Yesterday, as the serious threat of the swine flu epidemic loomed even larger over the nation and while the economy sunk even deeper in its dismal downward-spiral, the public servants at the US Supreme Court, as a result of actions by the public servants at the FCC, wasted more public time in their drawn-out debate of the use of so-called "fleeting expletives" on US airwaves.
The 5-4 ruling, which endorsed a Bush administration Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy, upheld a federal prohibition on the one-time use of [fleeting] expletives in a case arising in part from words uttered by Bono, Nicole Richie, and Cher. It was at a live television broadcast of the 2002 Billboard Music Awards show on Fox TV that Cher, while at the podium accepting an Artist Achievement Award, and in response to critics who had said her career was dead, famously said, “People have been telling me I’m on the way out every year, right? So fuck ‘em.”
Was Cher right in what she said? Probably so (about the critics) and good for her for expressing her honest views. But should she have cursed on a family viewed TV show? Probably not, but it is not a huge big deal in my opinion-- not one that deserves so much attention and resources poured into it, especially during these critical times. Cher's one-off use of the F word on a live show or Bono's equally blown-out-of-proportion use of the same word in adjective form (as in “this is really, really, fucking brilliant”) at the live NBC televised 2003 Golden Globe Awards, which the FCC ruled as “indecent,” and hence deserving of a fine, are both non-issues that should not have caused such a fuss. But as they stand, they are a most important issue since they address the First Amendment.
The Fox television network has challenged the FCC's decision, arguing that their policy violated the First Amendment. And as the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had previously argued in this long, drawn out case, the FCC has been inconsistent in its application of its “indecency” test. The perfect example they cited was how the same FCC did not consider the repeated utterances of the words "shit" and “fuck" in the Tom Hanks movie Saving Private Ryan to be indecent. This, they rightfully argued, made it quite difficult for television broadcasters to know what was not allowed. Furthermore, it was indicated that the agency might be making judgements based on its subjective view of the merits of a particular speech.
Many of these FCC enforcements on television and radio broadcasters are based on so-called "community standards" and harken back to a time when AM/FM radio & network TV were the main forms of media-- a time before the Internet and before the average household TV picked up hundreds of (mostly cable) stations, all of which operate under a different set of standards...for now. But how much longer before the FCC tries to enforce these same rigid rules on cable channels and Internet sites, including streaming radio websites?
Generally speaking about American censorship, the issue that always amazes me is how often acts of violence or cruelty are permissible when so called "indecent" language is not. And as for this current issue, to me the biggest irony is how the government, through its FCC agency, is more concerned with putting time & energy (dollars) into publicly scolding & fining because some pop star uttered the "F" word on live TV while the very same government has been so slow in stopping greedy corrupt financial institutions from figuratively doing the actual deed to so many Americans!