How I learned to stop worrying and express myself

This holiday season, you’re probably going to be told to shut up, particularly if you are in a movie theater. We, luckily, do not live in a society that requires, by law, oppression of expression. However, we live in a society that imbues a quieter social requirement.

Critics say that we must throw away our inner expression for the “greater good.” Be quiet, sit down, and take notes. What I’m saying is more important. You will be tested on this later.

In China, for example, university students started to perform the famous play “The Vagina Monologues.” After a few performances, the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo, blew up with insensitive and misogynistic comments from around the conservative nation.

Societal oppression of this kind of non-normative expression, however, is not limited to China. Here in the U.S., residents of San Francisco are now subject to a ban on public nudity.

Legal oppression forced upon residents of San Francisco because of some people being “uncomfortable” is just wrong.

Oppression on any level of any type of expression is really not what we, as humanity, should be rolling toward. We should aspire to be a freer society with less oppression than at any time in our history.

It does not matter what you do as an individual. Who am I to say that your expression is invalid or out of place?

Being comfortable seems to be humanity’s gold standard of expression. We cannot keep standing by and letting ourselves be comfortable at the expense of our individual expression.

In California, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, led to a decision about what some would call obscenity. Under this statute, the Supreme Court(ship) decided upon a three-pronged “test” to decide what kinds of speech are protected by the First Amendment.

The three prongs essentially give judgment of expression to the masses. A reasonable community standard must judge a type of speech as appropriate, it must be of some use, and it must have “literary, artistic, political or scientific value” in order to be protected under the Constitution.

This standard puts expression at risk because it must appeal to the masses. When you place legal and societal expectations side-by-side, the power of an absolute legal standard is compromised.

Obviously, I’m not arguing that people should be obscene for obscenity’s sake. Any time you express yourself, you follow unsaid social rules. There should not be any judgment of any person’s expression, as there is now.

People must drop any façade of being proper and completely polite in order to achieve a higher calling. That higher calling is a more free and open society, where everyone is willing to communicate freely and without the red tape of legal or social oppression.


Reach the columnist at pnorthfe@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @peternorthfelt