My 2 Cents

I’m not a religious fundamentalist of any creed, but this U.S. controversy over “decency” on television is becoming indecent. Let me rephrase: The debate over TV “indecency” that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, is, in my view, really misguided.

At the heart of the matter is U.S. TV regulator, the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) ruling that punishes broadcasters for airing “fleeting expletives.”

The New York Times came out with an editorial against such a ruling, stating: “We hope the Supreme Court does not authorize the FCC to return to its censorial policies.” Well, I disagree with the way the Times sees the crux of the matter.

You aliens (everyone not from the U.S. is considered an alien by the U.S. Government) and spacewalkers have to understand that, to Americans, expletives are not just funny, but hysterical. For this reason, many comics, would-be comedians and aspiring humorous people, when stuck with a boring gig (aka, a dud), resort to expletives. One could easily test this truth by simply watching cable/satellite channels, which are not policed by the FCC’s “wash-your-mouth policy.” At the most, some of the more family-friendly channels subscribe to a “watch-your-mouth” doctrine.         

As soon as stand-up comedians realize that they’re entering into the Pierrot-zone (the reaction obtained with sad, sob stories), they start spitting out expletives as if they were pyrotechnics. And, guess what? People start laughing! Usually, it involves the “F” word. Just say it and the audience, which, until a few minutes earlier was quietly minding its own business (often nursing bottles of beer), will explode in a roar.
At this point, once the ball is rolling, the resuscitated comedian starts using the “F” word every other word, managing to make a dull story duller, but apparently more fun.

My disagreement with The New York Times derives from the conviction that proxies like the “F” word should not overtake language creativity and a good sense of humor.

In this case, the FCC should become not only the interpreter of Congressional laws, but also the Viagra of the creative process. If left to corporate suits, creativity will be reduced to shouting matches among cursing, cussing and swearing (the English language is very rich with these types of terms) individuals. Just see what happened with those unregulated financial institutions involved with sub-rate mortgages! (They flooded the market with “F”-rated bonds).

Now, one could argue, why is only broadcast television stuck with this decency of indecency? Indeed, it shouldn’t be. Cable networks that profess to be family channels and have the privilege of being part of basic packages, should fall under this FCC jurisdiction as well. All other networks that are addressing “mature” audiences, and therefore require special subscriber orders, could use all the “F” words they want to entertain their immature audiences. In this case, it is to be expected that “F” word creators are paid by the number of “F” words they manage to insert in one sentence. Basically, they should be likened to “B” movie artists who are judged by the number of car crashes, blow-ups and the amount of brain matter spattered around by bullets.
I’m not impressed by The New York Times’ rationale either. The whole thing started with the broadcast of the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, when singer Cher accepted the prize uttering an expletive, which, as you could imagine, got much laughter.

Writers of such shows took note of the response and, predictably, at the next few occasions, managed to get the now infamously famous “F” word into telecasts. Unfortunately, the “F” word stratagem worked, making subsequent awards ceremonies much more laughable than the 2008 Oscars.

But while the American public was being entertained by the “F” word, the FCC people were enraged by it, if not outright cussing at it, and declared that, in the future, broadcasting “fleeting expletives” could lead to sizable fines. Clearly, the FCC doesn’t like American people enjoying themselves! At this point, the broadcasters went crying all the way to the U.S. Federal Appeals court, which struck down the FCC’s no “F” word rule. This rule was considered harsh because, in lieu of more creative material, it prevented laughter and, according to The New York Times, it has “done serious damage to free speech.”

Recently, the FCC petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court ruling and the Court agreed to review it. The FCC rationale is that the indecency rule reflects community standards, but, in my view, it would be more poignant if the FCC would argue before the Court that it should not uphold the ruling in order to protect the public right to be entertained by squeezing some creative juice out of –– as any spent comedian would say –– that F-- Hollywood.

Dom Serafini