Bozell: Hollywood's Ridiculous Day at the Supreme Court

Brent Bozell's culture column this week delved into the ditch that is Fox Entertainment. Although many find Fox News to be a breath of fresh air in news, Fox Entertainment often seems lewd, crude, and even coming unglued. Armed with plenty of cash to defend the right of Hollywood lame-brains like Nicole Richie and Cher to swear on awards shows in front of the Supreme Court, Fox's lawyer, Carter Phillips, proceeded to make a complete buffoon of himself:

When Justice Stevens asked if there were changes in community standards over the last thirty years, if society had grown more tolerant of curse words, Carter Phillips, the profanity-favoring attorney for Fox, proclaimed: “I believe that society is significantly more tolerant of these words today than it was 30 years ago.” Justice Scalia replied: “Do you think your clients have had anything to do with that?”

The answer is, of course, self-evident. There is no greater cultural influence on impressionable youth than the entertainment industry. Both a bucket of scientific studies and plain common sense validate this, but Phillips, being the kind of clever lawyer who can seem plausible as he expresses the completely ridiculous, rejected any responsibility: “In the scheme of things, probably very, very little to do with that compared to the way the language is used. Go to a baseball game, Justice Scalia. You hear these words every time you go to a ball game.”

Really? It’s less ridiculous to argue that profanity at a ball game in front of children might also be caused by Hollywood’s bleep-tastic example. Phillips surely knows that anyone who’s rude enough to smoke at the ball park will be seen by good liberals as the fault of the tobacco industry. Back to Brent:

Justice Scalia sensibly argued to the senseless Mr. Phillips that there is a great difference between broadcast television and a comparatively private utterance to people within earshot at a stadium. Scalia said he doesn’t agree that the public is more tolerant of profanity, just more resigned to it. He was idealistic enough to say that television should have a higher aim, of living up to a linguistic standard of what is “normal in polite company.”

The whole notion of “polite company” seems completely archaic (and even anti-competitive) in the arena of today’s manufacturers of “entertainment.” Scalia declared TV shows were producing a “coarsening of manners,” but obviously, Hollywood’s hired legal guns see the simple idea of manners as a red herring. They believe the real principle to be revered in law and in custom is the constitutional right to curse on the public airwaves, even if the public, overwhelmingly, objects to it....

Hollywood’s lawyers are also arguing against the FCC’s legalistic definition of profanity (and common sense) when they suggest that when people use the F-word, it doesn’t always have a sexual connotation. When Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the sexual charge of the F-word is what gives the word its shock value, Phillips bizarrely claimed: “I suppose you can say it, but I don't understand on what basis. There is no empirical support for that.” This caused Scalia to tickle the audience again, saying people “don’t use ‘gollywoggles’ instead of the F-word.”

This whole argument may have been ended up being politically unnecessary, but it was nonetheless culturally instructive. It demonstrated that Hollywood’s legal hired guns could perform even more shamelessly than Hollywood itself.

Right on. How can people assert with a straight face that the F-bomb isn't a sex term? And does it matter? Anyone with common sense would acknowledge that if someone walked onto a grade-school playground and started dropping the F-bomb in ways that don’t clearly connote sex, the wordis every bit as shocking and impolite as if every utterance referred to intercourse.

Back in a 1970s profanity case, Justice John Harlan famously wrote "one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric." That certainly sounded an alarm of moral relativism. But in today’s world, it takes on added meaning. People actually love the sound of profanity, and profanity is often a very healthy percentage of the lyrics in rap music. But like many things that are considered "adult" in nature, it would be more mature not to employ them in front of children as what SpongeBob (in typical cluelessness) described as "sentence enhancers."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis