Beyond Loony: The Far Right's Moral Panic Is Just Embarrassing
Tennessee passed a law that bans drag performances anywhere minors might attend. Happily, a federal judge stopped it. Very happily, the judge is a conservative, reminding all that some conservatives value principle over politics.
The assumption underlying the law is that a performance in which a man wears a dress — or a woman pastes on a mustache — is by definition obscene. Therefore, it must be outlawed.
In his 70-page ruling, Judge Thomas Parker called the law "unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad." He writes, "If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution."
Not an original thought but one that needs repeating these days.
The Trump appointee was not defending obscenity, but trying to stop the right wing from defining it downwards. Parker wrote that "no majority of the (U.S.) Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic or scientific speech."
As an example, Parker raised the specter of a female performer who wore an Elvis Presley costume and imitated the King. Under the recently passed law, she could be considered a "male impersonator." (Imagine how the jails would fill on Halloween.)
Over the course of my sheltered life, I have seen a few drag shows. They came off as funny and not remotely obscene. I don't doubt that they could be, but so could the routines performed by high school cheerleaders or contestants on Dancing With the Stars.
Meanwhile, anyone who doesn't want to see crossdressing at the Memphis Pride Festival would be well advised to not attend the Memphis Pride Festival. That's how grown-ups handle it.
Over in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to replace grown-ups with government and portraying drag performances as a dagger at the heart of American greatness. He sent out the apparatus of state government to revoke the Hyatt Regency Miami's alcohol license over a holiday show that featured stars from RuPaul's Drag Race. Set aside a private company's right to run its business as it sees fit, the hotel required that anyone under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by an adult. So where was the problem? Parental control works both ways, you know.
One related thought: If the politicians really want to shield youth from obscenity, they should take away their cellphones.
Elsewhere in DeSantis' Florida, a schoolteacher was fired for showing sixth-graders a picture of Michelangelo's statue of David. As the chair of the school board tried to explain, the issue was not with the marble masterpiece but the "egregious" failure to warn parents that their children would see the "potentially controversial" work of art.
"Teachers are the experts?" the chairman asked bitterly, "Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me?" Well, teachers aren't perfect, but their judgement on educational matters might be superior to that of a mom repeating right-wing talking points in a grammatically challenged email.
What is controversial about David? He's naked — and, if truth be told, he's also well-endowed. At the same time, a giant copy of the statue stands outside a palazzo in Florence for anyone to see. Seven-year-olds live in Florence.
Heaven knows the left fringe has its share of ludicrous dictates. The difference between the far left and the far right, though, is that the former tend to lose national or statewide elections, whereas the right-wing crazies more often prevail.
Passing a law that would penalize a girl who sings at a bar dressed as Captain Hook? Let's see how they can cook up new ways to waste everyone's time. It's impossible to embarrass these guys.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
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