August 7, 2010
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
One thing you can confidently say about 21st-century America is this: Our icons of seemingly frivolous spectacle often embody deeply significant and disturbing truths. What was Balloon Boy but a deadly serious commentary on national gullibility and misplaced priorities? What was Joe the Plumber but a fun-house reflection of our destructive deification of ignorance? And what was Matt Bellamy last week other than proof that much of our country could care less about its Constitution?
The instantly famous image of police removing the 29-year-old from Cleveland’s Progressive Field was largely presented by the media as hilarious and justified — and the predictable applause, blog comments, talk-radio calls and Facebook posts embraced that portrayal. Bellamy, the logic went, deserved to be tossed because he was wearing LeBron James’ new Miami Heat jersey in the city that James deserted. And not only was Bellamy wearing the jersey, he dared to flaunt it by pointing at it, prompting boos from fans and physical assault via projectile foodstuffs. In response, police say they ejected Bellamy for his own safety.
Before you chime in with a fist-pumping “Good riddance!” remember that Progressive Field is not some private club — the taxpayer subsidies that built the stadium effectively make it a public space, ostensibly subjecting it to the Constitution. Also remember that police officers, as taxpayer-funded instruments of state power, are sworn to uphold that Constitution — and specifically, the First Amendment’s requirement that the state refrain from “abridging the freedom of speech.” And remember, too, that Bellamy’s jersey didn’t run afoul of the few court-authorized exemptions from the First Amendment — it didn’t, say, violate obscenity statutes or endorse violence.