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March 16th, 2006

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission handed down a dumpster load of decisions regarding so-called indecent TV broadcasts. Among them was a $15,000 fine against the San Mateo, California PBS station over an episode of the documentary series The Blues because it “contains numerous ‘obscenities,’ including the ‘F-Word,’ the ‘S-Word’ and various derivatives of those words.”

Yes, that’s right, these words are so ‘patently offensive’ that the federal government can’t even refer to them in an official document. According to the ruling, “fuck” (there, I wrote it) is “one of the most vulgar, graphic, and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language.” Really? I bet that I can think of some that are far, far more vulgar and graphic.

San Mateo’s defense was that the “intent of the program is to provide a window into [the world of the individuals being interviewed] with their own words, all of which becomes an educational experience for the viewer.” Furthermore, the language was not “used in a prurient way, but rather as an infrequent conversational expression of the artist [being interviewed], and was not edited to remove their dialogue, which accurately reflected their viewpoints.”

Never mind any of that, wrote the FCC: “The gratuitous and repeated use of this language in a program that San Mateo aired at a time when children were expected to be in the audience is shocking.” Yeah, because children are actually going to sit around watching a PBS documentary on the Blues when a 24-hour intravenous feed of Nicktoons and shitty Disney Channel sitcoms is available. They went on, “While we recognize here that the documentary had an educational purpose, we believe that purpose could have been fulfilled and all viewpoints expressed without the repeated broadcast of expletives.”

So, never mind that similar verbiage was okay when used within Saving Private Ryan, because in that case it “would have altered the nature of the artistic work and diminished the power, realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers.” That, and it was about U.S. soldiers, and veterans’ groups would’ve stormed the building.

They continue: “On the other hand, however, we do recognize that the expletives here were contained in a documentary, and while we conclude that the arguments made by the licensee are mistaken, we do find that the licensee may have been under the good faith belief that the use of these expletives served a legitimate informational purpose. Additionally, we recognize the fact that the licensee runs a small, community station that airs college level educational courses for most of the day. Under these circumstances, we believe that a proposed forfeiture in the amount of $15,000 is warranted here.” So, says the FCC, you acted in good faith airing an educational documentary, and you’re a station that does a lot of good work but doesn’t have much money, so we’ll only fine you $15,000. That’s great. That’s fucking great.

Now, the only reason that the other stations which aired the program (including WILL) weren’t fined is that no one in those markets filed a complaint. That’s wrong, wrote Commissioner Adelstein in his dissenting statement: “We have previously sought to identify all broadcasters who have aired indecent material and hold them accountable. In this Order, however, the Commission inexplicably fines only the licensee whose broadcast of indecent material was the subject of a viewer’s complaint, even though we know millions of other Americans were exposed to the offending broadcast. I cannot find anywhere in the law that Congress told us to apply indecency regulations only to those stations against which a complaint was specifically lodged. ” Keep in mind that this is the dissenting statement. As ridiculous and myopic as the FCC’s ruling was, it’s only a taste of what could have been.

Thankfully, FCC standards do not apply here (yet), so allow me to add the following: fuck, fuck, shit, shit, fuck, fucker, motherfucker, fucking a-hole, motherfucking cocksucker, shit-for-brains.

It’s not educational, but it’s cathartic.

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