Friday, July 19

Debate Free Speech? That would take a ‘Death Wish’

A few weeks back, we ran on Plain Sight a contemplation on an impending clash between the NZ Warriors and Canberra Raiders. The 18th man — our imaginative rugby league seer — forewarned of a taxing encounter with the Raiders, who were hankering after redemption after having their shorts pulled down in an earlier round.

We helped make the point with a dash of whimsy, using an image of Charles Bronson, of “Death Wish” fame, weapon in hand, head adorned with a Raiders cap.

We imagined our jape would be easily grasped by even the least cultivated consumers. But, alas, life’s propensity to insert irony into our best-laid plans reared its head. The piece went live on the day Matu Tangi Matu Reid ended two lives at an Auckland construction site.

A social media observer cried foul at our use of a ‘packing’ Charles Bronson on such a tragic day. We had misstepped and had shown great insensitivity. Sure, it was possibly more thoughtless than malicious – possibly – so a commitment to greater self-reflection moving forward would suffice, for now.

Consider the implications of such reactionary self-censorship. If our image of Bronson was inappropriate, should then every streaming service have blacklisted every gun-toting action flick in its library that day? Should theatres have abruptly halted all screenings? Should vendors of DVDs and Blu-rays have closed their establishments in shame? Should sports and even toy stores have given their staff the day off? And why just for the day? Why not a moratorium of a month, a year, or forevermore, given the perennial pain endured by the victims of gun violence?

Our critic was made to look incredibly silly, incredibly quickly. But, alas, that’s censorship folks – an often nonsense demand by nonsense individuals, as the slightest test of their positions will swiftly reveal. This is why the cheerleaders of censorship tend to avoid debate – or the smart ones at least: unlike Charlie B. they don’t have a ‘Death Wish’.