The Public Square

Laura Marland on Commenting on the Commentators


Recently, I made an online comment about Michael Myers' Washington Post article about the Don Imus affair. A comment on a comment on a comment. I live in a small country town. I keep busy.

I noticed that many of the other commentators could not seem to see that punishment by the market is very different from passing laws against racist and sexist expression. What's racist? World War II movies that stereotype the Japanese? Breakfast at Tiffany's, with its truly ugly depiction of Holly Golightly's Asian landlord? Ninety-five percent of everything is sexist. Extreme Makeover is sexist. You like it? Tough.

Notice the knee-jerk repetition of the phrase, "it's the law." No smoking. It's the law. Don't drink and drive. It's the law. Buckle up. It's the law. I buckle up because smashed brains make such a mess, not because it's the law.

I'm proud to live in a society that took Imus down. Media types will now think twice about spouting whatever bubbles up from the sewer of their own subconscious, just as plainer folks hesitate to tell the boss, "I don't like your face." But we can ban all annoying, dangerous or stupid behavior-from bad breath to bad marriages. With the magic words, "It's the law," together we can make a perfect world.

This is a comment on a comment on a comment. O.K., I need a life. Imus needs a life and new income sources. We're free to comment and take the consequences.

There is a difference between markets' control of behavior, listener- consumers who vote with their wallets, and government control of behavior. If we don't get that distinction, we won't be free for long.