Wednesday, March 02, 2005

FCC gets one right... for the wrong reasons

What people miss about the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is that they aren't actually "responsible" for the censorship or (lack thereof) of radio and TV. They only really "step in" when compelled to do so, and like most governemt entities they do their best to "work" as little as possible. For the most part they are merely enforcing laws previously decided upon by Congress or (as is more often the case these days) responding to pressure from agenda-driven lobbyists and/or "watchdog" groups like the Parents Television Council or the American Family Association. (You can read my full expose of the PTC at the link below:)

The FCC has been in the news again for the last few days, following their decision that "Saving Private Ryan" can run unedited if broadcasters so desire:

Now, firstly, this is an enormous victory for common sense in the Culture Wars, and represents a major setback for the finger-wagging Puritanism that has gotten so uppity since the manufactured controversy of the Janet Jackson Halftime Incident. Let's put it this way: Saying that a network cannot air "Ryan," a patriotic ode to WWII heroics because of foul language used by characters playing soldiers under fire is so blatantly moronic an idea that even the PTC's professional-prude leader L. Brent Bozell thinks it should be left alone:

"We agreed with the FCC on its ruling that the airing of 'Schindler's List' on television was not indecent and we feel that 'Saving Private Ryan' is in the same category. In both films, the content is not meant to shock, nor is it gratuitous."

Lest you think Bozell is going soft on us, though, the PTC this week is launching a campaign against the "CSI" franchise. True to form, what finally tipped the scale wasn't "CSI's" celebrated gorey violence, but an episode centered around kinky sex fetishism. At least they're consistent.

So the PTC is cool with "Ryan," but the even MORE radical fringe of the Religious "Right" isn't. The "American Family Association" is mad as hell:
You can check the AFA's official website here:

There's nothing too special or imporant about the AFA. Most have never heard of them, and they aren't taken that seriously even on the censorship circuit. They're pretty cookie-cutter as these things go, like most religious groups with "family" in their name they have very little to offer in the way of family-help and dedicate most of their time attempting to undermine the First Ammendment and spread hatred for gays and lesbians. The only interesting thing about them is that their founder is one Donald E. Wildmon.

Wildmon was a big wheel on the Christian pro-censorship movement back in the 80s, but he lost essentially all mainstream credibility when he went to battle against Mighty Mouse because he was positive that the cartoon hero was a cocaine addict. No, seriously, that's what happened. Read all about it in THIS expose on Wildmon:

But since that expose is long, here's the topical part:

"In the disputed episode, Wildmon charged Bakshi with portraying Mighty Mouse as experiencing drug-induced exhilaration after inhaling the petals of a flower. Mighty Mouse had sniffed cocaine, Wildmon contended."

Somehow, the term "religious nut" suddenly seems so... inadequate.

Anyway, here's why I think the FCC still got this wrong: In making their decision, the FCC came down heavily on the side that "Ryan" got a pass because of the "context." In other words, "these are still naughty words, but it's an important historical movie so that makes it okay." Now look, I'm all for anything that helps point out how pointless and wrong any of the broadcast decency laws are, but the plain fact is, the context shouldn't matter.

If these words are inherently harmful, which is the entirely wrongheaded, unproven and unprovable "logic" on which the whole decency-laws concept is founded, then it should not make them "less bad" if presented in a film about WWII or the Holocaust. Likewise, if Tom Hanks cussing in a movie is okay, then one of the Desperate Housewives doing the same should be okay too. If this was a court case, allowing "SPR" to use "harsh language" on TV would free up everyone else's right to do it on TV as well, (fair-and-equal treatment, remember?)

The FCC is right to allow networks the right to run "Ryan" uncut, but they were wrong to stop there. By reaffirming the intangible of "context" as a mitigating factor, the FCC has ensured that broadcast "standards" will continue to be run through an ideology of complete hypocrisy.


neolithic said...

Wow. Not to be mean, but I'm glad I live up here in the Great White North. That's just nuts. How, in a free society, do people get so nuts? Did they selectively forget that history lesson from high school about the holy crusades? About the many, MANY thousands killed over a belief? And I use crusades for the topic from one of the links in this post.

The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon’s Crusade for Censorship, 1977-1992I know you all have the Patriot Act, so "some" of your freedoms have been compromised to fight terror (I won't delve into this), but this has been going on far before 9-11. Somebody has to tell these idealist right wing religious nuts that one of the costs of a free society with free speech is that things said are going to offend others, and those being offended have to sit down, shut up and take it.

And I truly am worried about what kind of damage a show (which I enjoyed in my teens no doubt), the Wonder Years, is going to do to society as a whole.

Cheers Bob, loved the post. We need more voices like yours.

Neolithic Films

Bob said...

Thanks for the kind words, and always glad to hear from Canada.

Speaking only for myself, I think the big problem "we" (i.e. Americans) have down here when it comes to censorship and other issues like this is a lot of us have a kind "Mr. Fixit" complex when it comes to social problems and uncomfortable situations, and we're used to "using" maleable bereaucratic entities like the FCC etc. to put a short-term patch on them rather than dealing with them in the long-term.

In my mind, there's really no major difference between the "politically correct" censorship of content the 90s and the "traditional values" censorship movement right now, save that the religious-fringe element in current pro-censorship movement is especially virulent right now. No matter what ideology is motivating you, trying to silence opinions you don't like with fines and penalties to remake the world in your vision is wrong, and what's more it will come back and bite you in the rear the MOMENT the "other side" gets it's turn at the steering wheel.

neolithic said...

Yeah. I can see that even through the blizzards and heavy snow up here.


But to be serious, the Mr. Fixit analogy seems to hit very close to the truth.

So I ask this. Why do we have censorship? Biggest reason? Our children. We're all concerned about our kids. Our intentions come from the right place. But the actions of Mr. Fixit come from the absolutely wrong one.

First off, it's only after (whom I will for now on name Mr. Fixit... though I assume you all know who I'm talking about... the soap-box mom and dads who complain and want classic films and books out of kids hands) our Mr. Fixit even notices there's "questionable" material that there's a fuss. And that's the problem. Mr. Fixit believes TV is a good way to keep kids out of his/her hair. Mr. Fixit then actually watches said programming, sees the "effect" on their kids, and then they start to kick up a stink.

I ask simply this.

Why not be an active part of your child's life instead of just telling them what they can or can't do, have them babysat by TV, and blame everyone else but yourself for your lack of parenting?

Just my 2 cents.

Neolithic Films