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Before we get to the sales pitch here on Day Five of Reason’s
annual webathon—in
which we ask our readers to contribute dollars
or Bitcoins
to the 501(c)3 nonprofit that makes all our libertarian journalism
and commentary possible—a little palate cleanser: 


That clip was embedded in an obituary here six weeks back,
titled “How
Lou Reed Inspired Anti-Communist Revolutionaries and the Rest of
.” It was the latest installment in the ongoing Reason genre
of coverage of defending popular or “low” culture against political
attacks from the left and right, and celebrating how the stuff can
liberate the world in ways wholly unintended its creators.

Here’s a great compendium of ridiculous congressional
attacks on culture, as put together by Anthony Fisher:


Here’s another classic, “Bollywood vs. Bin Laden: Why radical
Islam fears pop culture,” as anchored by Shikha Dalmia:


Partisan/ideological bores tend to treat music, film, art, and
other expressions of culture either instrumentally—judging
a work by how well it satisfies a particular political mission—or
reactionarily, by trying to play defense against a
perceived assault on decent human values. Nick Gillespie correctly
identified the mistaken frameworks, while championing individual
autonomy, all the way back in February

The audience has a mind of its own. Individuals sitting
in a theater, or watching television, or listening to a CD don’t
always see and hear things the way they’re “supposed” to. […]

That would be news to most participants in the public debate
over depictions of sex and violence in movies, TV, and music.
Liberals and conservatives are as tight as Beavis and Butt-head in
agreeing that consumers of popular culture–the very people who make
it popular–are little more than tools of the trade. Joe Sixpack and
Sally Baglunch–you and I–aren’t characters in this script. Just
like TV sets or radios, we are dumb receivers that simply transmit
whatever is broadcast to us. We do not look at movie screens;
we are movie screens, and Hollywood merely
projects morality–good, bad, or indifferent–onto us.

True story: In France, this commercial would be censored. |||“We have reached the point
where our popular culture threatens to undermine our character as a
nation,” Bob Dole thundered last summer in denouncing “nightmares
of depravity” and calling for movies that promote “family values.”
“Bob Dole is a dope,” responded actor-director Rob Reiner, a
self-described liberal activist. Fair enough, but it apparently
takes one to know one: “Hollywood should not be making exploitive
violent and exploitive sex films. I think we have a responsibility
[to viewers] not to poison their souls,” continued Reiner, who rose
to prominence playing the role of Meathead on All in the
. […]

Of course, it is hardly surprising that denizens of Washington
and Tinseltown frame the debate so that all interpretive power
resides with would-be government regulators and entertainment
industry types. Clearly, it makes sense for them to conceptualize
popular culture as a top-down affair, one best dealt with by
broadcasters and bureaucrats. This consensus, however, has
implications far beyond the well-worn notion that entertainment
should be properly didactic.

Because it assumes that the viewer, the listener, or the
audience member is a passive receiver of popular culture, this
consensus must inevitably result in calls for regulation by the
government (such as the V-chip, which is part of both the House and
Senate telecommunications bills) or paternalism by producers (“More
and more we’re tending toward all-audience films …that have civic
values in them,” Motion Picture Association of America head Jack
Valenti told the Los Angeles Times). The viewer
simply can’t be trusted to handle difficult, sensitive, ironic
material–or to bring his own interpretation to bear on what he

The Plastic People of the Universe play at Vaclav Havel's wake. ||| Matt WelchAs we never tire in pointing
out, audiences can frequently surprise you with how they use pop
culture to leverage their own freedom. Whether it’s dirty Czech
rock musicians using the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa to take
decisive stand against totalitarians
, anti-Taliban Afghan men

going nuts over Leo DiCaprio
, or rap/metal enthusiasts
fueling the Arab Spring
, American culture bemoaned by political
critics at home can have galvanizing effects abroad.

Once you grant consumers the decency of their own free will in
interpreting cultural works, a whole host of interesting
philosophical and political implications tumble forth. I know not a
small number of people whose introduction to libertarianism came
through this cultural-interpretive portal. It’s one that Reason
works tirelessly at keeping open.

Won’t you please donate to Reason
today? We’re just over $115,000 of the way to our
$150,000 goal
, with donations from
more than 375 readers. Help get us over the top, and thumb our
noses at the cultural
always conspiring to keep us less free. Donate to Reason right
the hell now

from Hit & Run

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