IT JUST SO HAPPENS that for years I thought Schick made the best blades and razors. It just so happens that for years I would not buy them -- a decision that had nothing at all to do with shaving. It had to do instead with the fact that the then owner of Schick, Patrick Frawley, was in the habit of contributing large amounts of money to organizations -- he called them anticommunist -- that I did not like. A shave, after all, is just a shave, but politics is where you can get your throat slit.
I had other personal boycotts as well. I did not buy Knott jellies because of the politics of Walter Knott and it goes without saying that I will buy nothing made by the J. P. Stevens & Co. until the executives there embrace the union and learn the words to the song "Joe Hill."
For a time, I had so many personal boycotts going I could hardly remember what I could or could not buy. I could not buy grapes or lettuce or, for a time, Gallo wines and there was a soft drink I would not buy that I won't mention because I can't remember anymore why I had it on my list.
My list, though, was extensive and it is with this in mind that we come to the subject of Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Billy Friedkin and his movie about gays, the women's movement and pornography, and maybe other matters I have probably forgotten.
In all these cases, the applicable word is either boycott or something close to it and in all of these cases we are being told that something very un-American is happening -- a return to McCarthyism and all of that. People are yelling censorship and signing letters to be published in newspapers and talking of certain rights -- creative and constitutional and personal. This, I have to tell you, is heavy stuff.
In the case of Redgrave, she has been cast by CBS to play the role of Fania Fenelon Goldstein, a Parisian who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau by playing in the concentration camp orchestra. Redgrave's alleged sin is that she is pro-Palestinian and that is offensive to some Jewish groups. They think she is an inappropriate choice for the role and they screamed bloody murder. The echo that came back was full of terms like creative freedom -- the notion being that art is art and politics is politics and never the twain shall mix even though, of course, this is precisely what Redgrave herself has done.
The same is true of Fonda. She's been taking her lumps recently, mostly for the things she said and did during the Vietnam war. Some of the stuff being said about her is ugly and untrue and it has prompted her colleagues in the business of show business to sign a letter in her support. What they feat is that she will soon not be able to work as an actress -- punished at the box office for her statements from Hanoi.
From the two actresses to Friedkin is an easy jump. He is filming in New York a movie called "Cruising," which is about the seamier and more violent side of homosexual life. Gays and their organizations don't like the movie one whit and they have even asked the mayor of New York, Edward Koch, to yank the permits you need to make a movie in that city. Koch refused to do so.
What all these incidents have in common is an attempt by one group to either silence another or to hold them accountable in the marketplace for some political act. (Without going into detail, this is pretty much what the women's movement wants out of the porn industry -- silence). And what is also present is the accusation that all this is a violation of at least the spirit of the Constitution, if not its letter, and represents a return to the bad old days of the 1950s -- McCarthyism and blacklists.
They have a point. There is only some danger when groups assert their right to put their particular, often narrow, interests above all others. What they seem to be saying sometimes is that their grievance is more important than some theoretical right to make a film or cast a television show or publish a porn magazine. It would be awful if the end result were that Jane Fonda could not find work or if the women's movement became the clearing house for what is and what is not permissible to print in matters pertaining to men, women and what they do in moments of white heat.
But you have to go from there to something else -- the danger of not recognizing the right of these groups to make their case known. They, too, have their rights and if they have something going for them here it is that in almost every case they are going up against some pretty powerful interests -- everything from CBS to the porn industry.
Even the so-called victims here are not without recourse. Both Redgrave and Fonda are terrific at fighting back and both -- if this matters any -- are rich as hell.
Anyway, all this is a long way from censorship or McCarthyism. Censorship is something the government does. That's what makes it so vile. It is not something you or I do. What we do is make choices, exercise options.
It is not censorship to find Jane Fonda a political abomination and to say to yourself you will not see her movies. It is not censorship for gays to hold Friedkin accountable for the sort of movie he makes, but it damn well would have been censorship for Mayor Koch to withdraw his municipal permit for some political reason.
In fact, to ask these groups to remain silent is almost censorship itself. It is asking them to be quiet when they feel themselves injured -- to ask them to be silent patsies. I would not do it when it came to Schick blades and there is no reason women should do it when it comes to porn, or gays when it comes to some movie or even know-nothings in a fit of hysterical jingoism when it comes to Jane Fonda. None of this is censorship. It is something else.
It used to be called fighting back.