Pop culture’s role in strengthening our rights to free speech

Last year was an important one for free speech. We can only hope that 2007 will be too. The American public seemed to come to the conclusion last year that the war in Iraq had

Last year was an important one for free speech. We can only hope that 2007 will be too. The American public seemed to come to the conclusion last year that the war in Iraq had no end in sight. Tired of Republican control over the legislative branch, the public sought change. In addition to handing President Bush a 30 percent approval rating, American voters stormed the polls and voted out several dozen Republicans in Congress and gubernatorial positions.

Nothing expresses the meaning of America’s First Amendment quite like this – people got angry and spoke through their ballots. They made it clear that they weren’t happy with the way the government was running
the country. That is freedom of speech. This is how citizens should always make their voices heard.

Last year also marked a higher level of political awareness in the entertainment industry when four documentaries on the Iraq war were released.

“My Country, My Country” is the story of a Sunni doctor preparing to run in Iraq’s 2005 elections. “Iraq in Fragments” tells stories of the Iraqi people and the current
climate that they live in. Several members of the U.S. National Guard were given video cameras before leaving for Iraq.

“The War Tapes” is their footage spliced together. The fourth documentary, “The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends,” explores the reality of the war through the eyes of soldiers who have returned home.

These are in addition to the documentaries on religion, the political process, global warming and yes, even on free speech rights, as seen through the Dixie Chicks’ film, “Shut Up and Sing,” which is about a fierce backlash against the group after lead singer Natalie Maines spoke out against President Bush.

It is truly a celebration of our rights when filmmakers are given such freedom to comment on society – especially our wars. If there is one thing in our culture that tends to raise people’s awareness of issues, it’s film. Let’s hope 2007 sees more distribution of these kinds of useful documentaries.

The Dixie Chicks weren’t the only singers who spoke out last year. Pink recently released “Dear Mr. President,” a single commenting on the president’s war and domestic policies. Musicians have been commenting on society for years, but Pink’s song personally addresses President Bush.

It openly condemns him and includes comments on his position as a father of two young women. It also suggests that Bush used cocaine in the past.

But what really generates a sense of pride in our First Amendment rights isn’t a recent release, but an almost recent release. O.J. Simpson attempted to put himself back in the public eye by writing a book containing a pseudo-confession to the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. Its working title was “O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.”

The American public expressed its outrage and just days before the book was due to be released and a subsequent special on Fox to be shown, both were pulled.

Having the right to free speech and expression isn’t only about being allowed to say whatever you want, about whomever you want, whenever you want. It is also about what shouldn’t be said. The fact that we have moved past the philosophy of “we can say anything we want” is a sign of maturity. Now, we are not only exercising
our right to free speech, we are using it to act as a check on the government.

Freedom of speech is one of the most important foundations of our society, and we need to always remember that we have it.

People say it doesn’t make a difference, and it won’t if it’s not used. If we take that step to speak or vote, 2007 may show even more positive change.

Ashley Helaudais can be reached at

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