Vulgar and Shocking

Why am I reminded of that scene in the old Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob tries to explain what he does for a living–write TV comedy–to a stuffy society matron, only to have her respond: "I don't own a television machine."

Why am I reminded? Well, for one thing, I was suckled at the TV knob and know all the DVD (that's Dick Van Dyke) plots by heart. But for the other thing, it's because the FCC seems to have a similar disconnect from the real, sweaty, dizzying, complicated, world we live in.

In its role as D.C.'s own stuffy society matron, the FCC has come up with this partial explanation of why Nicole Richie's comment: "Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? I'ts not so fucking simple" needed to be censored by the government:

"Ms. Richie's comment referring to excrement conveys a graphic image of Ms. Richie trying to scrape cow excrement out of her designer handbag. Because of the use of the "S-Word," [note the dual linguistic prophylaxis of quotation marks and the substitution of the letter for the word "shit."] Ms. Richie's description contained quite vulgar language…Here, Ms. Richie's use of the "F-Word," coupled with the her graphic and explicit description of the handling of excrement during a live broadcast of a popular music awards ceremony when children were expected to be in the audience was vulgar and shocking."

Vulgar and shocking indeed. Well, goodness me but we can't have that kind of thing going on here at miss Fathersham's Finishing School while we are trying to prepare for the visit of Queen Victoria.

What century is this commission in?

Up until recently we also said "S-word" and "F-word" at the magazine, but we feared that if we kept being euphemistic the FCC might point to us as evidence of the community standard it says it is trying to uphold by acting as though the substituion of those four letters for other letters transforms the most basic and natural of functions into stealth weapons against morality. That is so 400 years ago, when Puritans roamed the earth burning witches and covering their ears against the naked truths of carnal humanity, or something like that.

You should hear my kids hoot when I try to explain to them what the government is doing in their name.

Take heed that the FCC in defending two of its four profanity rulings Monday used broadcasters' own reluctance to air profanities as justification for the FCC's urge to purge prime time of them.

That kind of misses the point by a mile, which is that there is a difference between voluntary standards–what I call "editing"–and government mandates–which I call "censorship."

It also missed the point that the reason broadcasters are not airing profanities isn't necessarily that they agree that they are a threat to the ears of little pitchers everywhere, but that they know the FCC thinks that and don't want to be fined or make enemies among those who control their licenses and thus their economic lives.

I was talking to the head of one of the networks the other day (is it name-dropping if I don't use the name?) and we could only throw our hands up at the ludicrousness of all this, only of course it is serious because it deals with what our government will let us see and hear.

By John Eggerton