As we were kicking around ideas for the editorial this week, it hit on me that one of the big problems with the FCC's crackdown on profanity and indecency is that a little bit short of "decent" and really wide of "proper" is what makes important social satire like the Daily Show and South Park so wickedly entertaining, the better to teach while they are delighting, yet that is what puts them out of reach of the broadcast-only audience, at least the un-edited versions.
I think the FCC is trying to keep the wickedly funny and offensive off broadcast TV either because the people currently in power just don't get it, or they get it all too well and it threatens them.
What South Park tries to do, in its carefully crafted, crude way, is to tell truth to power, and truth to power is something that isn't being told as much as it should be to the reigning powers.
According to someone who should know, some in the administration's inner circle, which already appears to see flexibity or negotiation as weakness, apparently also treats dissent as opposition or, worse, disloyalty. There must be an old saying that goes: "That which will not bend must eventually break." Or maybe I heard it on a re-run of King Fu.
Anyway, part of being flexible is being able to laugh at yourself, or see the truth in parody or satire.
Cable can get away with the kind of spot-on, wicked, and, yes, offensive, satire that many bluenoses in Washington don't get, or don't want to get, or maybe don't want the rest of us to have the opportunity to get.
There is a danger to that thinking that goes beyond monetary fines. If you don't like the message, one way to pretend you don't have to listen to it is to marginalize the messenger. If it is just "that filthy stuff," you can defend, or at least try to defend, washing your hands of it.
Ben Franklin could celebrate the fart, and, without any due modesty whatsoever, responsible familymen and magazine editors can come up with some of the best dirty limericks in the language. Decency is overrated, particularly as defined by people who want to impose their values on someone else.
Cable and satellite, protected by the First Amendment, can more easily tell truth to power, yet the poorer people in this country who are arguably at greatest risk from that power are the group most likely not to be able to afford the pay media where boundaries can be pushed.
The most disturbing thing I have heard from Washington in the past several months was during the indecency bill-signing, where one legislator said the bill was meant to crack down on people who were pushing the envelope. Translation: Stay in your cage and do as you're told.
Think about it.
By John Eggerton
The television industry's top news stories, analysis and blogs of the day.
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