I belong to a community of chart nerds that regularly comments and predicts upon the weekly Billboard Hot 100. I am aware that this is an interest that is not shared by many people, and so the minutae of how people predict the charts based on trying to guess or figure how many sales, radio audience impressions, and streams songs have from a week to week is not simply of interest to a lot of people. It may be of more interest to ponder some of the concerning threats we have to freedom of speech and expression within our society, or at least within the particularly vocal partisans of the left. Among the more pointless but fertile grounds of conflict raging at present are the chart positions of two right-wing protest songs of a sort that have charted at low positions on the Hot 100 chart. One of them, a #90 debut on some streams and relatively high (but not top 5) sales, is by frequent Canadian provocateur Tom McDonald, whose latest single “Brainwashed” sits at #90 for what will almost certainly be his customary one-week chart run, and the other is a #88 debut for a song with more sales recorded but even fewer streams, “Dance 7” from Chinese anti-Communist billionaire Miles Guo. I have, for the record, not listened to either song, nor have I ever purchased a Tom McDonald song.
Is it worth being outraged about songs that chart so low and that almost no one will care about or remember? There are people who celebrate songs like “WAP” and “Thot S***” because of the outrage that they are meant to inspire for those whose political positions are right of center, and when an act manages to gain popularity by virtue of provoking outrage, they are quick to mock those whose outrage supposedly legitimizes the point being made by outrage trolls who happen to make music. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and those who manage to have nonexistent radio play and few streams but manage to provoke outrage because somewhere just north of 10,000 sales is enough to guarantee a song a position on the Hot 100 in the contemporary music climate deserve to be viewed as a success because even such limited appeal for a message is enough to provoke outrage on a part of the committed and ideological left. And instead of celebrating those who are able to provoke such an outrage even with limited appeal with the general public–most of whom simply do not know or care about such offerings–the immediate instinct is to change the rules to keep such speech from being recognized as having any success at all.
This ought to concern us. Most of us who engage in public discourse will have little or no general appeal. I write almost daily, for example, and only a very small percentage of my posts are seen by even 100 people. Only a very small amount have received 10,000 views. I suspect the picture is the same for almost all people who write. A blogger of such obscurity as I am has no particular large influence within society as a whole and not even a large amount even within those small communities of people who know and care who I am. Yet even the existence of speech which presents a genuine (if not necessarily appealing) diversity of thought and opinion is threatening to those who wish to condemn wrongthink and to prevent anything that is outside of their ideological bubble chamber to have any recognition or legitimacy whatsoever, even the dubious honor of having a very minor Hot 100 hit with a chart run of one week. Why does the existence of opposing thought and its ability to be marketed at all, even in very small and very limited amounts, offend the contemporary left so much? Why is freedom at stake because some people cannot bear to be critiqued and criticized to any extent?
The existence of a free society depends on the willingness of people to tolerate that which they are not necessarily fond of. If we have the power to silence those who offend us, and if we are easily offended (as we are in contemporary times), what will result is not a free society. It is easy for us to condemn unfree societies when people silence speech based on standards that we are opposed to. The success of the Taliban in once again conquering Afghanistan out to remind us that little is more exorable than the supposed march of progress. Yet it is hard for us to condemn the silencing of other when we are silencing others based on our own belief systems that to us appear to be self-evidently correct. It is a common strategy for minorities to demand freedom for their own thinking, discourse, and behavior, but to then turn around and try to silence criticism from others when they have a temporary majority or at least some sort of hold onto power in institutions that allow them to enforce their views on others, not recognizing the hypocrisy in their behavior because they cannot see themselves from the point of view of outsiders. None of us is immune to being hypocritical and selective and self-serving in the enforcement of standards, but when we see others being so, we ought to be concerned about the viability of free discourse in a society that lacks the capacity either to be self-critical or to tolerate the criticism of others.