Bozell Column: Judges Find Dignity In Profanity
On July 12, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City warmly offered the TV networks exactly what they wanted: the shredding of the FCC's lamely enforced rules against broadcast indecency. As of now, the network stars can swear at will in front of impressionable children. These judges did not rule narrowly on the focus of the case – “fleeting expletives” that networks aired unintentionally. They ruled broadly in favor of all expletives.
There’s no other way to say this. The ruling is idiocy.
Judge Rosemary Pooler, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, concluded the FCC's prohibitions against F-bombs and S-words are somehow “unconstitutionally vague.” She claimed they weren't suggesting it was impossible for the FCC to construct a constitutional decency regime. But the decision made it clear these judges don't think the FCC should even bother.
“The observation that people will always find a way to subvert censorship laws may expose a certain futility in the FCC's crusade against indecent speech,” Pooler wrote. Note the wording. “Censorship laws.” “Crusade.” It is precisely the language of Hollywood lobbyists.
Pooler, a Bill Clinton appointee who ran for Congress as a liberal Democrat and lost in both 1986 and 1988, concluded the judicial opinion by actually trying to paint artistic gloss and literary glitter on profanity. She declared the FCC “chills a vast amount or protected speech dealing with some of the most important and universal themes in art and literature.” How can we dress up the F-bomb in artistic terms? Here’s how: “Sex and the magnetic power of sexual attraction are surely among the most predominant themes in the study of humanity since the Trojan War.” How do we excuse the S-word? I am not making this up: “The digestive system and excretion are also important areas of human attention.”
The judges ruled with lingo straight from the Hollywood playbook. When the Supreme Court allowed decency enforcement in 1978, it was in the prehistoric era of technology. The Internet was in its infancy and people didn’t watch videos on laptops or mobile phones. New technology (and especially the ascent and even equivalency of cable TV) therefore make decency enforcement as pointlessly passe as polyester leisure suits.
The more cars we put on the road, the more driving infractions we have. Should speeding laws be banned?
The judges had more to say, unfortunately. Trying to prevent dirty words is apparently outdated daily by the newest slang. “The English language is rife with creating ways of depicting sexual or excretory organs or activities,” Pooler lectured, “and even if the FCC were able to provide a complete list of all such expressions, new offensive and indecent words are invented every day.”
Therefore, it’s okay to use language in front of a six-year-old child that would have my syndicator fire me were I to include it in this newspaper column.
These judges clearly have a slant toward Hollywood excess. Pooler’s opinion mocked the FCC for suggesting TV executives are more interesting in sleazy ratings gambits than decency: “While the FCC characterizes all broadcasters as consciously trying to push the envelope on what is permitted, much like a petulant teenager angling for a better curfew, the Networks have expressed a good faith desire to comply with the FCC's indecency regime.”
Someone as naive – no, someone as ignorant – as this should not be writing opinions. I suspect the industry heads burst out laughing when they read it.
Anyone who's had half an eye on broadcast television in the last ten years would not be so ridiculous as to suggest that Hollywood hasn't been trying to push the envelope on what frontier of dirty language, sex, and violence it can surpass. Of course, broadcasters came into the courtroom to tell judges they’ve made a “good faith” effort. But the record shows – the useless V-chip, the corrupted ratings system, and so much else – that they could care less.
After the decision, the broadcasters kept the phony routine going, insisting that nothing would change now on TV. "It's legally permissible for stations to air uncut R-rated movies after 10 p.m. -- or to have Letterman and Leno dropping F-bombs," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told The Washington Post. "But you never see or hear that material from broadcasters because of the relationships and expectations we've built with our audiences over decades."
If there were such an “expectation” over “decades,” it was the expectation that the networks could at least draw a line of decency at the nastiest, dirtiest words in front of children. But they’ve spent years now and fortunes of money advocating in court for the right to proclaim profanities at children in every hour of the broadcast day, and when they win, they suggest they never intend to push that envelope? Please.