Friday, April 2, 2004

The FCC indecency obsession

The Federal Communications Commission has been on a real tear lately in the wake of Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson's top and having her boob flop out during the Super Bowl half time show.
Other offensive material during that broadcast - like those Cialis commercials which now run non-stop on TV, at all hours - seem to have gotten by the FCC. Maybe they all have erectial dysfunction problems or something, I don't know.
The FCC has also targeted Howard Stern for I think - good reasons, coming from a First Amendment advocate like myself. If Stern's show were on late night instead of the early morning, it wouldn't be such a problem. But when he tells a woman that he is so hot for her that he wants to cut off her head and rape her neck socket [an actual statement I heard Stern say once], I think it might be time to look at Stern's programming hour.
Sidebar: Strangely, the FCC isn't upset about a statement about raping a woman's neck socket - which he said a year or two ago - they are upset about the nudity and sex talk, which says a lot about the FCC's current tirades. IMHO, the nudity is amusing to watch on E! but annoying to listen to on the radio. Stern is currently threatening to go to one of the pay-to-listen satellite radio networks where he assumes he would be free from "censorship."

But now, the FCC is branching out - looking at the soap opera industry: ["FCC leader to stay tuned to racy soaps"] and maybe it is about time. Daily serials or soap operas are very racy indeed: rape, murder, and adultery, are all regular occurences on the daytime soaps. I know - I'm married to a "General Hospital" fan and when I was in high school, I was a regular watcher of both "GH" and "One Life to Live" [Yeah, I know, pretty pathetic. But it is similar to my fascination with pro-wrestling and the drama and plot lines, etc.].
However, maybe it is time for them to start looking at soaps. If Stern is fair game and a tassled Jackson tit is an outrage, they should turn on the daytime serials. And yeah, they should also look at how "Oprah!" has discussed some of the same sexual subject matters. Some of these shows are so over the top. And while they are at it, maybe the FCC should look at country music too! During the record labeling phase of the 1980s - when Tipper Gore was abusing her husband's power in the senate to flail against Twisted Sister, the Dead Kennedys and Frank Zappa - almost nothing was said about country music's offensive lyrics about adultery, murder, revenge, violence, etc. Country music was just as violent and "immoral" as punk rock or metal was. And we all know why Tipper didn't say word one about country music but attacked "violent" punks and metalheads [and later rap]: Country music fans are a more potent voting bloc!
I'll admit, I have mixed feelings about what the FCC is doing.
On the one side, there are some seriously offensive things on TV and radio right now which are regularly exposed to children and can easily be contributing to our accelerated violent society. But it isn't just the sex stuff, which the FCC seems obsessed with. It is violence. It is also commercials and consumerism bombarding the minds of kids. And there is almost no discussion about the corporatization of media interests into a few hands - which has clearly limited the voices on the airwaves to those who can afford to own them.
On the other side, there are the more libertarian-minded who say the government shouldn't limit any speech and people like Stern are unfairly being targeted by religious zealots. There is some truth to this. People can just shut off the radio. But some balance between the two is what is needed. There is a fine line between infringing on the First Amendment and keeping severely harmful material away from children. Frankly for the same reasons we wouldn't trust Clinton's FCC we shouldn't trust Bush's FCC either. The politization of the media is what makes it all dangerous. The Bush FCC is clearly motivated by preserving its religious base - similar to what Hillary Clinton tried to do by attacking the "vast rightwing conspiracy" - which pleased the liberal base.
In the end, we must remember that these are the people's airwaves. Currently, the people are being ruled by Bush and his misguided religious conservatives who wouldn't know the path of Jesus Christ if they tripped over it. They are going to try and get smut off the air. And some of this is good. The key will be to keep a very close eye on what they go after - and make sure it doesn't fringe on a broadcaster's political rights.