Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fox vs. FCC Grudge Match - The Supreme Court Edition

Everyone who watches television and/or listens to the radio knows the affect that the FCC has had on those two mediums in the last number of years. Ever since the world got a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast during the half-time show at the 2004 Superbowl, the FCC has been on an unchallenged rampage, deeming this or that to be obscene with seemingly no rhyme or reason and without any accountability. People can't possibly be held responsible for paying attention to what they watch or even worse, paying attention to what their children watch. No, some other entity must be responsible for saving the children and for saving us from ourselves. Wouldn't want to be scarred for life because someone got a glimpse of a boob they didn't expect. Now, I don't have kids, but I would think that if your kid was watching the Superbowl and got a quick glimpse of Janet's breast and wanted to know what the big deal was or what happened, you as the parent could have taken the opportunity to explain that in the States, some people think it's not right to be naked on television. It's something private and personal, but nothing to be ashamed of - different cultures have different beliefs, and things aren't necessarily right or wrong, just different. I would think that would have been much less traumatizing to a child than a parent/guardian/adult flipping out about the exposure and screaming and carrying on about it. And if any adults were traumatized by Janet's boob, then seriously, you need help, way more than the FCC could ever provide you.

And I could see where people can expect that if they're seeing a family show, they're not going to encounter nudity or anything remotely resembling bad language. But if you're watching "NYPD Blue", you're really going to be outraged by seeing some kind of nudity or hearing some bad language? If you're watching that kind of show, you don't expect something more than sunshine and light? Heck, blood and violence are apparently ok, but love and sex are considered obscene? In any case, if you're letting your kids watch that show, then you're an idiot. If you happen to be channel-surfing during the two seconds that the nudity is shown, then that's just bad luck on your part. And even then, are your sensibilities so paper thin that brief nudity is going to create a chasm in your soul?

Even in a case where broadcasters requested ahead of time for some guidance on whether a particular broadcast would be considered indecent, the FCC refused to cooperate. And we're not talking about television stations wanting to show something like Playboy After Dark. No, the indecent, heinous thing they wanted to show on broadcast television was "Saving Private Ryan" around Veteran's Day in 2004. The FCC refused to say ahead of time whether they would fine stations for showing that movie. It's not like you didn't know what the movie was about. It's not a sexual romp or anything like that. It's a film about the very real trauma experienced by soldiers during a war. Usually with that kind of thing, they have disclaimers and such broadcast repeatedly, so it's not like you're not going to know what you're watching. And it's not just for sensationalism's sake. It's history. Ooooo, but it's not appropriate. Bite me.

But there are people out there who need to not only have someone control what they watch, but they also feel the need to control what other people watch. Turning off the TV or changing the radio station would be entirely too much responsibility for them to take. No, they must protect the entire frickin' world from what they deem to be so incredibly horrible. And the FCC decides that if a handful of people complain about something, then they must be the ones whose voices must be heard. Never mind the MILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO AREN'T COMPLAINING, who don't need to have their hands held or eyes or ears covered at every little thing, who are perfectly capable of being adults and deciding for themselves what they and their children are to be exposed to.

And for eons, the FCC has continued to go unchallenged.

Until now.

During the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003 that were broadcast on Fox, a couple of celebrities let loose with some expletives. In 2006 (it took 3 and 4 years to arrive at this decision?), the FCC cited Fox for those expletives. Fox challenged the citation since the FCC had a history of not issuing citations in cases where it was basically an outburst during a live show, and the challenge has been upheld by a federal appeals court. The FCC has asked the Supreme Court to address the issue, and in a move that is surprising to many, the Supreme Court has agreed. Some have speculated that the Supreme Court could review not only the specific instances of one-time live outbursts but also the FCC's indecency policy altogether, which operates under the guise that it is in place to protect children who may be watching. The last time that the Supreme Court ruled on an indecency matter was in 1978 involving a radio case, but many argue that an updated precedent needs to be set in these technologically-advanced times when parents have many options on devices that can control what their children watch.

I have no idea how the Supreme Court is going to rule, but I'm optimistic that no matter how they rule, there will at least be some kind of guideline set for what's acceptable, something the FCC has refused to do. And hopefully, the Supreme Court will take into account the changed society we live in today where Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, a married couple, no longer have to sleep in separate beds.

I originally read about this story in Daily Variety yesterday, but stories about this are pretty much all over. Here's a Reuters article, here's an Adweek article, here's a San Francisco Chronicle article, and here's an AFP article.

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