Words: Yah, But They Vas Bahd

George Carlin started the whole thing with his infamous Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television in 1972. Of course, some DJ at WBAI-FM in California, it’s always a radio DJ and it’s always in California, aired the uncensored version of the bit. A man driving his car with his son was listening in mid-afternoon, was offended, surprise!, and complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This started the legal action which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 which ultimately ruled in favor of the FCC.

Thirty-two years later, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the rulling as “unconstitutionally vague”. Ultra-conservative FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said that the ruling was “anti-family”. Of course, he said that the Commission must enhance and strengthen legislation, so as to protect us from all of these bad words.

He does have a point in that one of the most popular words worldwide is F**k, which is offensive to some and overused by others. The word is the favorite word of many people because of it’s versatility. Depending upon usage and tone, it can express anger, surprise, sadness, resignation, humor, and on and on. Nevertheless, unlimited use, even to ears that welcome the word, can be overbearing. This censorship, however, can go overboard.

When Saving Private Ryan first hit Network TV in the 1990s, the suits at the Networks had their hands full. Language in the film, in concert with the visual footage, is realistic. Accordingly, soldiers in combat have a tendency to blurt out things that come natural when being shot at, having buddies blown-up beside them, and in general don’t use the Queen’s English. TV stations across America were at their wits end on how to air this historic depiction of D-Day and the days that followed because PBS Do-Gooders were waiting to complain and sue if these words entered their dens and living rooms. Forget the visual images of blood-and-guts being splattered, outright slaughter of human beings and missing limbs, it was the words that scared everyone. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” BS!

Two versions of the film aired across the country that night: one was uncut while the other was edited to remove the offensive words. That’s just stupid and absurd. But a buffoon like Copps defends that policy. It is the mandate of Congress to the FCC to protect the public airwaves: “The public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Every TV and radio station in the US is on their with a federal license, thus is open to regulation by the government. It is a business model established from the early days of radio in the 1920s. Now this may be difficult to believe, but a lot has changed since that model was created. Maybe the FCC and the US Government should revisit it.

The Communications Act of 1934 set down broad policies for Broadcasters reaching across America, protecting citizens from indecency, among other things.  The act was re-written in 1996, which relaxed ownership laws but did not clarify what constituted indecency. Granted, it is ill-advisied for broadcasters to air pornography, blatantly nude pictures, or any other vulgarities whenever they choose because of the potential audience of children inadvertently watching. Yet, a TV station in Harrisburg, PA., during a “snow day” when all schools were closed, broke into an 11:30am airing of Webster, a child-friendly program, to air footage of Budd Dwyer committing a very public suicide. They did this not for accurate news reporting, but to “scoop” other stations in the market in airing it first. F**king Morons! They were the only station in the US to air the footage. (Oh, by the way, it was WHTM-TV, the ABC affiliate.) Everyone else chose to edit the viedotape before airing. So maybe we do, in some cases, need the FCC to protect us from nitwit suits who can not think.

It is a given that this indecency fight will continue ad infinitum through our courts. Other than broadcasters throwing us curveballs, as demonstrated here on both TV and radio, a little common sense can be used in our viewing habits. Such as, airing a semi-violent film such as Fort Apache, The Bronx on a Sunday night at 11:30pm will most likely not interfere with the sleeping habits of most children who have school the next day. Airing that same film on Saturday morning in between kid-friendly programs and you probably have a case. Of course, the ultimate action of responsibility is always in your hands – just turn the damn thing off.

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Episode 3: 999! The Cain Train to Prosperity

Episode 4: Small Government

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