That Which Is Permitted To Be Said - That Which Is Not

Who speaks and what is said? We learn early. Grade school classes are noisier than college classes because students learn that obedience is rewarded; that if you speak only when you're supposed to speak, say only what you are expected to say, remain silent when you need to be silenced, you move ahead in school. Don't call attention to yourself, my father always said. Bad things happen if you do.

We check ourselves. Say to family, friends, lovers, bosses, officials of one kind or another what they want to hear until those moments we can no longer check ourselves. Go fuck yourself Vice-President Cheney tells Senator Leahy and afterwards says, it felt good, so good. But most of us are not Vice-Presidents and pay a price, sometimes heavy, for not checking ourselves.

Governments check themselves. There are things the people should know and things they should not. They speak of transparency, but there is transparency and transparency. Until those shocks of discovery -- the work of a reporter, a personal experience -- makes it impossible for governments to check themselves, although the fall-out may be just another way of their checking themselves. There are times everyone knows what cannot be said and it can no longer be denied.  Communism fell in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, and it fell, in part, because all of a sudden the lie it was could no longer be silenced.

Newspaper check themselves. They say they bring the news to the people, but there are not only stories readers don't want to read, there are also stories the news doesn't want to tell. Freedom of the press, yes, but. There are things we don't want to know. Freedom of the press, yes. But if advertisers don't like the stories newspapers tell, if governments don't like its stories, newspapers can no longer publish. There is no money to publish. No one reads what they print.

In a free country, we are free to speak for ourselves, but we know that there are those who speak for us. The elected official speaks for his constituents, the boss for his workers, the teacher for his students, lawyers for justice, parents for children, man for woman. Newspapers tell our stories. The tv newscaster. The talk-show host. The novelist.

The long line of the spoken-for  is often restless, frustrated, resentful, downright angry, and at times it may strike back. Workers slow down, walk out; students complain, protest; wives leave; children drop-out; elected officials voted out.  

The spoken-for may make efforts to redress the imbalance. In France in 1830 workers published their own newspapers and magazines. For far too long those in authority (journalists, scholars, government) told people what workers thought. But only workers, these worker-writers felt, could truly speak about workers' lives. During the sixties in America, some radical filmmakers formed the Newsreel collective to counteract what they considered to be the incomplete, if not false, news the News of the World presented in theaters before movies began.

The "You Lie!" yelled out in Congress this past winter was the despairing, if not impotent, cry of the man who knows those who speak for him don't speak for him. We live in a civil society, but there are moments it seems -- that which is permitted to be said, that which is not -- civility prevents things to be said. Is there no one listening? But if we do not have civility, what do we have? If we step over the line, we may not be able to step back. Only power (see Cheney) can step over the line with impunity. Power is powerful until it loses power.

We believe what we believe and say what we say. The old gestures are the only gestures we know. What if they no longer have the same meaning? That which is permitted to be said may not permit us to say that which needs to be said.     

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Volume 6, Issue 15, Posted 8:42 AM, 07.27.2010