act on TV, and his stuff was both clean and stale, the usual uninspired collection of mother-in-law jokes. But his nightclub act began to extend into what we now call observational humor, with lots of observations about sex where using dirty words was close to mandatory. Swearing in a nightclub act wasn't completely unheard of, but most "blue" comics told dirty jokes with a minimum of actual obscenities. Bruce crossed that line, and did so frequently. All around the country, police departments and district attorneys decided that he had to be arrested if he said those things in a nightclub, as though he had a bullhorn and was swearing in front of a schoolhouse or church. He was first arrested in 1961 in San Francisco, the first of many arrests around the country. He would not compromise on his act, hoping to be the vanguard, but he did not have the strength for it. He was tried for obscenity and lost in 1964. He died in 1966, ruined by drugs and a well-founded feeling of persecution.
If I may use a religious comparison sure to offend, Bruce was John the Baptist, paving the way for the one who would come. That young man actually was in the audience one night when Bruce was arrested. He told the police he did not believe in government-issued IDs, a position that should endear him to many Tea Party stalwarts. He was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in the same vehicle. His name was George Carlin.
Carlin was actually still a clean-cut kid whose act was perfectly acceptable to Ed Sullivan when Bruce was still alive, but within a few years he took a left turn, started dressing like a hippie and letting his beard and hair grow. It was six years after Bruce died that Carlin was arrested yet again, this time for performing live in Milwaukee one of his most famous routines, The Seven Words You Can't Say On Television. Here is the famous preamble to that clarion call to freedom.
"There are seven words you can't say on television: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war."
Between 1964 and 1972, America underwent massive changes. In the earlier trial in New York, a three judge panel threw the book at Lenny Bruce and sentenced him to jail time in a workhouse. He was still free on bail with the conviction being appealed when he died. In 1972 in Milwaukee, the judge at the Carlin case decided his work was indecent but Carlin had the right to say it as long as he caused no public disturbance.
Carlin's comedy album also changed the airwaves. A father was listening with his son to Pacifica radio's WBAI in New York when the Seven Words skit was broadcast over the air. The man sued and the case went to the Supreme Court. The 5-4 decision was that routine was "indecent but not obscene" and the F.C.C. had the right to ban it at hours when children would be likely to listen. This meant that late night radio could be much more free.
It is true that the world has become more crass because of this, but free speech is meaningless if no one takes offense. If entertainment offends you, don't watch or don't listen. For me, American False Idol is a disgusting obscenity even if no one says anything more coarse than "Gosh!" On the other hand, I like it when Peggy Olson on Mad Men says "chickenshit" and means it.
Some localities still try to block stuff, but the Internet is hard to control. The greatest song of the Summer of 2010 is currently available only on The You Tubes, Cee Lo Green's infectiously catchy and upbeat new tune called Fuck You!
This is because liberals stood up for free speech when conservatives tried as hard as they could to deny it. When these self-professed rodeo clowns say they love the constitution, it's a still a pretty good bet that they don't.