It’s not every day that a top lawyer for the Bush administration, standing before the black-robed justices of the Supreme Court, invokes the specter of “Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street.” Yet it was that kind of morning in the august courtroom, where the justices weighed a new government policy that can punish television networks for a one-time, or “fleeting” expletive, as opposed to a stream of profanities. […]
The justices made their usual majestic entrance, and the argument began with the typically sober discussion of weighty legal issues. But the lawyers were soon jumping through verbal hoops to avoid saying the words at issue, trying everything from “these words” to expletives, swearing, the F-word, the F-bomb and “freaking.”
I must confess a weakness of resolve. Yes, there is one issue on which I’d set aside my philosophical opposition. That issue is the lack of federal judges who say “fuck” on a regular basis. Offer up a fuck-filled bench and you have my vote :-).
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. debated with a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network, which aired the Cher and Richie remarks, whether such words inherently denote offensive “sexual or excretory activities” — the definition the Federal Communications Commission’s used to cite Fox for broadcasting indecent material. Roberts asked, “Why do you think the F-word has” such power? “. . . Because it’s associated with sexual or excretory activity. That’s what gives it its force.” (emphasis mine)
Bzzzt! Wrong! It has force because people attach force to it, as language — being up to human interpretation — is only as offensive as people happen to consider it. Referring to sexual or excretory activity a.k.a. “fucking, shitting, pissing, skeeting” by saying fuck, shit, piss, or skeet being shocking is a concept that is older than dirt, descended from the days where mentioning sex or bodily functions at all was impolite at best, if not seen as outright violating the tender ears of others — a verbal skull-fucking, if you will.
Everyone in a way interprets their language completely different, and though to an extent it may be inevitable no one has standing to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t. Take the N-word, for example: I personally don’t like it, but not because it offends me (it doesn’t*). Hell, some of my best friends back in tha day were white kids that used it to refer to each other. The reason I don’t like it is that it’s a largely useless term IMO. My view of it is as a placeholder in rap lyrics, little more.
Anyway, back to fucking:
The tension in the crowded courtroom gave way to laughter when 88-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens asked whether the FCC would sanction a broadcaster if the indecent remark “was really funny.” Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre said it might depend on the context.
“So bawdy jokes are okay, if they’re really good,” Justice Antonin Scalia cracked, to more laughter.
Of course, that would assume that there was an unquestionable standard of humor. In the context of government, that would end up manifesting itself as some bureaucrats sitting around arguing what is funny and what isn’t. Leave it to them to incorporate statism into a lame quip…
The government has imposed decency standards on broadcasters since the 1920s, and currently the FCC prohibits the broadcast of sexual or excretory content on over-the-air radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be in the audience.
Question: why does no one take advantage of the time between 10pm & 6am when, according to the gov’ts own guidelines, broadcasters can play whatever the fuck they want? The rule effectively means that CBS, NBC, Fox & ABC could show hardcore porn overnight if they so chose, yet they don’t. Have the type of people who enforce these rules ever considered that the viewing public holds more sway than them anyway?
BTW: LOL@Fox being the ones to argue the opposing position. It’s as if they’ve got a split personality, pushing the envelope with one hand while their US news arm riles up legions of people with nothing better to do to form a perpetual outrage conga line the other direction. I strongly doubt the average Fox News viewer knows that the same company prints newspapers overseas with a page dedicated to naked tits.
(* – pre-emptive response to anyone going “but what about blahblahblah?”: my offense on that was not to the use of the N-word itself, but to the idiocy of the whole statement, his assigning of blame for a few people on others that have nothing else in common with them but skin tone.)