Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Sunday, July 27, 2003

‘No Aerial Banners’
should fly

It's been said that that everyone is entitled to free speech, but everyone is not entitled to fly an airplane through a crowded movie theater trailing a long banner reading "FIRE!"

On second thought, I don't think anyone has said that before.

What I think has been said before is that you have a right to free speech, but you don't have the right to stand up in a movie theater and yell "FIRE!" There are many reasons, not the least being that with theater tickets costing so much these days, standing up and blocking the guy behind you from seeing the screen could get you killed. You can't yell "FIRE!" in a movie theater because you'd cause a stampede of the three or four customers who happen to be in the mini-movie-plex at the time.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that in a crowded movie theater you can't yell anything that would cause everyone to suddenly flee for the emergency exists, specially "FIRE!" or "PAULY SHORE!"

OBVIOUSLY, AIRPLANES trailing banners can't fit into the small movie theaters of the day, but they can fly off Waikiki, which is what we are really discussing here. A mainland pro-life group wants to fly planes off Waikiki showing gruesome photos of aborted fetuses, apparently to make the point that if you really, truly believe in something, any level of bad taste is justified to get your point across.

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform claims flying billboards are free speech, and have challenged Honolulu's ordinance against aerial advertising in federal court here.

This is the kind of knuckleheadedness that puts quasi-Libertarians such as myself in a bind. On the one hand, free speech is the backbone of democracy. On the other hand, when I'm sitting on Waikiki beach scoping out the chicks, eating a shave ice, I don't want to see a 50-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide color photo of a bloody fetus flying through my field of vision.

To be fair, I wouldn't want to see a banner of any type being dragged behind a plane off of Waikiki because I'm pretty sure it violates whichever constitutional amendment it is that protects citizens from tackiness. I've been listening to the ongoing commentary about the subject on the radio shows of Perry and Price and Mike Buck, and it seems like callers are missing a major point about why it's stupid to have aerial advertising.

It's not only because allowing this nonprofit group to do it would open the doors to commercial advertising and "everyone would be doing it" or that "Hawaii is a special place" that doesn't allow billboards or visual litter of any type. It's stupid for anyone to want to do aerial advertising in Hawaii because you are going to turn the exact group you are trying to influence against you. A tourist who might be sympathetic to the pro-life cause is going to be less so after paying thousands of dollars to vacation in Hawaii only to have his family exposed involuntarily to a grotesque spectacle. Family vacations can be disturbing enough.

Free speech is great, as long as you don't force it on people. I happen to be in favor of Portuguese sausage, but I don't want to see a flying banner with a 50-foot-high photo of how a sausage is made. Or even after it's made.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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