What is this country turning into, a Margaret Atwood novel? I was disgusted the other day when I read about the latest machinations of the holier-than-thou FCC. This government agency, funded by our tax dollars, proposed a $3.6 million fine against CBS for airing an episode of "Without a Trace" that dealt with the possible rape of a high school student. They also upheld the previous $550,000 fine against 20 network affiliates for Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl two years ago. Maybe my irritation was exacerbated by the fact that these rulings were issued on the very day that a horrific tragedy occurred at my daughter's Los Angeles elementary school that took the life of a 24-year-old teacher and seriously injured eight students. When I read the articles about the Puritanical obsessions of the FCC, all I could think of is the countless hours of wasted time and the millions of tax dollars spent discussing these issues instead of looking at important topics that really affect our children. Does anyone on this planet believe that the two-second flash of Janet Jackson's right boob caused any trauma among the youth of America? Are girls across the country now longing to expose themselves at high school football games?
We weren't watching the Super Bowl at my house in 2004, but I would happily show my 5th-grade daughter Leah and every child I know the footage of Janet Jackson without fear of damaging their pre-pubescent psyches. As far as I'm concerned, they could have spliced in scenes from La Toya Jackson's ill-fated Playboy video, what is so threatening about the flash of a woman's breast? Isn't the sight of brother Michael Jackson's surgically altered face far more disturbing? Or, for that matter, the violence depicted in the actual football game that is so revered?
When all the hoopla started over Janet Jackson, I honestly thought it was a joke and I was sure it would die down in a few days. I never dreamed that the meaningless incident would herald the Dawn of a New Age that makes the accusers of Hester Prynne look like tree-hugging lefties. For all the hubbub it caused, it's clear that Janet Jackson's breast is a greater peril to our society than the war in Iraq or the threat of nuclear weapons. Maybe we should give the FCC honchos even more power so they can brand a scarlet letter just above Jackson's nipple or even force her to undergo a radical mastectomy so that our children are spared any further torment.
Have you ever listened to the smarmy Bush appointees on the FCC? The crackdown on alleged indecency begun by former chairman Michael Powell and now continuing under the leadership of his successor Kevin Martin reminds me of the terrifying government on display in the film "V for Vendetta" which I saw this weekend. Excellent, provocative film which made me think of many of the other witch hunts in our country's past. Doesn't it usually turn out that the people who are most rabidly attacking so-called decency standards are the ones who are struggling internally with their own guilt and shame issues? You only have to look at the 50-year-reign of J. Edgar Hoover who used his power at the FBI to ruin lives and discriminate against people he accused of being "perverts" while he himself was by many accounts a deeply closeted gay man.
About the Janet Jackson incident, FCC Chairman Martin stated last week that "we appropriately reject the argument that CBS continues to make that this material is not indecent. That argument runs counter to commission precedent and common sense." Whose common sense? Following the rulings, Jonathan Rintels, Executive Director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, said that "today's FCC indecency decisions put creative, challenging, controversial, non-homogenized broadcast television programming at risk. These decisions illustrate the significant problems with the Commission's enforcement of its indecency rules. They are vague, arbitrary, insufficiently attuned to the context and quality of the program, and bear no relation to 'contemporary community standards,' as the Commission's own rules require."
Certain language on some daytime talk shows was fined but the same language used on Oprah Winfrey's show was deemed acceptable. (Mustn't upset Oprah.) The word "bullshit" got a station in St. Louis a fine for airing the film "The Search for D.B. Cooper" even though the film has been shown several times in the past. The Spanish-language NBC-Telemundo network was fined $32,500 for airing a movie called "Con el Corazon en la Mano" in 2004 even though viewers were warned about the film's content through a written advisory and a TV-MA rating and the scene in question was pivotal to the movie's plot. What led to the fine? ONE complaint from a shocked viewer. In response to objections, the FCC stated that the two characters in the scene "quite clearly appear to be having sexual intercourse, with his groin thrusting into hers as she moans, until he finally stops and rolls off of her." Such descriptions make me think that these nuts are sitting in darkened rooms getting off on these films and TV shows that they have decided must be censored.
All of the fines are absurd but one of them was so appalling and potentially damaging I still can't believe it.
PBS was fined $15,000 for airing acclaimed director Martin Scorsese's documentary "The Blues." Scorsese showed some documentary footage that included famous blues musicians talking about their music. I'd be so thrilled if my 11-year-old daughter or any child her age WANTED to watch this documentary and learn about this important part of American history that I'd let her make posters for her bedroom using the salty language uttered by the talented musicians. Why the hell was the use of "shit" fined in Scorsese's documentary on PBS while the same language uttered by fictional soldiers in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" was NOT considered indecent when it aired on network television?
I can only imagine the number of documentaries and other interesting programming that is currently being pulled out of production by terrified and spineless network executives. Not that I'm a Howard Stern-loving no-holds-barred advocate of sex and profanity on the airwaves. I am all for parents having a major role in deciding what is okay for their young children to watch. But I am not comforted by the existence of groups such as the Parents Television Council which organizes FCC letter-writing campaigns for shows they find remotely objectionable. Looking at their list of the Best and Worst TV Shows in 2006, I see shows like "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" on the Best list (gag me) and "Will and Grace" and "Arrested Development" consistently on the Worst list. I'm not surprised that "Arrested Development," one of the most creative, funny sitcoms to appear on television since Norman Lear's 1970s heyday, has already been cancelled. But what on earth about "Will and Grace" has made it so consistently a target of the PTC's letter-writing campaigns? The simple fact that it includes openly gay characters who are not ashamed of their sexuality? Compared to the provocative content of "All in the Family," "Will and Grace" seems more like an episode of "Leave it to Beaver" than anything we need to protect our children from.
Again, please don't get me wrong. If anything I'm something of a prude when it comes to what I want my daughter exposed to. I can't stand the slutty dress and personae of singers such as Christina Aguilera and I am against anything that depicts children in a sexual light. But I sure as hell don't want these Bush-appointed FCC idiots, who probably want to bring back Lucy and Ricky's separate twin beds, deciding what should be on the air.
Why can't these government agencies stop policing our lives and let parents assume the responsibility for instilling values in their children? Hey, wait a minute--isn't that what the Republican Party has supposedly been pushing for all along?
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