Freedom Of Speech: Where Do We Draw The Line?

What are the responsibilities of highly-visible public figures? I know, rarely do we see the word "responsibility" associated with "celebrity," but the fact remains there are people in our society who carry more influence than others.

In the mad dash for fame and fortune, people have honed skills and talents that make them stand out in the crowd. Or they got lucky (or they "starred" in a sex tape). Regardless, it seems that once someone becomes appropriately famous and successful, their goal is simply to maintain their image/career/popularity. They higher image consultants, managers, agents, an entire entourage to maintain their persona, but there never seems to be anyone trying to set a good example.

Once upon a time, people who aspired to be great leaders tried to study and learn about more than just earning cash (or becoming famous). They were taught to first build character, that bit of integrity and strength that would prove them worthy of the position or authority they hoped to earn. Today people are told to build social media brands, or how to make their content go viral, the ends being that they have lots of followers, but little substance.

The result, of course, is endless celebrities, artists, actors, and public figures who are very good at polishing their image in front of the cameras, but who seem to lack basic qualities that prove they're worthy of the attention. Who's truly worthy of attention? It's not for me to say, because it's often a subjective matter. But I will say that when someone reaches a certain point of visibility, they need to understand the impact their words and actions have on the rest of the culture.

If they use their influence for negative ends, or to defame someone else, or to push a political agenda, shouldn't we accuse them abusing their stature and thus reject their words and insight? That seems to be a common refrain.

But at the same time, aren't artists supposed to challenge our perceptions? That means they will often say and do things that are going to upset us, by design. Many public figures got their fame because they "broke the rules" or set themselves apart because of their impressive skills, disregard for the status quo, or unquestionable star quality. It stands to reason that these people should continue living in such a way- even after achieving fame- that upsets, offends, challenges, and generates controversy.

But who is say? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line?

Recently recording artist and well-known pothead Snoop Dogg shocked the Internet with his latest music video. You've seen it, or at least the screenshot, when he points a gun at a clown resembling President Donald Trump. The controversy on conservative blogs and news sites was fast and fierce.  Trump supporters were up in arms over the disrespectful shot (figurative) at our new president. It also confirmed their beliefs that the entertainment industry is biased against Trump (which is most-likely true).

Regardless of your opinion on the Snoop Dogg video (I frankly don't care, as I'm not a fan of his work and wouldn't expect anything different), the fact remains that he is using his Constitutional right to express his opinion in a music video. But does free speech extend to pictures of violence against the president? There's a fine line when it comes to violent speech. According to our courts free speech does not include the right "to incite actions that would harm others" (Source). Right now, nobody claims Snoop Dogg's video is inciting violence against the POTUS, though that might change should a lawsuit be filed.

It doesn't mean the man is free from repercussions.

Rapper-actor Ice-T says Snoop Dogg pointing a gun at a parody clown version of President Donald Trump in his latest music video is “against the law” and pushes the line between what is artistic and what is not.

“It’s basically him saying everybody’s a clown, including Trump,” Ice-T told TMZ about the visuals for Snoop Dogg’s song “Lavender,” which sees the California rapper shoot a clown-faced President “Ronald Klump” with a fake gun.

“The part where you point the gun at the president is against the law — you know you gotta know that,” ICE-T said. “You can’t kill the president. But I think he pushed the line.” (via Breitbart)

While Snoop Dogg may not go to jail for his offensive music video, it does not make him immune to the potential backlash from the public. The election has set celebrities on edge, pushing them to make wilder and wilder comments against the president.

We all know about Meryl Streep's ridiculous and inaccurate comments about President Trump. On an almost clockwork basis we are seeing public figures, including notable celebrities, spout off angry and hateful words against the President, his staff, and even his family.

We're all protected by the First Amendment to say these things, but there are consequences. Back in January, SNL writer Katie Rich tweeted out that Barron Trump- the president's young son- would be the country's "first homeschool shooter." That did not go over well with plenty of people, not just Trump supporters.

It got so bad that she was fired from Saturday Night Live. According to reports, it was an "indefinite" suspension, so she might have come back. But the act in and of itself proves how our society has certain unspoken censorship rules that control even the most liberal of us.

Perhaps social media has done us a disservice by making our most random and petty thoughts broadcast news. Perhaps celebrities should take some courses in etiquette, or at least have someone to vet their tweets.

A part of the problem is that comedians are supposed to push boundaries for the sake of their craft. This was the case when Patton Oswalt tweeted out a bad joke about terrorists targeting Trump properties around the world, now that the man's president. On a stage, worded properly, it would have been just another joke. Instead, it sparked drama and backlash, because… Twitter. Social media is proving to be a terrible place for comedians to hone their ideas.

If Katie Rich was fired from SNL because of her offensive tweet, is that acceptable?  Should Snoop Dogg be punished over a video mocking and threatening Donald Trump? Do Patton Oswalt and Meryl Strep deserve to lose fans over their anti-Trump sentiments? What are the boundaries of "acceptable" speech and should there be limits to our freedom?

As a strong supporter of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, I say no. There should be no line and no limits- aside from direct threats to incite violence. But personally, I know there are things I'd never say, regardless of how influential I might become. My personal beliefs, convictions, and discretion would prevent me from saying things, even if I believed them.

All of us have those limits. It's called a filter. Sometimes it's based on who we're around.  If you're conservative but many of your relatives are liberal, perhaps you'd rather stay silent than ruin a Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you know your boss is a big Trump supporter, but you hate his guts.  Should you risk your job, just to speak your mind?

Even if you're not famous, you've often felt the restraints our society and communities put on us that limit our freedoms. You could call that oppression, or you could call it good old fashioned common sense. Regardless, shouldn't we hold our celebrities, entertainers, and public figures to the same level of respect that we impose on ourselves?

I myself am a strong Trump supporter- if only because of the great chaos he brings to the status quo- but even I reserve the right to disagree with something he may say, or perhaps tweet. The same goes for any other public figure. In no way should their freedoms be suppressed, but after a certain point, it does feel like abuse.

Not according, of course, to the celebrities abusing their influence.

Actress Kristen Bell defended herself and other politically-outspoken celebrities in an interview Monday, saying that rather than remain quiet about their political views, stars should use their large audiences and platforms to speak up...

“So I’m not a citizen anymore because I’m an actor? F*ck that,” Bell replied. “I’m a citizen of the United States, I’m allowed to say what I want to say.” (via Breitbart)

You go girl. You drop as many f-bombs and unload as many bad ideas as you believe. The rest of us reserve the right to ignore your toxic and unrealistic politics and go on with our lives.

There is a line between artistic expression and deliberate activism. What Snoop Dogg was doing may have teetered over that line, but I respect it much more than figures like Bell arrogantly abusing their influence for political gain. Hell, at least Snoop Dogg was trying to be entertaining.

The same goes for comedians, who should be pushing the envelope to elicit laughs and make people think. But perhaps we've had too much of one side of the argument. Maybe if we had more conservative entertainment and celebrities out there, things would feel more balanced, and we would be open to diverse comments and discussion.

Bottom line? There might not be a bottom line. It's not like celebrities are going to start being responsible with their comments. And as social media continues to usurp mainstream outlets, we are only going to get more and more instances like Snoop's video.

The struggle between freedom and limitations might go on forever. And perhaps that's the way it should be.

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