Friday, June 18, 2004

I always hated "Friends" 

And now I've got a real reason, rather than just seeing six spoiled brats needing a smack upside the head. Several groups, including Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Issues and the National Association of Scholars, have filed an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court in the case of Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al.
The accuser in Lyle alleged that she was subjected to harassment by virtue of the frequent sexual banter of the writers�both male and female�of Friends while they discussed ideas and developed storylines and scripts for the show. Although she admits she was not the target of any of the comments, she claimed that some of the comments were derogatory towards women in general and therefore created a "hostile environment" for her work. ...

The letter argues that writers� offices, like universities, are "communicative workplaces" that encourage and depend on free-wheeling and uninhibited dialogue and discussion. Rules that give individuals the power to punish anyone who offended them could spell the end of the open exchange of ideas. The letter lists several examples of activities that could be suppressed through restrictions, such as "a feminist studies course criticizing pornography, a medical school class on human sexuality�or a public health series on means of combating the spread of AIDS." All of these classes feature sexual themes and would be at risk if the current decision in the Lyle case goes unchallenged. Discussions involving speech that anyone might find religiously or racially offensive would also be at risk. The letter points out that Lyle, when added to other California court decisions, would create "a de facto mandatory speech code for all universities."

The Smoking Gun produces the original complaint against the writers, which suggests some rather crude behavior if true -- the language described is quite foul. But the amicus brief wonders how one could work, for example, on the Vagina Monologues if the appelate court decision in Lyle is allowed to stand?
At the university, frank sexual discussion and sexual images can serve important pedagogic purposes. Consider, for example, university courses such as a feminist studies course criticizing pornography, a medical school class on human sexuality, a seminar on the art of Michelangelo, or a public health series on means of combating the spread of AIDS. In each of these classes, sexual content is academically appropriate, and academic freedom requires that debate on these topics be robust and uninhibited. Yet under the Court of Appeal�s ruling, discussion of a sexual nature in these classes � and in the halls and on the quads of universities � can be ended simply by the objection of a university employee to the speech.
It's certainly an odd case for FIRE and NAS to take up, but it's also consistent with what they've argued elsewhere.