Teaching Free Speech and Political Literacy in an Authoritarian Age
Chapter 5. Disciplinary Power & the reasonable limitation
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DISCIPLINARY POWER & THE REASONABLE LIMITATION
On the Waterfront (1954) is a classic American film about a washed-up fighter named Terry whose career takes a wrong turn when he takes a dive for a local mobster. The film opens as the gangster, Johnny Friendly, has Terry lure a witness named Joey Doyle into an ambush. Terry is horrified to learn that Doyle has been killed to keep him from testifying at an anti-corruption hearing. After later falling in love with the dead man’s sister, Terry begins to experience an awakening of conscience, one spurred on by the example of a local priest, Father Barry. After another outspoken worker is killed, Terry decides to confront Friendly at the dockyard. There he gives an impassioned speech before he is savagely beaten by mob thugs until finally his fellow dockworkers intervene to save him. The film ends with the bloodied but victorious Terry leaving the dock surrounded by his fellow workers, resolved to testify in the upcoming hearings.
On the Waterfront is a film where morality and law are neatly aligned. However, we also get a sense of a world where more subtle influences determine what it is possible to say. The film impresses upon us the fact that speech has deep significance, since words are both a vehicle for conscience and a means of bearing witness to injustice. In this way, the film portrays a world where a good life is one characterized by meaningful relationships that← 153...
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