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Odd Future and "Hate Speech"

Wed 9 Nov 2011 In: Music View at Wayback View at NDHA

When Calum Bennachie approached the Auckland City Council to pressure Big Day Out against inviting "Odd Future" to the music festival, he sparked off considerable debate. Welcome to the long-standing debate about "hate speech" and censorship. Within our communities, there are two strands of thought. One of them is that homophobic speech acts, propaganda and media content (as well as racist, anti-Semitic, sectarian and other hate speech, propaganda and media content) are directly related to homophobic (or racist, anti-Semitic and sectarian or other) hate crimes. The opposite view is that freedom of speech and expression should prevail in this context. The debate suffers from ambiguous definitions and mutual misunderstandings, so I'll try to clarify these concerns in this article. What is "hate speech"? It is interpersonal vilification or use of derogatory rhetoric that centres on the other's perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, disability, political affiliation, ethnicity or other such attributes. It is based on particular speech acts between particular individuals or groups in specific contexts. Businesses and educational institutions are free to regulate such speech acts if they feel that they are not conducive to the maintenance of social order within that context. What is 'hate propaganda" or media content? This is more problematic, as it relies on the premise that particular institutions and organised groups set out to circulate and distribute a set of mythological and derogatory attributes about marginalised groups within a given society. And here is where matters get tricky. Which institutions? How does this circulation and distribution occur? And what about the audience involved in this context? There's a branch of social science called 'media effects theory' which offers some clues about what might happen. Media effects theory states that in a real-world context, there will be many other influences that might precipitate violent and/or antisocial behaviour other than media content particularly. These may include dysfunctional and abusive family backgrounds, questionable peer groups and approval or disapproval from social institutions. For that reason, I don't believe in ahistorical and monocausal views about media effects. That applies to television 'violence', 'pornography' -or hate speech, in given historical and social contexts. Let's not demonise popular culture here. Granted, one might find Odd Future's lyrics and content annoying, but are they really on the same level as that of Jamaican ragga music? In that country, homosexuality is illegal and poverty and violent firearms crime is rife, as well as glorified within that musical genre. Hip hop isn't like that- at its best, it talks about poverty, experiences of institutional racism and deprivation, as well as resistance, survival and hope in such arduous conditions. Perhaps we should have picketed Odd Future if we objected to individual lyrics. And let's be clear about this- it isn't ethnic minority musical subcultures that are the chief source of surviving homophobia and transphobia in this country. It is homophobic and and transphobic conservative religious institutions and their malignant effects on legislation and public policy. And let's remember- it wasn't so long ago that our right to freedom of speech and expression were under attack from the likes of Patricia Bartlett, the Society for Promotion of Community Standards and other pro-censorship campaigners ourselves. Craig Young - 9th November 2011    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 9th November 2011 - 11:47am

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