Sometimes justice does prevail. And no, I'm not talking about that case, but about another very important verdict that's just been rendered on an issue that's close to my heart.
If your kids soon start hearing more curse words on TV, you may have VP Dick Cheney to thank. Though instead of thanking him you may understandably want to tell him to go fuck himself.
This is because a New York appeals court ruled against the government in a broadcast decency case that pitted American broadcast TV networks against the FCC. Broadcasters went to court over immense fines imposed on them for curse words spoken off the cuff, and on live TV, by the likes of Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie.
For their part, the FCC is cursing mad over the ruling. Said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: “I completely disagree with the Court's ruling and am disappointed for American families. I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience.”
Watch your mouth, there, Kev, ok?
Among the points made by broadcasters was that ultra-violent Saving Private Ryan was allowed to be aired on commercial TV with all swear words intact. (The movie aired before the Janet Jackson/Nipplegate incident with no problem; after that debacle, fine-shy affiliates refused to carry a subsequent showing of the movie by their network.) How can broadcasters know what's acceptable and what's not after that movie was shown? Moreover, how can they anticipate what people will spontaneously say on live TV? (This is what tape delays are for, idiots!)
The previously referenced comment by Bono was, "Fucking brilliant!" After he said it, there was some issue of whether it was obscene because it was used as an adjective rather than as the noun or verb denoting sexual activity. The standard for obscenity, it has been said, is whether the words spoken refer to "sexual or excretory functions or organs." Give me a fucking break. Those things are natural, though they may not be something we want to talk or think about all the time, or in certain company, or in certain contexts.
Some of us expect musicians, actors and other sleazy showbiz types to have loose tongues. But these folks' naughty words were not the only ones taken into consideration in the court's decision. Verbal no-nos by none other than President Bush ("...get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit...") and Dick Cheney ("Go fuck yourself!") were also considered. I can't hide my amusement that some top Republicants may have actually made it easier to curse on TV. (Come on, consternative base, attack them now like you hypocritically never did when they originally made those vulgar comments!)
From this verdict, broadcasters obviously made their case that obscene content (which can lead to heavy fines for them) is too poorly defined, too subjective and too inconsistently penalized. For once, reason seems to have won out in court. Obscenity has been previously defined, but that definition creates more questions than answers. Who is the "average person?" What is "patently offensive?" Why are sex and scatology considered obscene, but not those damned exterminator commercials that show insects scurrying around while I'm trying to eat dinner?
Indeed, there need to be at least some restrictions about what content hits the airwaves. But FCC policies are no substitute for good parenting and good judgment. These consist, in part, of using the tools available to you to limit your family's exposure to such content; not the least of these tools is your own noggin.
At one time I was actually thinking of suggesting a plan for TV producers to thwart FCC restrictions, if only to spite the efforts of that flawed body. This included:
Using a lot of strong innuendo and euphemisms: There are no curse words in "I'm gonna spank the monkey tonight."
Using clinical terms: "I bet that woman has a nice vagina. I would like to engage in sexual intercourse with her." (Whereas the obscene equivalent of this has probably never been uttered on broadcast TV, this kind of talk would actually make TV racier. Which was my point, if only to raise a virtual middle finger at the FCC.)
Saying "Goddammit" a lot: It's one of the most offensive terms to some people, yet contains no sexual or excretory references. Hence, not obscene.
I don’t get any kind of juvenile thrill from using or hearing profanity; I do, however, strongly resent unnecessary, undemocratic and hypocritical policies prohibiting it. And if I can't stop or influence the people making those policies, I can at least enjoy, in a manner of speaking, fucking with them a bit.
It seems this time the courts have done that for me. But relax, I don't think we'll be seeing Full Metal Jacket or Clerks II on commercial TV anytime soon. (And I don't have cable. Shit!)