November 19, 2004

Dirty Words and Naked Bodies

I am a huge proponent of free speech, and I am also a big believer in a person's ability to control what they are personally seeing/hearing and police what their children are seeing/hearing. Because of that, one of my blogging heroes is Jeff Jarvis over at Over the past year, he has been fighting a daily fight against censorship, the FCC, and hypocrisy. It is something I wish I could do, but I realize I'm not as informed, intelligent, qualified or well-spoken on the matter as Jeff is, so I stick to baseball. Except for today.

Back in February, the Federal Communications Commission freaked out when Janet Jackson flashed one of her breasts during the Super Bowl halftime show, fining and publicly chastising Viacom for broadcasting the "incident." Soon after that the FCC started fining Howard Stern and his parent company, also Viacom, for things Stern said on his radio show, while simultaneously ignoring similar goings on involving such people as Oprah Winfrey.

Recently Dale Earnhardt Jr. got in trouble for saying the "s-word" on a live broadast following a NASCAR race and last weekend a college football player got in similar trouble for uttering what is being described as "a vulgarity" in a live post-game interview. Also, 66 TV station affiliates across the country refused to air Saving Private Ryan for fear of FCC involvement, and Monday Night Football is catching an incredible amount of flak for airing a "steamy" pre-game intro that featured Terrell Owens and Nicollette Sheridan from Desperate Housewives, which didn't even show any actual nudity.

Personally, I am far more offended by what the government has done and is trying to do in these matters than anything I could ever see on television or hear on the radio. As Jarvis wrote earlier this week: "The FCC's rules are vague and its enforcement irresponsibly inconsistent. The FCC should be ashamed of itself. Congress should be ashamed of itself. Newspapers, TV stations, academics, and bloggers should be screaming at both over this violation of our most fundamental American right."

The number of people in this country who are scared of words and the human body is startling to me. Does anyone really think that Earnhardt saying "shit" in the heat of the moment during a post-race interview is a horrible, offensive thing? It's a word, that's it. Four letters, strung together to form something that the society has said means a particular thing. Go outside today and have some conversations, you'll more than likely hear it used a few times.

And is there anyone out there who is going to be scarred for life from seeing Sheridan's naked back? Or even from a two-second flash of Jackson's breast, which considering it was obscured by a big metal piercing and came without warning, was probably missed by a huge number of the people watching? But even if it wasn't, even if every kid in America was staring at that particular spot on a big-screen TV at that very moment, so what? It's a breast, with a nipple. Either all or half of the people in the world have one, depending on your definition of "breast," and this particular one happened to have a piercing on it.

I really don't get political on this blog very often, but this is perhaps my biggest issue. The idea that a group of un-elected "officials" is deciding what the country can and can't watch and what is and isn't "indecent" is outrageous to me. After the Sheridan/Owens skit on MNF, the FCC Commissioner, Michael Powell, showed up all over the place talking to every form of media he could possibly find. He kept saying he was "disappointed" in ABC and said, "I wonder if Walt Disney would be proud."

Guess what? Who cares if he's disappointed? Who cares whether or not he thinks someone should be proud of what was shown? His job is not to preach to us, his job is not to force his morals on us, his job is not to comment on television and radio. In fact, I'm not even sure what his job is, since he was handed the position without any say from the people he is suddenly serving as Big Brother for.

Your ability to watch and hear what you want, when you want is being decided by an extremely small group of people. A $1.2 million fine that was slapped on FOX for one of their shows, Married by America, being "sexually suggestive" came about because complaints were filed by -- get ready for this -- 23 people. And as Jarvis found out when he filed a Freedom of Information Act request, only three of those 23 complaints were not group form letters.

A show that was no doubt watched by a minimum of a million people received complaints from 23 people who may or may not have even watched the airing, and that was good enough to receive a $1.2 million fine. What about the 99.9% of the people who watched it and then went on with their lives? What about the millions of people who chose not to watch it at all? Jarvis was on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown the other night and said something I completely agree with: "The homophobia on The 700 Club offends me, but I don't suggest it should be taken off the air or fined by the government. I change the channel. Pick up the remote."

Now, you're free to debate whether or not there is anything wrong with The 700 Club, homophobia or otherwise, and since I don't watch the show I'm not suggesting it's true. However, the point is that suggesting The 700 Club is offensive because of homophobia is the same thing as suggesting Howard Stern is offensive because of "vulgarity" or "indecency." It is all a matter of personal taste, personal opinion. You might think one is offensive and one isn't, but that's all it is -- you thinking, your opinion. It is not "true" any more than the other side of the argument is true. If you don't like it, don't watch it. The country is "free" after all, right?

I don't need someone to preside over my viewing and listening habits and I resent the fact that there is a small minority in this country who see something they don't like and feel the need to force that opinion on the rest of us. I don't agree that these things receiving FCC fines are "indecent" and "immoral" and whatever other words are being attached to them, and millions of people in this country feel the same way.

People with a voice need to start fighting back. It's no longer about Janet Jackson or Howard Stern and it never was, although it has taken quite a while and quite a few more FCC rulings and finings for people to realize that. It is about a group of people deciding what you can and can't do, about a group of people complaining to Big Brother that they didn't like something they saw, so none of us should be able to see it.

You don't have to like Howard Stern's words or Janet Jackson's breast or racy Monday Night Football intros. You don't have to like nudity or curse words or violence. You don't have to like any of those things and, quite frankly, I don't care if you do or don't. But you should like the country, you should like freedom of speech, you should like the First Amendment. And you shouldn't like the fact that those values are being pissed on because the members of some commission somehow got the power to do so.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- Strike Zone Dominance in Context (Dazzy and Pedro!) (by Steve Treder)

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