It's about FCC-ing time you can say it on TV

Posted Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 12:00am

The Federal Communications Commission recently ruled that Bono's use of the ubiquitous F-word at a Golden Globe Awards ceremony was not in violation of guidelines regarding obscene or vulgar language. This ruling is based upon a litmus test that takes into account "how" the word is used. So apparently, every time I had my mouth washed out with soap, I had been using the F-word incorrectly. I can't wait to go home and tell my mom!

In the official memo, the FCC wasn't even sure just which phrase it was that offended everybody, quoting two possibilities. It is as if they themselves never saw the questionable footage before reaching their decision. In their memo they denied the complaints because "The word 'f******' may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities."

Wait, did you miss the part where they admit that the word may be offensive when taken out of context? Just based upon the fact that more than 200 complaints were filed against this single infraction, it appears to me that the F-word is offensive to plenty of folks. Even if it is spoken in the proper context. In order to justify Bono's single uttered curse, the FCC used the F-word five times in their own memo.

Free-speech advocates applaud the decision as a move toward protecting free speech on air. They maintain that giving "Big Brother" control over what we can say will spell the end of democracy as we know it. You've read the constitution before, and no doubt noticed that the founding fathers were able to write the whole thing without dropping the F-bomb. If it wasn't necessary for Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin, then I don't buy that we need it on TV.

Cleaning up language on television will not have an adverse effect on the democratic process. The leap from "don't say f*** anymore" to "there will only be one nominee on the ballot this year" is a mighty long jump, even for George W. Bush, the Carl Lewis of politics.

Censoring profanity is not the same as the synthetic language in George Orwell's novel "1984." In designing "Newspeak," the government gradually removed entire concepts like freedom and liberty from the lexicon.

In life, we don't need vulgar adjectives to describe what freedom is. By censoring curse words in broadcast media, the government is not saying that we must stop using them in everyday life; it merely protects sensitive people from degrading speech in public. It is the government doing its job – protecting civil rights.

The situation is made even more confusing by free-speech advocates who have not come to a consensus regarding why speech should be protected. Some insist that words really are meaningless, and no harm can come from verbal assault. Therefore, they argue that there is no good reason to restrict their use. The other side maintains that speech has the power to affect change, and it should not at all be regulated by the government.

If you listen closely, you can see that both of these claims come from the same person. A recent exchange between the host of "The O'Reilly Factor" and a civil rights lawyer underscores how confused this lawyer was. He first expressed his doubts that what a student said about his principal could actually cause any emotional harm. He then went on to claim that the student's speech wasn't slanderous because " ... [his] allegations may be true. If they are true, then we need to know about it."

So if speech is unflattering, then it doesn't matter because nobody cares. If, on the other hand it is true, then we do need to know about it. I don't even think that Clinton could have talked his way out of that contrived explanation. If the so-called experts are not clear on why an exhibition constitutes protected speech, we should be very wary about any policy they support.

I am also very wary about anyone who says "artistic," "educated," and "Adam Sandler" all in the same sentence. But for the entertainment industry, destroying our traditional values and living in a fantasy world are all in a day's work.

One excuse the entertainment industry makes when justifying vulgarities in media is that people use those words in real life, and that the art is merely reflecting contemporary culture.

As if movie makers ever had a grip on what "real life" is. Before movies were full of high-speed car chases, bloody bank robberies and killer robots, it was group hugs, munchkins, and spontaneous song and dance. Come on, we are not that stupid. We all know that prior to "A Beautiful Mind" Russell Crowe never saw the inside of a book.

The entertainment industry doesn't really care about reflecting real life. Look at CBS's miniseries "The Reagans." The author of the script admitted to putting scandalous words into Ronald and Nancy's mouths. Despite claims of undertaking research, no close friends to the Reagans reported being contacted by CBS writers. They did that for the money, not to tell a truthful story.

The problem is that the industry fully understands how impressionable their audience is. They have already done a great job of raising the acceptance of racial and sexual minorities in our country by mainstreaming politically correct language. That has been an integral part of their agenda for years now. They have made efforts to cut back on smoking in movies, because they know that children who see their heroes smoking are more likely to smoke. They know that they could clean up our language if they wanted to. They just don't want to.

Their message is to basically stop being too sensitive and to get used to vulgar language. Where do they get off telling us what we should be used to? Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. would roll in their graves should anybody suggest that minorities stop being overly sensitive and get used to racial slurs. Why must we tolerate vulgarity? Just because one person in Hollywood doesn't take offense to a particular word does not mean that others don't.

It is an issue of respect. If I respect you, I won't say things that would hurt your feelings. The message that I get from the entertainment industry and the FCC is that they do not respect me or my values.

Earlier this year a Pleasant Grove production company attempted to produce the Neil Simon play "Rumors" sans the profanity contained in the original script. Because they did not secure Simon's permission to change the script, they were denied the right to produce his play. In response to the case, Simon's attorney, Gary Da Silva, told the Deseret Morning News that he believes that what producer Gayliene Omary considers to be profanity differs from the majority view. He clearly doesn't understand what it means to be a Utahn.

"Our laws do not have a problem with these words, and I doubt that any person with the proper upbringing would be corrupted by hearing these words." Hey now, what are you saying about my upbringing? I can handle those words. I just don't like listening to them all the time.

Curses aren't magic words that make us into bad people. The problem is that when people stop being civil to one another, our society fails. The entertainment industry is telling you that it is your own problem that such words are offensive. Too bad that they don't follow the axiom that the customer is always right.

There will always be words that shock and offend. When one curse becomes trite, another will rise in its place. It's the evolution of our language, and it is inevitable. Celebrating distressing vocabulary in an ill-intentioned attempt to accelerate the process does nobody a service, nor can it break the cycle.

And as people in our country become less and less civil to one another, we can only expect to see more and more social problems arise.

Filed under: viewpoints