Why the FCC Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the F-Bomb
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
In a surprise ruling last week, a New York federal appeals court fucked over struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy, labeling its guidelines for “fleeting expletives” as “unconstitutionally vague.”
Wow. Does that mean we’ll hear the dreaded “F-word” a lot more on broadcast TV?
Fat fucking chance.
Not in scripted dramas and sitcoms, anyway. Live TV, however, is a different animal, and impossible to predict. In fact, it was the acceptance speech by U2’s Bono on NBC’s live telecast of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards that prompted the FCC’s ban on fleeting “fucks.”
“This is really, really [fucking] brilliant,” Bono said. “Really, really great.”
A public uproar ensued, but NBC squeezed by without a fine because the agency said Bono’s “fucking” wasn’t used to describe a sexual act, but “as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation.”
Far fucking out!
Not so for Janet Jackson’s infamous exposed nipple at the 2004 Super Bowl, which cost Viacom/CBS a fat fucking bundle. (In ’08, a federal appeals court voided the fine, but in ’09 the Supreme Court vacated the judgment and kicked the case back to the appeals court.)
What the FCC needs to recognize is that “fuck” has become common currency in our culture. Everybody says it, up to and including our Vice President. An argument could be made that it is said so often by so many that it has lost its ability to shock. “F-bomb” itself is a joke. These days, “fuck” couldn’t blow up a toothpick.[SIGNUP]
Most important, the fact that cable TV, satellite radio and the web are exempt from such restrictions is a double standard of the highest fucking order and one that the FCC can no longer justify.
Consider this: Showtime’s scripted Californication averages more “fucks” per season than Wilt Chamberlain, and it gets a pass from the FCC. One exuberant “fuck” by Bono live on NBC augurs the end of civilization.
The most recent example was heard Saturday at the British Open on ESPN. After Tiger Woods missed an easy putt on the 13th hole, he can be clearly heard muttering “fuck” as he storms off the green. Predictably, the clip was a YouTube sensation, but it raised few eyebrows.
Closer to home, Chase Utley’s “world fucking champions!” at the Phillies’ World Series celebration at Citizens Bank Park in 2008 triggered apologies from TV and radio stations, but the crowd loved it, exploding into cheers for several minutes.
For history buffs, George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” standup routine in 1972 triggered the whole indecency broadcast battle. His Seven Dirty Words: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits. Quaint by today’s standards.
Somewhere, George Carlin has a shit-eating grin a fucking-mile wide.
GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for tvnewser.com. She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.