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A generous helping of shutdown-induced free time has allowed me to catch up on my ridiculous backlog of movies on disc.
Note “movies on disc.” I think it’s safe to say that I don’t personally know anyone who owns as many movies as I do in a physical form. I also own a healthy number of television shows on disc, as well as myriad sports-related selections. In all, I would estimate that I have something like 2,000 discs worth of content, all of which I keep in simple albums for the sake of efficient storage, allowing all of this material to occupy only two small shelves on a bookcase in my den.
Why do I own so many discs in an era in which streaming is now the preferred format?
Several reasons. First, audio and video quality are typically better. A Blu-ray disc can hold enough data to produce higher video quality than what you’ll normally get on a streaming service, as well as uncompressed audio.
Secondly, it’s never been a better time to be a physical media fan. With streaming services exploding in popularity, discs are in decline. Demand is lower, especially after the initial wave of fans buy the products the first month the movie is out, so prices drop quickly.
Disney aside, even new-release discs drop below $20 pretty quickly. Even better, popular titles from yesteryear often get bundled together at incredible discounts. To name just one example, The Jack Ryan Collection, which includes five Tom Clancy blockbusters, can be had for $19.99 on Amazon right now.
I’m fairly indifferent to those movies, but, at $4.00 each, I’m considering making a purchase.
Those are the pragmatic reasons I buy physical media. But there’s a third, increasingly important one.
I own the first ten seasons of The Simpsons on DVD. The season three premiere is an episode called “Stark Raving Dad.” It features guest star Michael Jackson playing a mental patient who wasn’t Michael Jackson (but believed he was). It was a sweet, funny, memorable episode, and Jackson’s involvement wasn’t even confirmed/admitted until years later.
In 2019, upon the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, “Stark Raving Dad” was missing, despite a major pre-launch selling point of the service being the inclusion of the entirety of the Simpsons canon.
Why was this episode missing? Simple. The producers no longer felt comfortable with Michael Jackson’s involvement, given the allegations against him detailed in Leaving Neverland.
Most interestingly, producer James L. Brooks said of the controversy: “I’m against book burning of any kind. But this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.”
I’m not here to defend Michael Jackson. I use this example to point out that even content that is considered substantively “permissible” may be deleted from existence because of an association. I also get pretty nervous when someone unironically says, “I’m against book burning, but . . . “
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, as I’ve watched an op/ed by a sitting U.S. Senator that represents a majority viewpoint cause an explosion at the New York Times, and Drew Brees have to issue multiple apologies after stating the apparently-now-forbidden opinion that he believes kneeling during the National Anthem is disrespectful.
As online conservatives seemingly hyperbolically warned us for years, and which Andrew Sullivan astutely informed us in 2018, the campus culture has engulfed society at large. Another prophet on this front was Peggy Noonan, who warned us last year that Cultural-Revolution-esque struggle sessions would be here soon enough.
Now, they’re here.
Some ideas that are totally at odds with classical liberal principles and basic post-Enlightenment thinking have escaped the halls of our nation’s elite academic institutions to proliferate at our nation’s elite corporate, non-profit, and, especially, media institutions.
Two years after writing that piece, Sullivan finds himself in a position in which he must let junior staffers vet his columns to ensure that they do not offend. If they do, they do not publish. Drew Brees has humbled himself publicly multiple times in just the past few days, and we can expect more of that soon if he is to keep his forthcoming job at NBC. Meanwhile, the New York Times apologized for Tom Cotton’s op/ed at the insistence of staffers who said it made them “unsafe.”
Remember that this is a paper that published an op/ed by a member of the Taliban just four months ago. There was no internal revolt. But it was apparently unacceptable to run an op/ed that espoused a view supported by a plurality of Democrats.
What happened next is exactly what always happens on campus: the freshly issued capitulation emboldened the mob. Within a day, NYT staffers publicly called for conservative Bret Stephens to be purged from the paper as well.
The fundamental problem with this impulse is that the right to which all others are subservient is the right to “feel safe.” Or, at least, the right for the “good” people (young, progressive) to feel safe. This is a blanket rule that is weaponized by design to remove from public view any person or idea that clashes with the orthodox viewpoint. See above.
And, if you object to any of this, then you’re a bigot of some type or other (what they really mean to say is “heretic”), and your views are, therefore, per se invalid—and, moreover, this sentiment goes, you should face severe social and economic sanction for your incorrect views. Hence, the struggle sessions.
All of which also leads to the deletion of any cultural artifact deemed no longer acceptable by those who lead this effort.
This sentiment to ban or censor has no actual limiting principle. Any of these actions might look arguably reasonable (or at least not fascist) in isolation. But they don’t exist in isolation. They are part of what I called the “totalitolerance” movement. And, as a note to the liberal editors of the New York Times in 2020, here’s what I said back in 2015:
The fact that both academia and the media are dominated by people who share views with these students will not spare either group from sanction. Instead, they will continue to be pilloried by these alleged adults who have been conditioned to believe that their grievances and status as victims entitle them to whatever outcome they desire.
Counting yourself among the offended empowers you to ruin lives and careers and trample upon free speech at your pleasure. What’s more, it is the responsibility of your university to make sure that no one presents a contrary idea. If that happens, you can simply declare that you feel “unsafe,” a condition that must be remedied by the administration and faculty.
We saw this coming, but many of us wrongly believed that their entry into the “real world” would force these students to change. A rude awakening, we thought. Instead, it is they who will force the real world to bend to their whims.
And they will call this “progress,” not even having the sense of humor necessary to appreciate the irony.
I should have listened more carefully to Sullivan and Noonan (and, I guess, myself) when they warned us about this problem. It has now metastasized.
At a time when our nation grapples with the inexcusable murder of George Floyd, amid a larger conversation about police brutality and reform and racial equality, it has never been more important to support vigorous public discourse and free speech.
Unfortunately, the forces that have been calling for the suppression of speech for years on campus will now use these tragic events as a means of tamping down any content or viewpoint that runs afoul of their sensibilities. They will slam the Overton Window shut, and we will all be worse for it.
But I began this piece talking about facets of pop culture. You may be thinking I’m conflating the very serious political and social events unfolding now with the more trivial elements of art.
No, instead, what I’m saying is that our culture is highly matrixed, and all of this is, in fact, interrelated.
To wit, the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg just called for all police movies and TV shows to be shut down. Immediately. All of them. Because they show law enforcement in a light that she believes is inaccurate and unhelpful to achieving her preferred political ends.
As with some of the more outlandish aspects of campus climate, we mostly used to laugh when the Twitter mob would label a piece of art as “problematic.” However, what could be laughed off five years ago may now be taken Very Seriously by the Very Serious (and very scared) people who lead entertainment, media, and publishing companies—up to and including removing content, apologizing for it, and more to atone for the sin of offensiveness.
Yet, the one thing this religion lacks is an element of grace.
There is no humility. There is no forgiveness. There is no actual tolerance.
As such, the drumbeat will continue indefinitely. And that effort will include identifying cultural works that must be purged and forgotten. For the greater good. Unapologetically.
Film, television, literature, music, photography. Whatever destruction is necessary to purify our culture and our discourse.
This may seem like alarmism. But the alarmism of 2015 is the reality of 2020. Where will we be in 2025? Or 2021?
I sincerely hope we’re able to change the course. Most of all, because this sentiment is an obstacle to positive changes and reforms that we should all welcome and support.
But, even if we can alter this trajectory, it will be a very difficult, lengthy process. It may take a generation.
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