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Trickle-Down Self-Censorship

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Posted on May 7 2010 10:41 am
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by David J. Rusin

Remember that old public service ad with a father confronting his son about drug use? Asked where he learned to do such things, the son replies, “You, all right? I learned it by watching you!” A similar process applies to self-censorship. When those in positions of power and authority succumb to the temptation of muzzling their own speech out of fear, is it any surprise that the less powerful often follow suit?

Consider the case of Molly Norris. After threats prompted Comedy Central to censor Muhammad in the April 21 episode of South Park, the Seattle-based artist took a stand for free speech. Norris created a poster announcing “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” sponsored by the made-up Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor. Imploring people to sketch the prophet on May 20, the image features good-natured doodles of a teacup, a domino, and other items claiming to be his likeness. “As a cartoonist I just felt so much passion about what had happened [that] I wanted to kind of counter Comedy Central’s message they sent about feeling afraid,” Norris explained in an interview.

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