Clueless, the sequel
Posted by metaphorical on 8 June 2007
KTK over at the blog Lean Left rightly takes me to task for not noting the more fundamental (fundamentalist?) issue at hand in the Julie Amero case, which I wrote about earlier today. Amero was on the verge of going to jail for 10 years for not stopping a school computer infected with spyware—a computer that the school didn’t protect with a firewall or anti-virus software—from spewing a few pornographic web pages during a 7th grade class.
The problem is stupid, backwards, and clueless authorities who are beside themselves at the thought that some kids saw a pop-up ad on a computer, and think that’s worth 10 years of someone’s life. (I’m glad they didn’t find the father of my friend from 5th grade, whose stack of Playboys we found in his garage one day. Christ, the guy would still be in jail.) Technology problems will always be with us. Confusing systems and obnoxious malware are a pain, and will likely be so for some time, but they are nothing but an annoyance. Letting panicky prudes throw people in jail because some kids saw the words “Triple XXX Action!” on a computer monitor – forget that it was by accident, that’s the least part of the issue – is a vastly greater danger. We don’t need computers that are better at protecting us from sex. We need people in charge who aren’t so completely unhinged about sex.
I’m going to take KTK and myself to task for not connecting this up with this week’s surprisingly favorable decision by the Federal 2nd Circuit Court in favor of the broadcast networks and against the FCC over the issue of “indecent” language.
The FCC has recently been holding broadcasters to an increasingly strict standard where every instance of words like “fuck” and “shit” leave them subject to fines that start at $325,000, not exactly chump change even for FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, or PBS, which was fined when, as Variety put it, “a bluesman use a colorful colloquialism” Martin Scorsese’s documentary “The Blues.”
During the 2003 Golden Globes, Bono uttered the word “fucking,” Cher and Nicole Richie uttered an expletive during a Billboard Music Awards show, and then, of course, there was the mother of all indecencies, Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl.
The FCC commissioners purported to fine these diverse events under the aegis of their indecency standard. But that standard concerns material that “dwells on or repeats at length descriptions of sexual or excretory organs or activities” or “appears to pander or is used to titillate.” The Commission was therefore left arguing before the court that every instance of an expletive, even these “fleeting expletives,” as they are being called, are instances those things.
As the NY Times noted in its coverage,
the judges said vulgar words are just as often used out of frustration or excitement, and not to convey any broader obscene meaning.
That frustration or excitement was on full dress parade over at the commission. Variety quoted FCC Chairman Kevin Martin as issuing a statement that said,
“I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience.”
Let’s leave aside the surly reference to a “New York court” (as Toby on the West Wing would point out, “he means liberal”) and note that in a terrific piece of irony, the Bush-appointed commissioners were hoist on their puritanical presidential petards. The court said, presumably with Cheney’s use of “fuck” on the floor of the U.S. Senate in mind,
“In recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
Now if we can only get Connecticut parents, schools, cops, prosecutors, and lower-court jurists to understand the ephemeral nature of what we might call “fleeting pornography,” we can start to breathe a lot easier and worry less about 10-year jail sentences for innocent mistakes.