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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!

Or not.

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.

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11 comments on this post

I’d say you should send this argument to the FCC, but naturally nothing would change. Great system!

There’s no doubt that whenever an episode like this happens, you can be sure it’s politically motivated.

The Super Bowl was a victim of political timing. If this had happened in a less conservative period, the FCC wouldn’t have as much of a reason to take on this censorship mode.

This whole process has a starting point. It began 10 years ago when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke out. Once the neocons were fueled by that story, there was no stopping them.

This reminds me of a Simpsons episode, when Apu was being deported. For no reason at all, Helen Lovejoy started screaming “Think of the children!” as a way to push the mayor into enacting some political changes that would favor her group. Children’s welfare can become a convenient excuse whenever you want to push a political agenda.

My wife was working in the US at the time of the superbowl ‘incident’. She honestly couldn’t understand the brouhaha. It left her with a great impression of the country.

So you are watching a sport where the commentators and crowd go orgasmic when players violently slam into each other as hard as possible, 10 guys flattening 1 guy with (or without) the ball is always a bonus. But when PART of a breast is shown, the country falls to pieces.

The quote in the article says:
[which the FCC found “titillating and shocking.”]

Isn’t that the FCC’s problem? Shouldn’t they seek psychological help if they find 3 second shot of a pair of buttocks “titillating and shocking.”?

We’ve had plenty of similar problems in the past with the BBFC. It was a dark day when they started censoring video games too. My favourite was a game in the mid-1990s when they forced the company to remove throwing stars (as they were against BBFC rulings and were afraid that children would imitate the action, despite the game having an adult rating). So the throwing stars were removed, and replaced with darts. Yes darts. Which any child can get hold of.

Does “pathetic” sum this up adequately?

I agree with you, and I’d like to bring up the point of bad language being somehow worse than graphic violence. If you look up the f word on wikipedia, you’ll find that in 2003 when Bono won the Golden Globe, the FCC decided not to censor him saying, “This is really, really f***ing brilliant!” because it was only being used as an intensifier, not in a lewd or vulgar way. But then, in “early 2004,” they decided that “the F-word is one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language.”

It could be worse, up here in Canada, our FCC (called the CRTC) makes it so that every station has to air a percentage of Canadian content.

Ever seen a show called Road to Avonlea? Yeah, I grew up on that shit.

And, of course, those who wanted heavy fines and punishments for the Super Bowl nipple issue (fun side fact: as I recall, no news story seemed to realize it was a piercing) didn’t in general support fining Saving Private Ryan, nor did the FCC eventually find any fault with the showings.

Now, frankly, I don’t mind either (although if pressed, I’ll tell you I find Saving Private Ryan’s narrative far more disturbing than Jackson’s nipple shield), but the obvious disparity between the two decisions bothers the hell out of me.

Ah, to rephrase slightly: “…nor did the FCC find any fault with the showings of Saving Private Ryan.”

By the way, in Alaska (at least in the interior where I am), Conan does come on at 12:30. I have no idea who makes those decisions. I find it especially odd because in Anchorage, about 300 miles south, Conan and the other late shows come on at midnight.

A little off topic but it must be hard to pick the right type of artist to perform at the superbowl. I notice when MTV produce the halftime show they try and great acts that represent all time of popular music.

Superbowl 2001
Rock&Roll: Aerosmith.
Rap: Nelly.
Pop: Nsync and Britney Spears.
R&B: Mary J Blige.

Superbowl 2004
Rap: Nelly and Diddy.
R&B: Janet Jackson.
Pop: Justin Timberlake.
Rock: Kid Rock.

I wonder which approach is better. Picking one act or trying to do a many mashup.

A few days ago, I saw a woman’s breast on TV here in Sweden, on a 7:30 pm news broadcast. A feature about mammography. It was the state’s channel SVT that broadcasted it.

Not as much as a word from anyone in response. No one gets upset about stuff like this here, because no one in their right mind believes a child gets corrupted from seeing a woman’s nipples.

So yeah, the FCC is a joke. A bad joke.

I think that adults can deal with what we see on TV. What’s so hard about “changing the channel” if one doesn’t like a show with violence, nudity, or more cursing than is acceptable? It’s easy nowadays with remotes that can be programmed to do just about anything! (BTW, I think they are designed specifically for men, since I have trouble getting my hands on ours when we’re watching TV together.)
Adults are responsible for what their kids watch on TV. They should be monitoring both time and content of what their kids see. Even if kids happen to see a bare body part, I doubt that they’d be scarred for life. I think the violence that’s shown every day (during prime time–shows or even football) or excessive graphic violence in some video games could be much more harmful to the psyche. However, our own kids saw their share of violence on TV and at the movies, and neither one of them is an ax murderer.
Just my opinion.

There’s little doubt that the FCC is unconstitutional. Television is a matter of choice; not everyone has to watch it if they don’t want to.

Yet this vocal minority of fingerwaggers believe it’s their business to take away a basic freedom because it rubs against their narrow ideology.

Boobs have been all over television in Italy for decades, and shows laden with profanity on Channel 4 in the UK are simply preceded by a friendly but direct warning. These aren’t exactly civilizations on the edge of moral collapse.

Sorry, but real life is R-rated. And art imitates life. If there’s a kid watching TV and something untoward is coming on, TURN IT OFF. Don’t regulate it. Just like when a married couple with kids want to have sex, they close the door, or better yet, find somewhere to dump the kids so they’re out of the house. It’s common sense.

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