News - No f***ing way

FCC ruling encourages trashing of cultural standards

"I f***ing love you."

"F*** you."

"How the f*** should I know?"

"All right, where the f*** is the "f***ing key?"


Thus would any given episode of "The Osbournes" MTV show unfold. Apparently, to TV executives, and many in the viewing world, this show represents just your average, everyday, uh, family. While the language this "family" employs falls into the category once described — in a land far, far away and long, long ago — as the sort that "would make a sailor blush," to the MTV generation, blushing is as passe as feeling shame when caught cheating on a school exam. It just isn't done any more.

Still, the coarseness, vulgarity and profanity that has invaded MTV, and indeed much of programming found elsewhere on cable TV shows, was, until Jan. 19, 2003, absent from network television. On that day, during the televised Golden Globe Awards ceremony, broadcast to some 14 million households, singer Bono of the group U2, upon receiving an award, responded in typical MTV-generation fashion, exclaiming, "[T]his is really, really f***ing brilliant." Leaving aside the question of whether, in so reacting to the award, Bono was expressing pleasure or disgust, the question became, was the use of the "f word" on network television either "indecent" or "obscene" according to Federal Communications Commission standards?

Common sense would dictate a quick, unequivocal response to this question — "of course use of the 'f word' on network television was both indecent and obscene; after all, it's one of the most, if not the most, indecent words one can use." The language rocket scientists at the FCC decided otherwise. In so doing, they arguably have removed the final barrier to the anything-goes, no-holds-barred and no-standards world that former federal judge Robert Bork aptly described as Slouching Towards Gomorrah, the title of his 1996 book describing the decline of culture in the late 20th-century western world.

Aside from the most fundamental question about what this decision says about the state of culture (more accurately "un-culture") in today's America, the actual opinion issued by the FCC is itself illustrative of how weak-kneed Washington is when it comes to establishing or enforcing cultural standards. The written opinion is a fascinating — if discouraging — peek into the drivel that passes for learned thought among government's so-called intelligentsia.

In finding Bono's profound characterization of the Golden Globe Award as "f***ing brilliant" to constitute acceptable prime-time speech over the public airwaves, the FCC language police argued in such as way as to make former President Clinton's lawyers smile with pride. You remember those folks, don't you? The ones who dismissed out of hand every allegation, every piece of evidence establishing the former president's perjury and obstruction of justice, because, after all, everything must be considered "in context." In their universe, since the truth or accuracy of everything depends ultimately on "the context" in which it is uttered or intended, nothing can ever really be wrong because there's always some "context" somewhere, somehow, some way, in which those words, those thoughts, those deeds, are justifiable.

The FCC geniuses also seemed to be groveling for a pat on the head from no less a practitioner of the language arts, than Bill Clinton himself. You remember him, don't you? The guy who, with quite a straight face, told us "it all depends on what the meaning of is is." The guy who set the standard for an entire generation by declaring that oral sex is not "sex." That's right, that ex-president. Well, that ex-president would be proud of the FCC folks who, in their Oct. 3, 2003, memo dismissing the complaints against the airing of Bono's remarks, tell us their research leads them to conclude that the "f word," despite its clear, obvious and unequivocal meaning involving sexual activities, "does not describe sexual ... activities ... in the context presented here." It's all a matter of "context." The new FCC standard is that any word, no matter how offensive and regardless of its plain meaning or derivation, is OK for utterance on network television (and, by logical extension, radio), so long as the word is used as an "adjective or expletive" or as an "insult." You read that correctly. You can now tell someone to "f*** off" on network TV because in that context, the word is used as an "insult."

Like I said, Clinton and his bevy of contextual lawyers would be proud. Heck, for all we know, maybe they wrote the first draft of the FCC opinion.

The bottom line is, thanks to the FCC, the next time Britney Spears french kisses a woman old enough to be her mother on network TV, she can with impunity turn to the cameras and say to all the young girls watching her every move, "that was f***ing cool." The reality is, of course, it isn't cool. It's profoundly sad and disturbing that this is the depth to which Americans have allowed their culture to sink, even as the federal agency charged with guarding against this slide does not stand idly by, but greases the slippery slope.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr can be reached at bob.barr@creativeloafing.com.

The Blotter
COVID Updates
Latest News
Current Issue