There’s something about post-season football that inevitably leads to the discussion of indecency on television. After the lengthy national debate over Janet Jackson’s breast, you would think that we would have settled this issue by now. Instead, we’re gearing up for a new battle over another kind of wardrobe controversy.
The latest indication that pro football is unraveling the moral fiber of our society came during Fox’s broadcast of the Eagles-Saints game on Saturday. The network briefly showed a Saints fan wearing a t-shirt that clearly read “Fuck Da Eagles.”
You would think that The Parents Television Council, James Dobson’s Focus on Family, and a few dozen other groups of conservative religious activists would be making an issue of this incident. Well, they aren’t. At least not yet.
No, this time, the complaint comes from Frank Ahrens at the Washington Post blog. Ahrens, playing the part of the class snitch, is appalled by what he saw. So much so that he had to re-wind his TiVo a few dozen times to make sure he really saw what he thought he saw. Then he blogged about it.
I’m not sure why Aherns thinks the right-wing religious zealots who monitor the media need help from the Washington Post — they’re doing a fine job on their own.
It’s ironic that someone at the Washington Post, a media outlet not subject to FCC restrictions, feels compelled to make the case that a television network should not have broadcast a printed word. And it’s telling that Ahrens felt obligated to add not one but two asterisks to the word “Fuck” in his post. I suppose that makes the word extra-safe. I wonder if that spelling is in the Washington Post Style Guide for Bloggers.
As luck would have it, I happened to be in New Orleans on Saturday (I’m not making this up). And as strange as this may sound, I actually ran into that young, er, “lady” in Jackson Square just hours before the game. Unfortunately, the FCC wasn’t there to protect me from her shirt. As it turns out, the FCC can’t protect us from reality, only from television. Apparently, it’s the Washington Post’s job to protect us from reality.
Ahrens argues that Fox was in clear violation of FCC regulations and that the broadcast was an insult to families around the country who were watching the game on TV.
Except that, Fox wasn’t in clear violation of FCC regulations because the FCC regulations aren’t clear at all. As Ahrens notes, Fox is in federal court right now seeking clarification on this very issue. That’s because, contrary to popular myth, there is no master list of dirty words that can’t be used on radio and television. If the FCC were to produce such a list, it would likely be considered prior restraint and would therefore be a violation of free speech.
Instead, broadcasters are left to guess at what might be considered offensive and face increasingly stiff penalties for violating an unwritten standard. To make matters worse, groups like the Parents Television Council are whipping their members into a frenzy and urging them to file complaints at the drop of a hat.
If there’s an up-side to any of this, it has to be that more content providers will likely respond to increased penalties by moving programming to the Internet where FCC restrictions do not apply.
In the meantime, Ahrens and others who were offended by that t-shirt on Saturday should remember that children who can read the word ‘fuck’ already know what it means, no matter how many asterisks you spell it with.