Thursday, June 5, 2008

Celebrity Censorship Establishes Dangerous Precedent

While we were sunning and funning in L.A., the world definitely took leave of its senses, at least that's my sorry conclusion after viewing this segment of Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources.

Talk about a mixture of celebrities, politics, and media, here are nine plus minutes of informative topical banter leaving me convinced more than ever of too much media power in the wrong hands leading to unhealthy consequences, specifically self-censorship, something freedom lovers everywhere should recognize as a treacherous slide down a slippery slope. Change effected today is free expression squelched tomorrow, meaning we can't have our cake and eat it too. The opinion you suppress today may one day be your own.

Remarks of columnists Ray Richmond and Sharon Waxman are illustrative. Richmond pretty much bashes Oprah Winfrey, blaming her recent dip in ratings on media overexposure rather than her endorsement of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Inexplicably, he also takes credit for making Oprah politically active. Waxman and Kurtz go in a different direction, pointing to the endorsement as a key factor in the alienation of Oprah fans, but citing other unrelated factors as the possible cause for her rating woes.

But the most disturbing part of the segment was the Rachel Ray ad campaign for Dunkin Donuts. Corporate pulled print ads of Ray wrapped in what appeared to be a kaffiyeh scarf, a symbol of Palestinian terrorism in parts of the free world. I am by no means a terrorist sympathizer, nor do I support Islamic fascism. But honestly, a scarf as political statement in print ads for doughnuts? Get real. Ray has horrible taste, yes, but to label her a terrorist sympathizer through a media blitz which eventually forced the company to censor its own ad campaign establishes a very dangerous precedent.

What's next? Shows like The Sopranos are never produced because they offend the sensibilities of Italian-Americans? Ads with actors draped in orange and black can't be shown in New York because they're too reminiscent of The Baltimore Orioles? Where do you draw the line?

And then there are unintended consequences. We'll never know whether Oprah's early endorsement of Obama was instrumental in gathering necessary support from the African-American community or in gaining enough superdelegate support to cinch the nomination. What we can probably expect in the next election are endorsements from only the most devil-may-care celebrities willing to put their ratings or popularity on the line for a particular candidate. This kind of self-censorship is not necessarily a positive development.

Isn't it better to know the political viewpoints of a celebrity before becoming their biggest most devoted fan? I, for one, would rather know which way a celebrity leans, expressing support or displeasure with my pocketbook and letting the chips fall where they may.