The FCC is a (expletive deleted) joke
I’ve long known that the FCC — or specifically their censorship arm — is a joke. This was especially confirmed in the months after the 2004 Super Bowl and its crappy MTV-produced halftime show starring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake and the infamous “wardrobe malfunction.”
People were shocked. Chagrined. Offended. Beside themselves. Ready to go blind because the humanity, the humanity, I can’t stand to watch it! We must protect our children for the love of God! The children, the fragile children!
While a stunt like that was lame and desperate-looking and a little crass, who was honestly so offended over seeing a breast that certain groups had to get worked up into a censorship frenzy? You’d think the thought police would have something better to do than use this as a final-straw example of declining broadcast decency, but nope, they realized more than ever that this was their time to come in and protect you! They sensed an opening for their agenda.
So the FCC went on the rampage, bowing, no doubt, to the political pressure of “family-values” “watchdog” groups like the Parents Television Council that have nothing better to do than spend hour after hour watching programming for potentially offensive content over which they can report complaints to the FCC and hopefully get fines levied upon the guilty stations that dared to air it, using the hit to the pocketbook as a future deterrent. I call groups like the PTC “tattletale brigades.” Meanwhile, the FCC decided to increase the fines for “indecent” on-air incidents.
This week, the FCC ruled on one such complaint. They fined 51 television stations $27,500 each for a total of $1.4 million over a scene in an episode of “NYPD Blue” that aired in 2003.
The episode, aired Feb. 25, 2003, included a shot of a woman’s “nude buttocks,” which the FCC found “titillating and shocking.” Commissioners said network cameras dwelled on the woman’s backside too long and too close up to for decency standards. It faulted stations in Middle America for showing the episode between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., a “safe-harbor” window for family programming. Stations in coastal time zones, which aired the episode after 10 p.m., were not fined.
— The Billings (Mont.) Gazette (full story)
First, set aside the fact that it has taken a full five years for this ruling to come down, which should give you some indication of how our government bureaucracy (barely) operates. This ruling to me is beyond stupid. Not only because the content of “NYPD Blue” had long before this — dating back to the mid-’90s — been established for this sort of thing (they are who we thought they were), but because of the whole time zone bullshit. Basically, the FCC is fining these stations for airing a program at 9 p.m. (in the “family-safe zone”) that aired at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Numbskulls, there is no prime-time programming in Central/Mountain after 10 p.m.
Now, I don’t know how the bedtime/waketime culture is on the east and west coasts, but the way I see it, the 9 p.m. timeslot in Central and Mountain is for all intents and purposes exactly the same as the 10 p.m. timeslot on the coasts. Where I am, in the Central time zone, everything is shifted an hour so we can watch the same network feed as the east coast. (I don’t know what they do for Mountain Time; do they air the east-coast feed an hour later or the west-coast feed an hour earlier?) Thus, I’d argue that the “family-safe zone” rule should be shifted an hour to end at 9 p.m. just like the programming itself is shifted.
We in these time zones take for granted that 9 p.m. is the “late” prime-time hour, and our local news comes on at 10, not 11. (Do people go to bed at 12 instead of 11 in Eastern and Pacific time because of the hour-difference television hours? Do people, for example, stay up in New York to actually watch Conan at 12:30 when we get it at 11:30? I don’t know how many people here would actually stay up until 12:30 if it aired that late. (Take DVR out of the equation for the sake of this question.) Do east-coasters then get up for work at 8 a.m. instead of 7? Anyway, I digress.
My (roundabout) point is, it’s completely stupid for the FCC to fine these stations for airing prime-time network television simply because it aired in the 9 p.m. hour because of the time-zone differences. Makes. No. Sense. At all.
Furthermore, I find it absurd that the FCC fines individual affiliate stations for network programming. It’s like some ancient rule goes to the source of the local broadcast even though the network supplied the “offensive” content. How is that fair?
“If a broadcaster makes the decision to show indecent programming, it must air between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” said FCC commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, in a written statement. “This is neither difficult to understand, nor burdensome to implement.”
— The Billings Gazette
The austere absurdity of the above quote is infuriating, because it completely ignores the reality of the situation and common sense, which is:
“The programs come down in real time. Unless (the local stations) have somebody sitting there watching who is given authority to (screen each episode before it airs), it makes no sense.”
— Greg McDonald, Montana Broadcasters Association president
Exactly. The FCC is punishing local stations based on BS rules.
A couple years ago, ABC aired “Saving Private Ryan” unedited. They had already aired it unedited once several years before that, but in the wake of the “wardrobe malfunction” flap, many affiliates were loath to piss off the oversensitive FCC and subject themselves to potential (newly jacked-up) fines. Some stations actually asked for clarification from the FCC over whether the profanity in “Saving Private Ryan” would be permissible (graphic violence is not subject to FCC rules, by the way), which the FCC would not provide, because their policy is that they react to complaints and then make rulings; they don’t advise stations in advance. Because they’re apparently spineless wimps who cater to watchdog groups rather than providing guidelines for what is and isn’t “offensive.”
What I find depressing is that this is all obviously political and not based on any sort of realistic standard. “Saving Private Ryan” had already aired uncut before and we all somehow survived. But now, because of a breast on the Super Bowl, all precedents had basically become void. A number of the ABC affiliates chose not to air “Saving Private Ryan” again, for fear of the FCC’s wrath over its “indecent” content. (Because when I think “indecent,” I think “Saving Private Ryan.”)
The thing that kills me about censorship groups (and a lot of politics, really) is that they are always trying to “protect” other people on their behalf when they impose their narrow restrictions. I have my doubts that any of these people are honestly personally offended by half of what they cry foul over. Ask them why they’re so sensitive they can’t stand to hear naughty words on television and I guarantee you they’d say, “Well, I’m personally not offended by it. I’m just trying to protect your kids.”
Bite me. I can protect my own kids. When I have any.
I’d bet that most action with these groups is purely on behalf of hypothetical people who didn’t ask them for a damn thing. Or that they have an ax to grind because they’re soulless thought police who want to tell you what’s best for you and your children.
Go away. Leave me alone.