Outspoken: Free Speech Stories

Nan Levinson, Author University of California Press $40 (372p) ISBN 978-0-520-22370-7
America's national obsession with asserting, and quelling, free-speech comes alive in this collection of profiles of First Amendment firebrands. A journalist and university lecturer, Levinson has chosen an eclectic array of subjects, including a doctor fired from his university position for publishing research on lung disease at a local textile factory; a state department functionary harassed for revealing the CIA's knowledge of human rights abuses in Guatemala; a high school English teacher suspended for assigning books with gay characters; and a porn-star and performance artist whose gynecological stage shows made freedom of speech a fetish. Levinson paints complex portraits of the flawed, courageous and sometimes cantankerous souls willing to take on opprobrium for unpopular ideas. Using their stories as a starting point, Levinson discusses the many fronts in the cultural war over speech, including state secrecy laws and university speech codes. She confronts the blurry line between pornography and art, and between free speech and a""hostile environment,"" explores the""broken windows"" argument that anarchic speech leads to an anarchic society, and considers the corrupting influence of corporate sponsorship on scientific research. The author goes beyond the usual polarized corners of political correctness. Instead, she traces the convoluted, often cynical politics of censorship, in which anti-porn feminists and Christian fundamentalists find themselves odd bedfellows, and transgressive artists, indignant moralists and grandstanding politicians collude in courting controversy so they can""bask equally in the limelight."" Levinson is a First Amendment absolutist, decrying censorship campaigns as a kind of""fascist chic"" which makes it""not just okay to shut people up, but kind of cool."" However, her nuanced treatment of all sides of the debate makes this a revealing exploration of the social meaning of words.
Reviewed on: 10/01/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 372 pages - 978-0-520-94034-5
Paperback - 359 pages - 978-0-520-24997-4
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