Archive for April, 2010

Why Censorship is a Big F—ing Deal

Posted in opinion with tags , on April 30, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I’m a huge liberal. Anything that a Liberal stands for, I probably do, too. Gays should be married. Abortions should be legal. I’m not sure how I feel about pot yet, but after some research, I should have an answer.

But one of my biggest causes that I support is censorship. Specifically, that it shouldn’t exist.

It’s a hard position to defend, because there are so many different scenarios to consider. But overall, to me, censorship is a waste. The freedom of speech should only be limited by common sense, and not based on what the FCC feels is offensive this week.

In thinking about how I got to feel this way, I thought back to my childhood, when the Parental Advisory stickers started being put on CDs (and yes, I remember a time when they didn’t exist. The stickers, I mean, not CDs).

While I didn’t know it at the time, I realize now that the seeds were planted. When the Parental Advisory stickers started appearing on music CDs, I was being told what to find acceptable for my fragile, virgin ears. Never mind that I was exposed to very colorful language back at home. If Snoop Dogg drops an N-bomb on an album, then it is not the album for me.

At first, I thought it was weird that this “offensive music” was appealing to me: this black sticker in the corner is specifically telling me that I’m not allowed to hear this music yet. But somehow my interest in this sort of thing grew, and now that I’m an adult, I can buy whatever I want, no matter how offensive. And I’ll admit, it still makes me smile to hear an uncensored version of a song I heard on the radio, if only to finally hear the swear words I already knew existed.

But this post isn’t about my obsession with filthy lyrics. This post is about the censorship of art. Music is an art form, and by offering censored versions of music, I feel it is a slap in the face to the artists who made it. In most cases, these musicians are pouring their souls and feelings into this music, but just because they drop and F-bomb or two, they need to offer two versions of the album.

I’m a firm believer in words only having the power you put into them. If you are offended by something, it’s only because you chose to be offended by it. Words have no power unless you give power to them. To me, this is nothing but fact. “Infruntist” isn’t an actual word, but if I use it often enough in a certain tone enough, it begins to mean something.

The best example I saw of this in action is an extremely controversial sketch from Chappelle’s Show, called “The Niggar Family.” It was a family of white people with the last name of Niggar. Of course, all of the uses of the word were in the sketch–“Niggar, please”; “I know how forgetful you Niggars are when it comes to paying bills;” etc.–as well as the confusion between the name Niggar and its homophone.

About midway through this sketch, I realized that the word no longer had any effect. It was an effect called Repetition Blindness. The word “Niggar” was repeated so many times that it completely lost its meaning. Any word can do this. Pick a random word out of the dictionary. Repeat it over and over again. It will soon sound like a random collection of sounds, devoid of any meaning.

But it’s not just words. It’s whole concepts that shouldn’t be censored. This week’s posts were inspired by the whole controversy with last week’s South Park episode. Comedy Central, fearful and intimidated, censored the episode.

In Wednesday’s post, I posted a comment from a good friend of mine, and the phrase “art is a revolution” sticks out in my mind. The very fact that art offends people is the whole reason for art. If art doesn’t arouse a feeling in someone, good or bad, it’s not good art. South Park, in this instance, is art. A show that for 14 years has never held back criticism is suddenly censored because of criticism.

I don’t know Matt Stone or Trey Parker personally, but I’m pretty sure that they would gladly lay down their lives for their art, no matter who it offends (and if Matt Stone and/or Trey Parker is reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Bottom line: censorship of art is wrong. Nobody’s freedom of speech in any medium should be limited or taken away. Use common sense: shouting “Fire!” in a crowded room is stupid, but making commentary or satirizing something is Constitutionally encouraged.

Don’t let anyone inhibit your freedom of speech through fear, intimidation, violence, or anything of that matter. Speak your mind. It’s how progress is made.

Thoughts on Islam

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , , on April 28, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

I previewed Monday’s post on a website I frequent called The Young Writers Society. It’s an excellent website where writers aged 13-25 can post works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scripts, photographs, and other forms of art to be critiqued by the members. It’s a “peer-review” sort of website, and one that has helped me improve my writing immensely. I’m doing my part as a member to promote the site, if only because I see it as really beneficial.

What I was hoping to find by posting Monday’s entry on my YWS blog was a few replies, if any, from other South Park fans. What I didn’t realize was that there were some strong sentiments on either side, each being played out in the comments of my blog.

The point of Monday’s post (which on this blog has a different ending than the YWS version), was that it is wrong to censor yourself out of fear. I was in no way attacking the Muslim faith, and I was in no way meaning to offend anyone. But the topic of offense and censorship is another post. This post will focus on the religion of Islam, its beliefs, and my personal opinion about the religion.

The beliefs of Islam are fairly straightforward. Muslims believe that there is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad was his prophet. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God, as they believe that worshipping Jesus is akin to polytheism. God does not beget, nor is he begotten.

The Prophet Muhammad, in the Muslim faith, is not the creator of a “new religion,” but rather resurrecting the faith of Adam, Abraham, Jesus, and others. In his life, Muhammad converted many people to Islam, and peacefully and successfully took over Mecca. He died at the age of 63.

Only God knows when He will return to Earth and save His people, and only He knows who will be saved and who won’t. Muslims believe that everything that happens in the world happens for a reason, that it has all been planned out, and we must go with the flow and accept the consequences as the way life is supposed to go.

The Five Pillars of the Islamic faith are testifying that there is only one God worthy of worship and that Muhammad is God’s prophet, praying five times a day facing Mecca, the giving of alms, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca if you’re able.

As far as jihad is concerned, there are many different forms. The most common form is the “greater jihad”, the inner struggle in dealing with sin and cleansing one’s self. However, unless otherwise defined, jihad is a militant struggle, using violence to defend and expand the religion of Islam.

While this information was found on Wikipedia, examining the sources cited showed that this information is as accurate as can be. Looking overall, the Islamic faith is one that is fairly peaceful. The beliefs are similar to the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. And overall, the religion appears peaceful. However, just like with all social groups, there are extremists, and it is the extremists that make a bad name for the group as a whole.

Many times, the only exposure people have to the Muslim faith is through the extremists: 9/11, the Fort Hood shootings, and any shot of Iraqis in the mainstream media. So it’s not surprising that the common perception of Muslims are violent, humorless, miserable people who want nothing more than to pick a fight.

One of the comments on the YWS version of Monday’s post from a user named “Snoink” struck me as purely common sense:

Although definitely not Muslim, I am Catholic, so therefore I believe in Eucharistic transubstantiation…. So doing bad things to the host is really really really bad. And yet, if someone used the host in art, even in a way that is horrifying to me, I’m rather limited. I mean, I can and will defend the host… but murder? No.

Is South Park art? Well… if it’s creating this much of a fuss, then yes. After all, art is a revolution.

The point of this post is to show that I’m not “anti-Muslim,” but rather am looking for an explanation. The Muslim community’s reaction to the South Park episode aired last week was unwanted and intimidating, but to them, it is part of their faith.

A Muslim man, the one who runs the website Revolution Muslim and posted the threat to Matt Stone’s and Trey Parker’s lives, is quoted in a CNN interview saying that Qur’an explicitly states that non-believers should be terrorized for believing the wrong thing.

This man openly praises the acts of Osama bin Laden and the Fort Hood shooter, and it is because his faith says that the lesser jihad of violence and militantism is a group effort. The whole must support the one. And to me, that is disgusting and wrong.

I don’t hate Islam. I try my best to be open to all things, even those things that offend me. And in America, you’re going to get offended, no doubt about that. Don’t let religion throw you into a blind rage because you found something offensive. Don’t become violent and threaten murder because of something that offended you. Rather, be calm, civilized, and state your case. It could be the difference between life and death.

Islam v. South Park: Who Went Too Far?

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

It’s a well-known fact that I’m a huge fan of the show South Park on Comedy Central. Of all the shows on television, I feel that this show is spectacular in that it is a no-holds-barred look at anything and everything in the world. Nothing is off-limits: religion, pop culture, even celebrity deaths are mocked every week. South Park says what no one else will, making it the most hilarious and honest show on television.

But the two most recent episodes of South Park (creatively titled “200” and “201”) were frustrating to me, because despite the fact that the show and its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, pride themselves in making fun of everybody, Comedy Central dropped the ball on redefining the culture.

A quick synopsis of the situation: In honor of their 200th episode, South Park decided to call back every celebrity they ever made fun of. The story goes that Tom Cruise comes to South Park to go “fly fishing” (which is actually working at a candy factory in the fudge department). Stan, while on a class trip to the candy factory, sees Tom Cruise and observes that he’s a “fudge packer.” Cruise gets upset and decides to sue South Park along with the rest of his celebrity friends.

In an effort to drop the lawsuit, Randy pleads with Cruise, promising to bring anyone he wanted into South Park to drop the lawsuit. Cruise calls for Muhammad, prophet of the Muslim faith. The next two episodes follow the saga of trying to give Muhammad to the celebrities (to get his “goo” so that they can no longer be made fun of), while at the same time trying not to have the town destroyed by the Gingers, and finding out who Cartman’s father really is.

The two-part episode went out of its way to make fun of everything and everyone, and the first episode went off without a hitch: a few censored images of Muhammad here, a few shots of the townspeople looking up to the sky for bombs there, and a perfect cliffhanger for next week.

It was only when a message on the website Revolution Islam (now not working) did things start to get a little scary. Coupled with the picture of Theo Van Gogh, the filmmaker who was shot and nearly decapitated on the streets of Amsterdam after making a film about Islam’s mistreatment of women, the message for Matt and Trey said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

It was after this threat that “201” became completely different. Every mention of Muhammad was censored. Even at the end, when the show goes into its formulaic “I’ve learned something today” section, the entire moral of the story was bleeped out. The last few minutes of the show was one gigantic tone, interrupted with, “I’ve learned something today,” “That’s right, Kyle,” and “Absolutely.”

At first, watching it, and digesting it for a while, I figured it was some huge joke, a commentary on doing whatever it takes to not offend anyone. I had no idea what was behind the huge bleeps, but I figured it was nothing important, and laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Then, on the front page of the South Park Studios website, was this message from Matt and Trey (emphasis mine):

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker were doing what they do best: mocking the world around them. And Comedy Central, the station that supported this behavior for 14 years, suddenly didn’t want to offend anyone.

The situation reminded me of an article I read a few weeks back called Nothing is Exempt from Criticism. It’s a short article about how nothing is so special that it can’t be criticized, but the point of the article is expressed in these two paragraphs:

Furthermore, why should anything be exempt from criticism? Criticism is the most important pillar of modern society. Without criticism, how would we sort the good ideas from the [bad] ones? Without criticizing the inane…, how do we ever improve anything?

If you criticize an idea, and it stands its ground against your remarks, then it’s probably not too bad of an idea…. On the other hand, if you have an idea and it falls apart in the face of criticism, don’t get indignant and claim that your idea deserves special treatment. It’s a stupid idea…. Trash it already.

Islam, like any other religion, is not exempt from being made fun of. If it is part of the world, it is able to be made fun of. What should be interesting to note in all of this is that in 2001, South Park showed an image of the prophet Muhammad, a member of the religious superhero group “The Super Best Friends.” He was fully seen, spoke a few lines, and showed off his power of fire. Nothing happened, and no one was offended.

It appears that the religion of Islam is one of the most vocal and violent religions when they get offended. The threats and the violence are over the top and not necessary. Christians and Jews get mocked constantly, and the level of offensiveness with these mockings know no bounds. Yet there are very few instances of Christians or Jews getting so offended that they explode in violence, and the wide difference between these two worlds is striking. Make a few Holocaust jokes, and the Jews are upset. Mention Muhammad in an off-color joke not even about Islam, and people are brutally murdered on the streets.

This post isn’t to tear down Islam. Rather, this post is about not being fearful of speaking your mind. To paraphrase Jon Stewart in the opening of Thursday’s episode of the Daily Show: The Muslim extremists that are in America are free to practice their religion, praise Osama bin Laden, celebrate the anniversary of 9/11, and nearly anything else they want to do, because they are given that freedom in the Constitution. However, that freedom is a two-way street: sure, they can say or do whatever they want, but they must also respect the fact that the rest of America has the freedom to mock them, and not use fear and intimidation to inhibit those freedoms.

If you want to have limited freedom of speech, stay in the Middle East.

Kudos goes to Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and everyone who works at South Park, for continuing to push the envelope, and for not going with the flow when your art is compromised. Keep up the good work.

Coming soon will be separate posts about Islam in general and Censorship. Keep watching, and thanks for reading.

The Importance of Family

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , on April 16, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

The thing about families is that you never know where they’re going to be. Sometimes your family is the people you grew up with, and the house that you’ll always remember from your childhood. Other times your family is the group of people you hang out with after moving out from home. Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, and any other demographic adjective you can slap onto a group of people. But one thing that makes all families the same is how all of the individuals band together in victories and hardships.

I’m not able to go into much detail, at the request of my family (but mostly because I know better), but there was recently an event that has caused a lot of strain. It happened around the time I was going to write Monday’s blog, and it weighed so much on me that I couldn’t bring myself to write. Monday was spent trying to process the news, trying to find answers, and trying to keep my spirits up as I went throughout the rest of my day.

It was a day spent emailing, texting, calling people, trying to find support and advice. And it wasn’t until late Monday night that I realized that I have several different families rallying behind me, hoping for the best.

Obviously, there is my biological family, the mother I came out of, the father that helped create me, and all of their parents and siblings that I know as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like. These are the people I’m exposed to every day, and though sometimes it’s a pain to even be around some of them, we support each other, because we are blood. Blood is thicker than water, sure, but it’s also thicker than highways, forests, deserts, and concrete. We support and love each other, because there’s nothing else that we know how to do.

Then there is my spiritual family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they are. I saw Pastor Brian in the hallways on Tuesday, and he stopped dead in his tracks when I referred to the news. We stood in the hallway for a few minutes talking about how I was coping (because I tend to be a highly emotional person). After we left, I got a text from him saying that if I needed to talk, that I was free to practically burst into his office at anytime. Combine that with all of the prayers and happy thoughts that are being sent toward my biological family in our time of frustration, and it’s a vast network of people willing to help me out.

Finally, I have my musical family, the Wartburg Choir. Even with the stress of our Midwest tour coming in two weeks, I got an email from nearly everyone in the choir letting me know that they’re thinking of me. Some offered words of encouragement for me personally (I was called “resilient” in one email), others offered spiritual advice (“God will make this work out. Have faith.”), and a few even shared similar experiences (“It’s good that [this family member] is getting the help [they] need. I know it helped me out a lot…”).

In all of these families, there is love and support. Some are related to me through blood, others through faith, and others simply through music. But through it all, all of my families are banding together. It’s an “all-for-one” mentality in that it is all of my family members from all walks of life coming together for one person who is having troubles. And as quickly as they rallied around me, I would rally around them in the same way, instantaneously, no questions asked.

I guess the point of this post is to say that you should never take any family that you have for granted. Humans have a genetic desire to belong to a group and to be loved by that group. If you’re lucky enough to have any family at all, love and support your family members with everything you have.

What is a Christian?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Christianity gets a bad rap. Most world religions do, but for some reason, especially in America, Christians are the loudest complainers.

Christians in America feel they are being “persecuted” for their beliefs. Every December, Bill O’Reilley does his “Attack on Christmas” special, where he complains that Christmas is being attacked based solely on public school not allowing Christmas carols to be sung or the installation of “Holiday Trees.” Glenn Beck, over and over again, talks about how Christians are being held back and repressed in the name of tolerance.

The problem that I see with these different “repressions” and “attacks” is that they aren’t attacking the Christians themselves, but rather the label they fall under. For a while, I refused to be called a “Christian” because of the stigma attached to it.

Ask anyone who speaks out against Christianity what they hate about Christians, and everyone you ask will give you a different answer. But mostly, the Christians that are being hated are closed-minded, intolerant, ignorant individuals, who cling to religion and guns and views anything that is different from their “Utopia” as evil. Christians vote Republican, eat red meat, and usually live in rural areas. Christians will happily tell you that you are going to hell, and will shove Christ down your throats with scare tactics.

I found this website recently that does a great job of this tactic. It starts off discussing the deaths of rock stars, and how the rock and roll culture leads straight to Hell. The practical side of me likes to think that it doesn’t, and the logical side of me knows it won’t, but for kicks, I read the tract.

At the bottom of the page, you’ll notice that, after all of that propaganda, you’re given a choice: CHOOSE LIFE, and rid your system of rock music and be welcomed into Heaven, or CHOOSE DEATH, and burn in Hell after you die because of your music choice. For kicks, I decided to choose death, and was immediately brought here.

This page talks about my awful choice of rejecting Jesus Christ as my Savior, and goes on and on and on about the eternal lake of fire that my condo will be next to for all eternity. After reading all of this, I’m given another choice, my last chance: Accept Jesus Christ, or reject Him. Again, for kicks, I chose to reject Jesus. And oh man, did I make the wrong choice.

This page talks about the torment of Hell. It’s all about Hell, using Biblical descriptions about Hell and how much I will suffer by going there. It talks about how National Geographic and PBS both accept that Hell is a real place, and by rejecting Jesus, that is where I’m going. The page is black, the text is red, as if to prove that I’m a wicked person.

This, from the same people who believe in a God of love, will scare me into salvation. That is not what people want.

So what should a Christian be instead? Exactly what Jesus preaches. I feel like I’m repeating myself every time I say it, but that’s what is said, and it was said to be the most important commandments: “Love your God… and Love your Neighbor.”

The simple act of loving someone is all that someone might need to be brought to Christ. Jesus isn’t angry or upset or mean. Jesus is Love. Religion and Christianity shouldn’t be something scary or something that causes you to fear the unknown realm of death. Religion and Christianity should be something that is desired.

To answer the question in the title: A Christian is one who is loving, not scary.

If the majority sets a good example for the rest of the world, maybe Christians won’t be as “persecuted” as everyone thinks they are.