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By Mark Bell | November 4, 2008

It’s endlessly debated, and no matter what answers you seem to come up with, there always seems to be a paradoxical counter-view that makes you question it all over again. What am I talking about? The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.

It seems simple enough: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In this interview, I’m focusing on the freedom of speech aspect, of course, because that seems to be at the heart of the controversy with filmmaker Ezra Stead.

Ezra’s story is simple too. Ezra made a rap video, entitled “One Serious Joke,” that is arguably in poor taste and definitely not safe for work, wherein he raps about the different types of sex he would like to have with women of the Republican party. Hidden within the video is a subtle protest at what said women seem to stand for, but that can get lost sometimes amid the raunch and visual imagery. Ezra uploaded his video to YouTube and MySpace, and that’s when the trouble started.

A group called The New Agenda found the video offensive (and, let’s be honest, it can be very offensive) and took it upon themselves to complain to YouTube and MySpace for the clips removal, and had it stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing anything about this (because videos can uploaded and taken down all over the internet, so what). Unfortunately, The New Agenda decided to post Ezra’s personal information on their website, including his place of employment, contacted his college and branded him a date rapist. From that point on, Ezra has been defending his video and, in many ways, himself and his life.

So the questions begin: Is it within Ezra’s freedom of speech to create the video and post it online? Is it within The New Agenda’s freedom of speech to post Ezra’s personal information and goad action against him? Where does one’s right to freedom of speech begin and end, if at all, when it comes to offending someone? Why is Ezra’s video specifically targeted when, frankly, a large contingent of rap music today is just as offensive, if not aimed at a political party? Is his video that bad? Does it glorify, or even mention, rape?

At this point, I’m going to let you watch the video so you can know what we’re looking at, and then Ezra will get his say and you can decide how you feel about it. The New Agenda’s opinion on the video can be found throughout the comments section of their website in the included reference links. This video is definitely Not Safe for Work:

“One Serious Joke”

Tell me a little about yourself? What do you do for a living right now?
I am currently a part-time student and I also work three jobs that shall remain nameless to avoid further problems. Last time I posted the name of a workplace online, two people from out of state called in a bizarre attempt to get me fired. In my own time, I write screenplays and perform regularly at HipHop shows.

What was the motivation behind making this video? What were you trying to say; what’s the message here, if any?
This video began, like most music videos hopefully do, as a song. The producer of the music gave me the beat and I took a long time getting around to writing to it. One night he called me and asked if I could have the song recorded and ready to mix in a week so it could go on our upcoming album. I was trying to figure out what to do, since I hadn’t written a single word yet, when my roommate suggested I write about something that made me angry. I’m not really a particularly angry kind of guy, but we had been talking earlier that night about the now infamous “Drill, baby, drill!” chants first heard at the RNC in Saint Paul just a week or two earlier, and inspiration struck. The lineup of the album at that point didn’t have anything overtly political or overtly sexual on it, so I decided to combine the two in a humorous way, since the album wasn’t especially funny overall, either.

The video was just a logical extension of the song; it was based on public figures and current events, so I thought the video should be almost entirely downloaded footage from the internet. The juxtaposition of images in the video, as well as the lyrics of the song, suggest the message, which is completely satirical. My intent was to use standard rap music cliches that degrade women to make a point about conservative politicians; they are treating our rights and our environment like the so-called “b*****s and hoes” of mainstream pop-rap music, so all I was trying to do was flip that back on them, by degrading specifically newsworthy conservative women in that same way. Apparently it was a little too subtle for some, which is odd, since the video is really not very subtle at all.

How did people behind see this video?
As soon as it was finished, I posted the video to YouTube and MySpace; within 24 hours it been flagged so many times on YouTube that it was taken down. I later found out, after they had contacted my college in an apparent attempt to sabotage my life, that it was certain regular readers of TheNewAgenda that had flagged the video, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually violate any of the website’s guidelines, since all the footage was taken from other similar websites that anyone of any age can access.

What exactly is the controversy? What is the problem that people have with the video, as they have expressed to you? Do you think people would be as upset as they are if you didn’t include political references and personalities?
Basically, the conservative feminists of TheNewAgenda think the video and song are misogynist and “pro-rape”; some have even called the video racist and suggested (actually, explicitly stated) that I am “a violent criminal” for making it. They have also alleged that the lyrics of the song are a “threat” to the various people named therein, and that the Secret Service should be informed. Clearly it is the political references that have caused so much hysteria. Rap videos are made every day that degrade women in general, usually without any satirical or tongue-in-cheek approach, as I feel I have done. The fact that I use specific public political figures has definitely brought more attention and outrage to the video than I would have anticipated had I made a standard misogynist rap video, which probably would have been largely ignored.

Are you anti-feminist, pro-rape or anything else that you may’ve recently been accused of being, in your opinion?
These accusations are ridiculous. A friend of mine pointed out that most actual rapists are probably not even “pro-rape.” It is the most shameful and despicable crime there is, in my opinion, and I have also never considered myself anti-feminist; in fact, quite the opposite. I think the thing that’s important to remember here is that the people who are angry about this video don’t actually represent everyone who’s seen it, or even every woman who’s seen it. They don’t even represent every feminist woman who’s seen it; most of my female friends are feminists, to varying degrees of militancy and activism, and every one of them I’ve talked to so far has found the video funny. Perhaps some of them are disgusted by it to the point that they’re not even willing to talk to me anymore, but based on the response from others, I highly doubt that. The people who have rallied so strongly against this act of personal expression (which is all it is, whether you like it or not) are coming from a reactionary, conservative worldview that seems to want to eradicate anything that they see as counterproductive to their cause. I am not opposed to their cause, nor to their vehemence in pursuing it, but I am completely and actively opposed to censorship of any act of free expression that causes no living creature any physical harm.

Is your personal information, everything from your mailing address to email address, openly stated on your MySpace page? If not, where did these people get this info, and what do you think their goal is in posting it online? Has there been any ramifications of this action yet?
My e-mail address, one workplace and the college that I attend were all posted on MySpace a few years ago when I first started an account there; I have since taken these things down and my home address has never, to the best of my knowledge, been posted anywhere online. TheNewAgenda’s claim of having found the info on my MySpace page is legitimate. Their goal in posting it seems to be for those who are angered by the video to contact those who know me and employ me in order to make me ashamed of what I’ve done.

They also seem to be concerned that the college has supported me in the making of the video, which came from an earlier version in which I thanked “Minneapolis College” in the credits. This is a credit I apply to all my video work as respect for the college having taught me my craft, and I have since removed it to avoid any further problems, since this particular video was not a project made for school, nor were any of the college’s resources used to make it. Nevertheless, at least two individuals have contacted the administration of the college to complain about me, and there is sure to be more trouble ahead from that.

There’s been mention of a possible legal suit against you and the university; on what grounds? Who is suing?
I really can’t say too much about that at the moment, as it is strictly in the rumor stage. I don’t have any concrete names or facts, but according to TheNewAgenda, “the college is investigating Ezra Stead and his video. The college Judicial Affairs Officer noted that she felt there was enough substantiation to start the investigation process.” You can read all about that in their follow-up story here: Together We CAN Make A Difference

Do you think you’ve done anything wrong here?
That is a moral question for history to decide, but for me personally, no; all I’ve done is make a music video. Like anyone else who makes a work of art (which I hope doesn’t sound too pretentious on my part) that is edgy and not meant to be pleasing to everyone, I have run the risk of severely offending people and of course, causing a lot of negative feelings, but I don’t believe I have sincerely advocated violence toward women or anyone else. Obviously I would feel horrible if I actually believed that my work were going to cause any violence. Stanley Kubrick faced a similar problem when his film “A Clockwork Orange” apparently inspired copycat crimes in Great Britain after its release, and he pulled the film from circulation for many years. I am not trying to compare myself to this film genius, but anyone who attempts a satirical work has this same slippery slope to walk.

Personally, I feel that the “Clockwork Orange” copycats, as well as anyone who honestly believes my video condones rape or any other kind of violence, is missing the point completely. Some of the outraged have pointed out to me that certain things, like rape, are “not a laughing matter,” and while I agree that actual acts of violence such as rape are not funny, I do also believe that one way human beings can deal with horrible things in life is by finding the humor in them; in other words, the act itself is horrendous, but part of humor is shock and surprise, and this is the way in which even the most hideous things can be made funny.

Another important thing to remember is that humor is subjective, and no two people will ever completely agree on what is funny and what isn’t. I recognize that my video is tasteless and offensive, but I couldn’t disagree more that it actually condones any kind of violence. It is a reflection of what I see going on in the world, filtered through my own twisted sense of humor.

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