FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

News from the culture war

I received an email today that said in part:

Subject: They are going to allow the "F" word on TV

I don't normally do this, but this is important, so if you feel strongly about this, please respond online to your local government.


It is soooo easy to do....I did it! We need to start taking action!!!!!

********** CLICK LINK BELOW **********

Thinking that the report must be an urban legend I tracked it down. However, it was not a legend and the FCC did approve of Bono's use of the word at the Golden Globe Awards. In part, the FCC's Orwellian reasoning was:

"As a threshold matter, the material aired during the "Golden Globe Awards" program does not describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs. The word "f--" [my edit] may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual and excretory organs and activities. Rather, the performer used the word "f--" [my edit] as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation. Indeed, in similar circumstances, we have found that offensive language used as an insult rather than as a description of sexual or excretory activity or organs is not within the scope of the Commission's prohibition of indecent program content."

Doesn't this miss the whole point of obscene language and turn it on its head? In fact, one could argue that had the word been used to describe a biological function, it would have a claim to legitimacy since it was used in context and as slang would be most understandable to some segment of the viewing audience. Instead, the FCC says you can only use the word out its natural context as an exclamation or an insult? Am I missing something? Which is worse, having a character on "Boston Public" demean someone by calling them a penis or using the word on the Discovery Channel when describing the sexual reproduction of primates? Continuing with their tortured logic, admitting that the use of the word may be "crude and offensive" simply makes the point. Using offensive language as an exclamation or insult is the context in which obscenity occurs.

This is similar to discussions about violence on TV and in the movies. Which is more acceptable, the violence in Saving Private Ryan or in Kill Bill? In the former, the violence is in context (being historical) and serves to underscore the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers willing to follow orders and lay down their lives for a comrade. The violence in Kill Bill or the Matrix is pointless and adds nothing to the story (what there is of it anyway). That's also why I don't object to some obscenity in movies. If in context it can add to the story, if not it is at best distracting and at worse makes the movie a farce (see Pulp Fiction).

While I agree with snopes that the AFA bulletin is not strictly correct, can anyone doubt that this is the beginning of a slippery slope? The F word will undoubtedly become maintstream as other former obscenities have because of the "community standards" aspect of the FCC enforcement (in the words of the FCC the material must be "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium"). Without a standard with a clear definiftion, simple inertia will inevitably pull the "standard" down to the lowest common demominator (how's that for mixing metaphors). I can almost hear the writers and producers salivating over using it in the same way for shock value in an upcoming drama like "The Practice" or "West Wing".

No comments: