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Saturday, May 31, 2008

What the Frak?


In an age when teenagers and young adults do not seem to be able to express a thought without the abundant use of vulgarities and obscenities, and when the television, movie and music industries seem to be trying to outdo themselves in the ‘shock-value’ of their offerings, it’s good to know that a few people are still dedicated to returning to some level of decency.

Reality time for broadcast-indecency regulations

May 31, 2008 Providence Journal
JEFFREY M. McCALL
GREENCASTLE, Ind.

THE MEDIA-WATCHDOG GROUP Parents Television Council (PTC) publicly commended NBC television last month when the network announced plans to make the 8-9 p.m. hour a time for family-friendly viewing. Just days later, NBC aired an episode of 30 Rock in that time slot that didn’t strike the PTC as fitting the family-friendly category.

The 30 Rock episode centered on a fake reality show called MILF Island.

The acronym stands for “Mothers I’d Like to ....” NBC’s idea of family viewing includes a sexy mother taking off her bikini top (with some digital blurring) in front of eighth-grade boys, and the cast of 30 Rock making obscene hand gestures that blurring fails to really hide. NBC’s family-oriented dialogue includes such family-funny lines as “erection cove,” “eating bugs to earn tampons” and “what the frak?,” an obvious attempt to substitute a word not currently on the Federal Communications Commission’s sanction list for one that is.

If NBC thinks that this is the kind of show that families gather to watch, the cultural divide between the “entertainment” industry and the majority of Americans is massive. Clearly, network television is trying to make a statement to the FCC and the federal courts about what content should be allowed on broadcast airwaves, which are publicly owned.

Regarding the 30 Rock flap, NBC executive Alan Wurtzel told an industry publication, “We’ve always felt that the people who get the jokes aren’t going to be offended.” Translation: Only ignorant people could possibly be offended by our clever humor.

The networks and their activist professional organizations are spending millions of dollars fighting federal laws that prohibit indecent and profane communication on broadcast airwaves. CBS continues to fight FCC fines for the 2004 Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. A federal appellate ruling is expected soon. ABC is appealing fines for a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue that showed female nudity. Fox television refuses to pay fines for a 2003 episode of Married by America, prompting the Justice Department to sue to collect the money. NBC and Fox are appealing decisions related to indecent utterances by celebrities on live awards broadcasts. The matter of so-called “fleeting expletives” will be heard by the Supreme Court next fall. Many other cases are bottled up at the FCC, pending guidance from these eventual court decisions.

Shrill spokesmen for media organizations are in full voice pushing a network vision of what constitutes suitable content. Fox’s appeal told the FCC that it shouldn’t make “subjective assessments about the morality of a program.” Of course, Fox thinks that its own assessment of program content is fully objective.

Jonathan Rintels, of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, challenged the FCC in a published interview to clear up the confusion on indecency enforcement: “The line has to be clearly drawn and crystal clear so that creative people can speak and write and create up to that line.”

He went on to say that he didn’t think that the FCC could actually draw such a line.

The New York Times editorialized that FCC indecency enforcement has done “serious damage to free speech,” but failed to indicate how. The Times said the words targeted for FCC enforcement are commonly heard and that Bono’s f-bomb on live television was just a lighthearted slip.

CBS commentator Andy Rooney opined, “I think if the Federal Communications Commission left broadcasters alone, there would be very little profanity on the air.” Sure, and all motorists would drive the speed limit if police would just remove speed traps.

While network executives fiddle away fighting legal battles, they are apparently oblivious to the sentiments of the audience. Network primetime viewership dropped again this year. Surveys show a disgruntled public. Nearly two-thirds of viewers say that programming is getting worse, compared to only 22 percent who think it is improving. Four out of five Americans think that there is too much sex, violence and rough language on television.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision about fleeting expletives could settle this tug of war for years to come. The court could rule broadly, either supporting the FCC’s indecency enforcement or allowing broadcasters to receive First Amendment protection for such content. If the court rules narrowly, however, focusing just on the occasional unscripted bad word, this argument will carry on.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, of the Media Access Project, hopes that the court will side with broadcasters, of course, and has criticized the FCC’s current enforcement as “incoherent and overbroad.” He says that the FCC “has chilled the creative process for the writers, directors and producers we represent.” Not enough yet, apparently, to chill NBC from running a 30 Rock MILF program as suitable for its family hour.

Jeffrey M. McCall is a professor of communication at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Ind., and author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences

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8 Comments:

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Jonathan Rintels said...

This article names the Center for Creative Voices in Media as one of the networks' "activist professional organizations" and me as one of their "shrill spokesmen." Neither label is accurate. Creative Voices is dedicated to protecting Constitutional rights to free speech and expression, and is therefore often critical of the networks for infringing on the free speech rights of independent and diverse media artists. And the quote of mine is hardly shrill; it simply states the law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the FCC's indecency decisions have been both inaccurate and overly broad, resulting in "arbitrary and capricious" enforcement that violates the law and Constitution. By engaging in that same kind of analysis to make its points against content the author doesn't like, but millions of other Americans do, the article inadvertently illustrates exactly the problem with indecency enforcement the Court - and I - were talking about.

Jonathan Rintels
Creative Voices

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger RussWilcox said...

Thanks for your comment and clarification, Mr. Rintels, but the pornographic scenes, the glorification of casual sex, the gratuitous extreme violence and the slipping in of obscenities and vulgarities has to stop, and if errors be made, let them be made on the side of conservatism for a change. Also, we all know that programs shown at later hours are picked up by cable channels and shown endlessly on cable channels at all hours of the day and night, and that most parents have no control in this modern world over what their children are watching every moment. We are also aware that the main purpose of "Law and Order SVU" is to see how far the envelope can be pushed in the direction of explicit sexual content.

 
At 5:10 AM, Blogger Jonathan Rintels said...

I appreciate your comment, but have to note that your suggestion that "if errors be made, let them be made on the side of conservatism for a change" is in fact precisely what the FCC has been doing -- making errors in judgment and rulings on the side of "conservatism" -- at least as you define "conservatism." And the courts have found those errors violate the law and Constitution.

The reason I put quotes around "conservatism" is that numerous prominent conservatives including James J. Kilpatrick, George Will, and Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, among others, have all spoken out against the FCC's indecency crusade, condemning it as censorship and a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech and expression.

 
At 6:02 AM, Blogger RussWilcox said...

If you are correct about the thrust of the FCC, I am delighted that something is finally being done to impose some standards of decency; as 'patriotism' is the last gasp of the scoundrel, so is 'First Amendment' the first gasp of the pornographer.

 
At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

I only wish that each cable subscriber could have their choice of the channels that they want to pay for. Then we would see if smut, blood and guts would dominate the air waves. Yeah, I know and I've heard it all before. "You have a remote, switch channels if you don't like it." You forget one think though. I'm paying for all of them every month. Personally, I think that Liberals are trying to poison our children's minds with this garbage that they are showing on TV. Prove me wrong!

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger the Buffalo said...

The real solution here is to read with your children, take them for a walk, throw a ball with them, play a board game, teach them something useful, play music with them, or do something else creative that will allow you to grow together. I feel this is usually more about the parent's addiction to television than the child's.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger RussWilcox said...

These are not the children we worry about, Buffalo. We worry about the snowballing effect of children watching this smut and violence and then grow up to be parents with no comprehension that society is disintegrating around them.

 
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