In late June and early July of 1934, during a week that would be known as The Night of Long Knives, Hitler dispatched his secret police to carry out a string of executions to silence journalists and government officials that dared to speak out against him. And just last week, Anthony Cumia was been similarly silenced – fired from his job on satellite radio – for the simple act of airing the unpopular opinion that black people are inferior to whites, inherently dangerous, and a problem that must be dealt with by white people.
In 2005, Michael Richards, who played the neurotic character Newman Costanza on the popular Jerry Seinfeld Hour, was blacklisted from Hollywood and barred from ever publicly performing again after he accidentally said the n-word while sneezing on stage. He apologized. He had Jerry apologize for him. He repented, yet they still never shot new episodes of Seinfeld. The message was clear: if you voice unpopular opinions, your right to a television show will be permanently removed.
When Donald Sterling spoke out against the black community with carefully thought out criticisms of their questionable behavior toward his girlfriend, the media and the government were quick to step in and call for his immediate jailing and death – but not an actual jailing and death – a symbolic one. A jailing and death that’s much worse, because instead of going to jail or being killed, they make you sell your basketball team for more money than most of us will ever see in our lives. Unlike jail, giving someone money as punishment doesn’t come with the cool title of political prisoner and you don’t get to feel tough. People don’t have sympathy for you. What happened to Sterling is actually a lot worse than going to jail.
The parallels in the above examples and the Cumia case are obvious (especially the Hitler one), and while there is a significant amount of backlash towards Sirius (perhaps not enough) the most troubling aspect is how often things like this are occurring these days. It’s almost as if Americans no longer care about freedom of speech. It’s almost as if were living in Nazi Germany, and everyone who thinks you shouldn’t say racist stuff is Hitler, and people like Cumia are brave and not just racist old men who shouldn’t be on the radio. It’s almost as if being fired is the new gas chamber, and being racist is the new Jewish, and criticism on twitter is the new Holocaust. It’s almost like all of those things.
In fact, the only difference between the historical kind of violent censorship seen in Nazi Germany and the kind were experiencing now is that the consequences for voicing unpopular opinions are designed to be so subtle that they blind people to how damaging they actually are. That’s what prevents people from calling foul play when these infringements occur. Think about it – if we had killed Cumia for going on a racist rant, the censorship would be clear, and we would band together as people and kill the President and take back the country like in my fantasies. But, since “all” they did was fire him, nobody is talking about how this is a clear act of censorship. Nobody except all of his fans which are calling for a boycott of Sirius’ sponsors.
Sure, Cumia could use his popularity – and this recent boost in publicity – to start his own podcast that could be supported through either subscriptions, crowdfunding, or advertising (and probably make as much if not more than he was making at Sirius) but do we really want to live in a world where people fear speaking their minds because it might force them to not be dependent on corporations? Do we really want to live in a world where you can circumvent the needs and desires of corporate sponsors and speak directly to your fans, and support yourself with their contributions? That sounds a lot like communism to me. That doesn’t sound free at all.
Do we really want to live in a world where an organization is allowed to fire someone who represents that organization simply because if they didn’t, the organization would lose money and appear to support racism? I certainly don’t. I don’t want to live in Nazi Germany. I want to live in a free country where you can say whatever you want and by law people aren’t allowed to punish you for it or stop giving you money. I want to live in America.