Let's test the First Amendment, shall we?
"George Bush, leave this world alone." "George Bush, find yourself another home."
I'm still here and employed, my freedom of speech intact. (As I write this, anyway.)
Wish I could say the same for Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who sang those same two lines (to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall") Sunday night in Chicago, where the Seattle-based band was headlining Lollapalooza.
The performance was webcast on AT&T's Blue Room entertainment site.
But the part where Vedder slammed the president? Cut by AT&T's "content monitor."
"This, of course, troubles us as artists, but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media," Pearl Jam said in a statement Wednesday.
AT&T took until Thursday to admit its monitors had made a mistake; they were only supposed to bleep out excessive profanity or nudity of the Janet Jackson "wardrobe-malfunction" kind. An AT&T spokesman told The Associated Press that it was trying to secure the rights to post the whole song on the Blue Room site.
Are we buying all that?
Do we have any choice? That's really the issue here.
If anything, Pearl Jam's Chicago-style silencing gave mainstream consumers a taste of what's at stake when media giants like AT&T have a firm grip on what we receive through the myriad technologies at our fingertips.
"What happened to us this weekend was a wake-up call," the band said. "And it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band."
Amen to that.
The incident raises the issue of "net neutrality," which seeks to address the freedom and access the Internet is supposed to allow us, and the control being harnessed by those who provide access.
Consider: Corporate providers can give faster download times to some content, and not others.
And if they are the ones holding the content, we have no choice but to watch what they choose to show us.
That, to me, is censorship.
Corporations say we should trust them not to censor.
Mistake or not, AT&T just gave us a reason not to.
I understand it's a delicate dance. Technology is advancing so quickly, it's hard to keep up with who owns what, how it is presented and what safeguards should be in place.
But I think we're clear on the First Amendment, and the right it gives artists like Vedder to say what he feels without fear of being cut.
We depend on artists to make us think and learn and raise our own voices not only in song, but at the polls. Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan. Joe Strummer of The Clash, who sang, "Know your rights."
(Among them: "The right to free speech — unless you're dumb enough to actually try it." God rest Joe's soul.)
We need to keep a close eye on our rights, but also on those being taken by corporations.
And for those who missed it, Pearl Jam is making the full, uncensored webcast available on its site. (www.pearljam.com)
Good thing; some of us would like to sing along.
By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist
Viva la Mescaleros!
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company