Friday, February 18, 2005

Your freedom is in danger! Plus: Meet the people responsible!

Before I run this peice, concerning the recent proposed changes to FCC policy, I think I ought to outline my personal views on the overall subject of government media-regulation so that we're all on the same page as to the prism through which this and stories like it will be viewed. My views on said subject are as follows:

There has never been, in the HISTORY OF HUMANKIND, a single provable case or even a single reputable study to support the notion that ANY item of the arts or media, (be it music, radio or TV broadcast, film, painting, sculpture, literature or otherwise,) is inherently harmful to view, see, read or listen to.

Read that last statement over again, and let it sink in. NEVER. Thats how many times someone has proven that a work of art or media is automatically "harmful." ZERO. That's how many reputable studies exist to support the idea that they could even in theory be automatically harmful. There is NO video game can be gauranteed to make anyone who plays it shoot up their high school. There is NO movie that can be garaunteed to turn your kid into a serial killer. There is NO album that can be gauranteed to make any listener commit suicide. Even that episode of "Pokemon" where the flashing light-patterns caused a mass-outbreak of seizures among Japanese children did not effect 100% of those who saw it. Are we crystal clear about this? These things DO NOT EXIST. At all.

Thusly, it is not merely my "belief," but my conclusion based on the logic outline above, that in the complete absence of the garauntee of harm no branch of the State or Federal Government has the right to regulate ANY book, picture, film, television or radio broadcast, musical peice, or ANY work of creative media in regards to it's content.

By extension of that basic principal, it is also my belief and conclusion that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has absolutely no right under the United States Constitution to regulate content and levy fines for "broadcast indecency" as it currently does. The FCC should be stripped of all such powers, and relegated strictly to the function of regulating the corporate and financial behaviors of Broadcast entities.

All power to regulate art and media content should be stripped from the government and placed exclusively in the domain of the private business owners who operate the television stations, movie theaters, art galleries, publishing houses, bookstores, etc. They, and the market they serve, should be the sole determiners of what is decent or indecent, what is regulated and in what manner. We are, after all, still allegedly a free market society.

Ahem.

Having said my peice in that regard, on to the news...

On February 16th, 2005, the United States House voted overwhelmingly to give the Federal Communications Commission the go-ahead on a proposed hike in broadcast indencency fines from their current $32,500 to a staggering $500,000. A lighter (but at $325,000 still inexcusably high) version of this legislation is favored by the Senate, which has to either approve the House vote or iron out a compromise between the two before any legislation can be passed on to President Bush for final approval.

Get the broader details HERE:
http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050217/REPOSITORY/502170363/1013/NEWS03

If you don't understand why this is big deal, then you need to start paying attention to this stuff and now. I do not care if you are a Republican, a Democrat, independent, undecided, red-state or blue-state or whatever, this comes down to a simple fundamental truth: This is the government making laws to control speech. The higher fines will make it easier for the government to punish someone who says or shows something they don't like. This is a way for a government body to get around the First Amendment. The freedom to express even unpopular speech is not just an important aspect of American life, it's THE MOST important aspect of American life.

This is not about "making broadcast radio and television safe for family viewing," as the White House said in a prepared statement. To that I demand to know: "Who's definition of 'safe?'" and "Who's family? Your family? Mine? The Manson Family? The Partridge Family?" This is not about families or safety. This is about reactionary societal-regressives, motivated primarily by fringe elements of Religious Fundamentalism and cultural "traditionalists" who desire the re-engineering of American culture in their image through the use of government regulation. This is about CONTROL.

Back to boldface for a spell: Can you guess how much I think the FCC should be allowed to fine for "obscene" material on TV? Hm? How about ZERO dollars?

Of course, this is motivated almost entirely by the events of about a year ago, when a cheezy publicity stunt at the MTV-produced Superbowl halftime show resulted in the "shocking" (yes, shocking, simply shocking!!!) revelation to billions of impressionable TV viewers that fading pop diva Janet Jackson was possessed of an upper-torso epidermal feature also shared by every single person watching the show. The offending feature is colloquially refered to as a "nipple," and anyone who honestly still thinks this was EVER even worth getting mildly peeved about... Please, I'm begging you, get counciling.

Now, let's explore why this is a complete fraud:

The "Nipplegate" incident is part of a larger "story of the year" in 2004, i.e. the HUGE uptick in complaints to the FCC. The exact numbers are often disputed and hard to come by, but the figure is something like several hundred-thousand this year as opposed to a prior average of about a hundred. The way the enemies of free speech have so magnificiently spun this data, it's easy to buy into the Big Lie that TV has gotten "too raunchy" and that there's some kind of "silent majority" revolution going on in this country in favor of "good old-fashioned family values." It's not hard to look at this skewed data and conjure up the mental picture of hundreds of thousands of Smith's and Jones's deciding they've "finally had enough" of TV sex and violence (mostly sex) and sitting down spontaneously-en-masse to write impassioned strongly worded letters which in turn arrive in righteous, burying-bagfuls at the office of the FCC like some kind of facist Bizarro-World version of "Miracle on 34th Street." It's a powerful image, cinematic in scope and rife with pathos and symbolism...

...too bad it's NOT REAL.

What if I told you that there's BARELY the makings of an "uprising" out there? (There's also no spoon, but thats another column.) What if the whole "massive surge in viewer complaints" was a shadow and a fraud? What if, instead of thousands of angry individual Americans motivated to write strongly-worded letters to the FCC with specific complaints, the "surge" was actually coming from thousands internet-trolling "family values" malcontents adding "me too!" to a mass-mailing and that "writing a strongly-worded letter" was in reality "clicking a mouse button." What if a single group, founded by a single man was the mastermind behind the entire thing? Also a powerful image, cinematic in scope and rife with pathos and symbolism...

...except this time, IT'S REAL.

In January, the industry trade publication Mediaweek.com published shocking statistics about the entire FCC/Nipplegate debacle. It turns out that OVER 98% OF THE COMPLAINTS came from a single source. Read all about it over at Audio Video Revolution:
http://www.avrev.com/news/0105/6.indecency.html

They call themselves the Parent's Television Council. As an organization, they monitor the airwaves for anything they deem to be "indecent." When such a nugget is found, it is posted on their website out of context and made viewable to anyone who wants to see it. Those offended by the clips are then prompted to digitally add their name to a mass-mailing-style form letter that the PTC then forwards to the FCC. And what does the PTC define as "indecent?" As you might expect, they toe the "Religious Right" line in that respect, so naturally they are infinitely more concerned about sex than violence, and "deviant" (read: "gay") sexuality especially. See for yourself:
http://www.parentstv.org/

Everybody got that? Not a "moral majority" uprising in the mail. Not a spiritual fellowship of like-minded hardworking Americans. Websurfers with an agenda mass-mailing form letters from a politically-biased pro-censorship website.

And who's in charge here? His name is L. Brent Bozell. He's a professional censorship-advocate who, in addition to running the PTC, also operates the Media Research Center, which claims to be a "Conservative" watchdog outfit watching for "Liberal bias" in the media but basically exists to accuse anyone L. Brent Bozell disagrees with of being "biased." Here's the site, see for yourself:
http://www.mediaresearch.org/archive/entcol/welcome.asp

What REALLY irritates me about the Media Research Center is that their bogus claims of watchdog-hood cheapens the very real problem of political bias in journalism. Fortunately, a REAL Conservative watchdog-group with REAL credentials that ISN'T just twisting news to advance a so-called "family values" agenda exists, over at David Horowitz's Frontpagemag.net. Agree or disagree with Frontpage's politics, at least their fair and honest which is more than can be said for either of Bozell's operations. He's not a Conservative, he's a Religious Zealot, militantly anti-gay, anti-choice and only champions "conservative" causes when they advance his theological agenda...

...and hey, wouldn't you know it? He LOVED "The Passion."
http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/lbbcolumns/2004/0217.asp
Notice the little PTC link down the bottom to "send a thank-you note to Mel Gibson?" Man, sometimes this is just too easy.

When the REAL Constitutional Conservatives (and Libertarians) over at the respected CATO Insitute admirably stepped up and called out the PTC for the anti-freedom outfit it is, look how pissy Bozell got about it:
http://www.mediaresearch.org/archive/entcol/welcome.asp
(Scroll down to "CATO Lobbies for Hollywood" entry)

The article he's so upset about is by Adam Thierer, CATO's Thierer. I URGE you to read it, as it's the best anti-censorship article I'd read in many a moon:
http://www.cato.org/dailys/01-04-05.html

Money quote from Thierer:
"While the PTC claims to be non-partisan, the watchdog group's public policy advocacy adopts a distinctly social conservative and moralistic tone. Interestingly, the PTC's motto is: "Because Our Children Are Watching," which begs the question: Why are your children watching? Why are they watching Desperate Housewives or any other show you find objectionable? I know my kids aren't watching."

And one more:
"Conservatives and religious groups decry government activism in terms of educating our children, for example, but with their next breath call in Uncle Sam to play the role of surrogate parent when it comes to TV content."

Can I get an "Amen?"

CATO Institute is one of the most intelligent and important groups on the American political scene. Vacillating between Constitutional Conservatism and Libertarianism (kind of an exercise in hair-splitting, really) their operating motto is: "Individual Liberty, Limited Government, Free Markets & Peace." Couldn't have said it better myself. If you've never heard of them or visited their website, I reccomend you do so and look around. If you're into politics at all, from any side, this is pure brain-food:
http://www.cato.org/index.html

So anyhow...

Our Freedom's may have been be given to us by the blood of our Patriot forefathers, but keeping them is as responsibility for all of us. I, and many others like me, believe that the increased FCC-fines, motivated by bad, manipulated data, are a step in the direction of abridging those very freedoms. If you agree, do something about it.

You've all got a senator. You've all got a congressman. The White House Switchboards really do catalogue all the calls they get. Make your voice heard.

Yes, even if you disagree with everything I've said here. Despite the best efforts of The Parents Television Council and all their ilk, this is after all still a free country ;)