How Firefly Fans Made One University's Campus Safe For Free Speech

from the that-coat-is-brown dept

Back in September, we wrote about a situation at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where campus police couldn't be bothered to actually read the text on a post put up by professor James Miller, which referenced a quote in the pilot episode of Firefly, with a picture of Nathan Fillion, the actor who played the character who spoke the line.
The quote was one about fairness, but the campus police interpreted it as a threat, took it down, and threatened the professor. In response, Miller put up a second poster, mocking the takedown of the first poster:
Once again, the university police got involved, taking down the poster and claiming that it "depicts violence and mentions violence and death." And saying that the "campus threat assessment team" had determined that the poster would "cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat." That seems like an interesting (i.e., "wrong") interpretation of the First Amendment (remember, this is a state school), and the group FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) got involved, sending a letter on behalf of Miller. Amazingly, the University doubled down on this form of censorship, standing by the original takedowns.

We hadn't followed the story since then, but thanks to JJ for passing along that FIRE recently put up a video detailing the full story, with an appearance by Neil Gaiman, whose tweets about the story first alerted us (and, as it turns out, tons of others) to the story.
As he notes, you should never, ever upset science fiction fans who feel their favorite show has been cancelled in an untimely way.

Of course, as FIRE's director notes, this story ended up with the University backing down, but only because of the widespread outrage from Firefly fans. It's too bad that these kinds of issues often only get attention when they have a hook like that. Hopefully more people recognize that free speech issues are free speech issues even if they don't involve a particular TV show...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Jay (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:10pm

    Two things to never do in your political career

    So what I surmise here is two things:

    Never piss off a Firefly fan.

    Never piss off the internet.

    I wonder if Congress will take notes?

     

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      identicon
      monkyyy, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

      Re: Two things to never do in your political career

      notes? they didnt even stay awake during class

       

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        Jay (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

        Re: Re: Two things to never do in your political career

        Oh, the front page of the internet is already pissed. They now have an entire discussion about who to attack first. From the looks of it, Paul Ryan is the weakest link...

        Anyone want some popcorn?

         

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        byte^me (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:10pm

        Re: Re: Two things to never do in your political career

        Stay awake? They never even came to class!

        My guess is that they can't find it, just like they seem to have lost the Constitution recently....

         

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      Kevin H (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:52pm

      Re: Two things to never do in your political career

      They'll need to remove their head from the anus of the entainment and medical lobbyists.

       

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    identicon
    Wayne, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:20pm

    That made the popehat censorious asshat of the year poll

    http://www.popehat.com/2011/12/27/vote-for-popehats-censorious-asshat-of-the-year/

     

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      identicon
      Ken, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:59pm

      They're stuck in fourth place, though.

      My favorite part was how the Chancellor claimed that their actions had been cleared by "university counsel." As I said at the time: stop hiring lawyers out of the back of a bait shop.

       

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    Ima Fish (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:23pm

    "the university police got involved, taking down the poster and claiming that it "depicts violence and mentions violence and death."

    The University of Wisconsin-Stout must have the worst literature department in the country. Heck, their entire library must consist of Archie comic books.

     

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    heyidiot (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    So what does this make fire.org?

    "Big Damn Heroes, sir."

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:46pm

    Govt Centric Behavior

    What do you expect from WiSocialiston? "State Run School" says it all.

    There are more Govt centric people there than in China.

     

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      ZeeBat (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

      Re: Govt Centric Behavior

      lolwut?

       

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      el_segfaulto (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:09pm

      Re: Govt Centric Behavior

      On a site constantly trolled by some of the most misinformed misanthropes on teh intarwebs your comment is the dumbest one I've read in a very long time. I'm not sure if I should be impressed, or saddened on behalf of our collective gene pool.

      P.S. that doesn't imply that our gene pool is socialist in nature, although if it gets people like you (who have corrupted that word to mean anything that you disagree with) out of the gene pool we, as a society will be happy to oblige.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 4:41pm

        Re: Re: Govt Centric Behavior

        Personal attacks are a liberal’s only strategy when they have no real argument. “Govt employed police (state run school) attacked free expression, liberals speechless…

        Woodrow Wilson would be proud…

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 8:03pm

      Re: Govt Centric Behavior

      "There are more Govt centric people there than in China."

      I know! And they're all like, OH! Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong! Learn American politics dammit!

       

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    anonymous, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:08pm

    the campus police, campus threat assessment team and the University in general should try getting educated. after all, it's a school for god's sake!

     

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    Rekrul, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    The school has backed down, so now the way is clear for the professor to be sued for using a copyrighted image and dialog in an unauthorized manner...

     

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:47pm

      Re: All that and he's a pirate too!!!

      Which is about the only thing the university didn't use as they tried to defend themselves was that he'd infringed on a copyright.

      They'd have probalbly been almost as successful. ;-)

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

    "Firefly fans"?

    That bunch or rednecks still sore that Lincoln kicked their slave-owning asses?

    I say, I am with the University on that one.

     

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      Machin Shin, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 6:35am

      Re:

      I am kind of confused on how you got from firefly fans to rednecks. Most "rednecks" are not really scifi fans.

      As for the rest of the comment. Well, yes the south lost the war but if you look back at what really happened you will find it was not how you seem to think. Most importantly it was not so much about slaves as it was taxes.

      Really though, just about everyone who likes to randomly bring that war up like you have tend to be racist. They are rednecks living in trailers and thinking we should still have slaves or they are the ones who somehow think that African Americans are entitled to special treatment because their ancestors were slaves.

      Well, big news flash, no one alive today had anything to do with American slavery. So get over it and stop pretending that the civil war has anything to do with today. Most still waving flags from that war are just a disgrace and I bet most of the men who fought and died in that war would be disgusted to see how their flags are used today.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Face it already - slave states lost. And firefly was canceled, - rightfully, too. It was shitty boring pompous self-important crap.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2013 @ 11:59am

          Re: Re: Re:

          So...because you didn't like the show (as the whole theme of it probably went over your head) it was, "shitty boring pompous self-important crap"?

           

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    identicon
    Fight The Power, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:37pm

    Browncoats FTW

    Am I the only one who sees the irony in the subject the professor teaches and what happened here? (Professor of theater and speech)

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 3:51pm

    Its nice to see people in power exhibiting more of the brain damage that power seems to bring.
    Now if we could just get a group to take our grievances with Congress to, and get them to actually do the right thing then we would be making progress.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 4:45pm

      Re:

      "Now if we could just get a group to take our grievances with Congress to[o]"

      Maybe if we claimed that SOPA could be a problem to the ... Lady Gaga community because .... it will somehow gag her mouth with soap ... that might get that community all riled up. Who knows.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 4:40pm

    and therein lies a problem with this country, when we protest we do it for all the wrong reasons.

     

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      abc gum, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 5:21pm

      Re:

      Really? - I'm curious ... what constitutes a "wrong reason" to express ones disagreement?

       

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        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 7:04pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm guessing anything that makes an AC's commute take more time.

         

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 7:16pm

        Re: Re:

        I dunno, I guess I kinda took issue with the "but only because of the widespread outrage from Firefly fans."

        They should be supporting free speech rights in general, not just for a quote in some movie.

         

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          E. Zachary Knight (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 9:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          So you really are that ignorant then? They weren't standing up for the free speech rights of "a quote in some movie". they were standing up for the right of this professor to speak his mind freely.

          Of course you wouldn't get that because you are an idiot.

           

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    Violated (profile), Dec 29th, 2011 @ 12:59am

    FireFly

    Looks like someone got outsmarted. Funny.

    FireFly is without doubt the greatest sci-fi series ever made which was cut down in its prime. They simply overlooked that sci-fi takes longer to build up a fan base.

    Well at least they brought Futurama back.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 3:02am

      Re: FireFly

      > FireFly is without doubt the greatest sci-fi series ever
      > made which was cut down in its prime.

      Confederacy lost. Get used to this thought already.

       

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        Doug D (profile), Dec 29th, 2011 @ 9:51am

        Re: Re: FireFly

        You think that the "Browncoat" fans of Firefly are equated to the South in the civil war? Really?

        The Browncoats were fighting for their independence from an overbearing government that wanted to control how they live. I can see some vague connection to how people view the civil war, but only if you don't actually understand the impetus behind it. Associating them to the Tea Party might fly on some level, but still make you look like a damned fool none the less.

         

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    herodotus (profile), Dec 29th, 2011 @ 4:09am

    "Confederacy lost. Get used to this thought already."


    So the civil war and televised entertainment are connected how?

     

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    lol, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    i have to get that warning sign.

     

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    c0c0c0 (profile), Dec 29th, 2011 @ 2:58pm

    Aren't there books and other required reading that would be as if not more violent than those quotes have been misrepresented to state? What if the quote was written from (well known required reading material) or from a lesser known quote from Firefly? Does the school now have a responsibility to go through all the reading material and either censor it or remove it from the required reading material all together???

    Ban censorship!

     

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    identicon
    triabecca, Jan 4th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    Free Speech

    Shiny

     

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