Home/Prufrock/Giving Up on Free Speech, the Excesses of the Magazine’s Heyday, and Electromagnetic Therapy Gone Wrong

Giving Up on Free Speech, the Excesses of the Magazine’s Heyday, and Electromagnetic Therapy Gone Wrong

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Let’s start things off this morning with a couple of items on free speech. In The Literary Review of Canada, novelist and Balkan native Lydia Perovic bemoans the sudden turn against free speech in Canada: “Liberties are never ensconced for good, it turns out. They last only as long as the people who are willing to keep them alive . . . Today, the consequences of unpopular speech are swifter and measurably harsher than they were even a few years ago. What’s also new is the tenor of the left’s embrace of censorship — often of fellow leftists. Cases are piling up fast, but one of the most stunning remains the removal of a Sky Gilbert play from Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, in retaliation for a couple of unrelated posts on Gilbert’s personal blog, in which he expressed some dislike for the writing of a younger member of the LGBTQ cohort and for the general culture of wokeness. Lengthy ‘Do better!’ threads followed on Twitter, with the magic word ‘harmful’ especially prominent. And lo, within days, Gilbert’s previously scheduled, announced, and promoted-in-brochures anniversary reading of Drag Queens in Outer Space was forthcoming no more. (Shakespeare’s Criminal was gone too, but that came later.) How is this even legal? I’ve lived with both left and right authoritarianism, but I have never witnessed such a swift removal of a play — not even under Miloševic, when theatre was a centre of opposition activity.”

The former director of the ACLU says the organization has given up on defending free speech. Many young people today, he says, “see the ‘First Amendment as an antagonist to social justice’. Indeed, on US campuses ‘progressives’ constantly agitate for right-wing speakers, from Charles Murray to Ben Shapiro, to be banned or forcibly shut them down. ‘Hate speech is not free speech’ is a common refrain. This turn away from free speech in academia has a longer history than many realise. In the 1990s, hate-speech codes flourished on US campuses. Glasser recalls going to talk to groups of black students at that time who were pushing for racist speakers to be banned: ‘I told them that it was the most politically stupid thing I had ever heard’ . . . ‘Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.’”

How cars changed the lives of African Americans: “While all Americans—white and black—enjoyed the freedom and privacy that the automobile afforded, these advantages were far more profound for black Americans. ‘Of course Negroes ride in the Jim Crow coach here,’ commented a wealthy black man from North Carolina. ‘But I don’t ride in it; I just don’t ride trains now. I use my car and drive anywhere I want to go. That’s one of the reasons I have a car.’ Operating a motorcar proved to be a wonderful, liberating experience for citizens . . . The automobile opened up the entire nation for exploration, emboldening black people to visit national parks and monuments, historic sites and museums, and to take vacations or just go for a drive. ‘We feel like Vikings,’ exulted Alfred Edgar Smith, an African American journalist and administrative assistant for the federal Works Progress Administration. ‘What if our craft is blunt of nose and limited of power and our sea is macadamized…The nomad in the poorest and the mightiest of us, sends us behind the wheel, north, south, east, and west, in answer to the call of the road.’”

The film board behind the César awards resignsen masse in France: “The shock announcement by the 21-member board of the Association for the Promotion of Cinema – the organization overseeing the Cesar Academy – comes on the heels of industry-wide backlash following 12 Cesar nominations for Roman Polanski’s “An Officer and a Spy.” The Cesar’s were also heavily criticised for shutting out feminist personalities such as director Claire Denis and author Virginie Despentes from one of recent gala events preceding the ceremony.”

Niagara Falls is tacky, and John Semley likes it that way: “Tackiness gets a bad rap because it makes us feel like suckers. It offends our belief that we deserve better. We are allowed to marvel at top-shelf wax statues of celebrities or modern movie blockbusters because they meet some implicit standard of verisimilitude, because they look ‘real’: it’s okay to be crassly entertained so long as that entertainment passes some bar of acceptability. Anything that fails that standard is generally held to be tawdry or kitschy or cheesy—to be, in other words, beneath our esteem. But tackiness of the kind you’ll find—or used to find—on Clifton Hill proves memorable, even affecting, not just because of some knowing irony. It’s because, I think, it feels so lovingly and painstakingly handmade.”

Katherine Rosman writes about the excesses of the magazine’s heyday as remembered by once high-flying editors: “After being summoned at 28 from Paris where he had worked as a writer and editor for W magazine and given the top job at Details, Mr. Peres lived subsidized for months in the Morgans Hotel. Once, he trashed his room because he couldn’t find his Vicodin; he blamed the housekeeper for stealing his drugs. The hotel staff ‘called me Mr. Peres,’ he writes. ‘I liked it. I never once told them to call me Dan.’ Editors of glossy magazines had status then because their products seemed important. People went to newsstands or physical mailboxes to find bound pieces of paper dropped by postal workers that would tell them who and what was cool, giving them topics for cocktail-party and water-cooler chatter.”


Essay of the Day:

In Rewired, Brad Racino and Jill Castellano write about the dangers of an experimental electromagnetic therapy and the research team behind it:

“When Johnathan Surmont checked himself into the San Diego VA psych ward in the summer of 2017, the tall, clean-cut veteran removed his sandals and absolved the medical staff of all sin.

“He was God’s second son, he announced, and he couldn’t wait for karaoke night.

“Surmont’s psychotic episode continued after his release from the VA, and it took the 45-year-old former Navy SEAL on a weeks-long breaking, entering and vandalizing tour from San Diego to Los Angeles. During that trip, he went far off the grid: ditching his phone, forgetting his own name and believing he was part of a covert military operation where all things in his path — coins, car maneuvers, airplanes, even arresting officers — cued him toward his next steps.

“As a Navy SEAL, he was a highly trained military weapon capable of harming a large number of people, so family and friends breathed easier when the father of three resurfaced weeks later as an inmate at an L.A. County jail, calling himself John Francis Kennedy.

“Surmont struggled with post-traumatic stress after tours in the Middle East and Asia. A car accident in 2013 worsened and compounded that condition by adding to it a traumatic brain injury. But more than 100 medical checkups and psychological evaluations showed he had no history of psychosis, mania, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or hallucinations leading up to the onset of his symptoms in early 2017.

“VA doctors were stumped when his psychosis fizzled following his incarceration, never to reappear. They noted in Surmont’s medical record that determining the cause was unimportant — an “academic exercise.” But the doctors had a hunch. So did Surmont. So did his family and friends. So did his psychologist and his psychotherapist girlfriend.

“It involved Dr. Kevin Murphy, an oncologist and vice chairman in the school of medicine at the University of California San Diego. Medical records show it was Murphy who supervised at least 234 treatments of an unproven type of electromagnetic therapy to Surmont’s brain in the years leading up to the psychotic break.”

Read the rest. (HT: Bill McMorris)

Photo: Pink manta ray

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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