10/8/14

Can We Talk About "Rights"? . . .

A week (or three - I don't know how long the gap will be before this post goes live) or so ago Rob Schneieder . . . of questionable fame and comedic chops (full disclaimer - I actually find him funnier/more enjoyable than many of his "generation") became the latest person to publicly confuse the "rights" guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States (as it is officially known).

For those unaware . . . Schneider was tapped, with a number of his other SNL alumns (apparently 90s ("my decade") nostalgia has started (all due apologies)) in a series of State Farm spots where their old characters and taglines and shticks were exhumed from the grave of sketch comedy to sell policies to the masses. No. I don't see how that "works" either. I digress.

UNLIKE some of his other colleagues, Schneider's spot (linked above) was short lived because the Twitter-sphere got their panties in a collective bunch over the comedian's - who as far as Google tells me has two adult/grown daughters - positions on vaccines.

I won't weigh in on the vaccine debate here. I am not, if I am being honest, fully invested in the debate enough to learn anything beyond the surface. I was fully vaccinated. My daughter is up-to-date on her vaccines, etc. I guess that is, in itself, a position but I don't go out of my way to roll my eyes at anti-vaccers (as they are often called - why do we have to shorten everything in our text messaged driven world?) because . . .  I just. don't. know.

So come back around and now his spot - where he does nothing even remotely tied to vaccines (I guess there is a pregnant woman in the spot so you might presume that when the director yelled "cut" he tried to talk the expecting mother out of the host of shots that awaited her fetus but that is one heck of a presumption) in a TV spot and that spot gets taken out of the rotation in some knee-jerk reaction on the part of an insurance company that sells what has become a commodity at a discount rate and probably has to be mindful of every potential lost customer accordingly and since the spot won't air, Scheider won't get royalties or all those eyeballs (that fast forward through commercials anyway) that might, in due time, resurrect his career until he is eventually the Bill Murray of his generation with Oscar accolades for his every whimsical performance. But here is where the comedian loses me . . . instead of taking the Gilbert Gottfried road and making it about money and his presumption that this pursuit (getting paid) and that pursuit (caring about shots for kids) and his career (making people laugh) were not the same so screw you, insurance company - he made it about his RIGHTS!?!

I don't know much about vaccines. I don't know much about keeping my various pursuits separate. What I do know? State Farm pulling Rob Schneider's spot is NOT a violation of his free speech.

If you've ever read our Constitution (you should - it is not a long document and you will likely be surprised to see the exact syntax of the document vs. the Bill of Rights language that is in the lexicon of popular culture) let me quickly clarify that ONLY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT is technically barred from stepping on your tongue (and even then they can for various reasons/purposes/intents). There is no clause about businesses not being able to fire you. There is nothing about people not demanding you be fired. There is not even a thing that says you have to say this in the context of that for it to be relevant here or there. None of that.

Free speech, as someone who speaks his small, addled, cynical mind alllll the time, is actually quite a tricky promise. It basically says you can SAY what you want - but doesn't really go very far out of its way to clarify what can/not happen NEXT.

  • Call a woman the "c-word" . . . get hit. By her, a chivalrous over-hearer, your own mother, or anyone with a drop of decency, etc. Your rights are not violated. 
  • Yell "fire" in a crowded theater . . . you're going to be charged for a handful of crimes (presuming there is no actual fire - you may get a key to the city if there really is one). Your rights are not violated.
  • Tell a Jew joke in front of me  . . . you'd better make sure it is actually funny. My rights - nor your rights are infringed upon if the joke is not funny and someone gets upset (it would not be me - glass house, y'uns. GLASS. House.)
  • Say you're going to overthrow the government . . . hope you have a great lawyer and lots of money because even though the Federal Govt can not limit your free speech they CAN detain, arrest, prosecute, punish, and even kill you for your words (mind blown).
  • Say something contrary to public "wisdom" (let's say you tell a class of first graders there is no Santa Claus) . . . you're going to get several ears full and you deserve them all. Your rights are not violated - but some might argue you have broken the Wistful Rights of Innocence by popping the Santa bubble.
  • Have a controversial opinion about something the social media masses are passionate about (and, let's be clear, if there is anything social media has taught us it is that "passion" in the form of a hashtag, re-Tweet, "like" or "comment" is super easy to come by/under) . . . you might lose your lucrative gig with an Insurance company. Your rights are still very much in tact. 
I'm rambling (as I have been for years) but I guess my point is this (just like with so many other things where public outcry and hurt feelings intersect) . . . let's be careful how often we are "put upon" and "harmed".

Let's be cautious about claiming our rights are being stomped and that the government (or any of its arms, ambassadors, and activists) are out to get us. Let's keep some powder dry for a date and time when the sky is actually falling.

Because, to be clear, rights (to speech and otherwise) are violated every day and if we don't allow for those instances to get their due attention - they are going to happen a lot more often and to much greater devastation.

Sorry about your gig, Rob Schneider. If it matters - I thought the Hans and Franz commercial was/is even WORSE than your spot