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The Supreme Court takes on the seven dirty words

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Chernicolerichie_l

Chernicolerichie_lHere we go again.

This is not the first time we’ve addressed the issue of profanity on the airwaves, nor will it be the last. But it’s worth bringing up again, because this week, the US Supreme Court is reviewing broadcasting indecency standards for the first time in 30 years.

Who are the culprits here? Bono, for one, who casually dropped the F-word at the 2003 Golden Globes; Cher said the same at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards (pictured, left); Nicole Richie double-fisting both the F- and S-words at the 2003 Billboards (pictured); System of a Down delivering an enthusiastically unbleeped “F— yeah!” on SNL; more recently, Diane Keaton and the F-bomb on Good Morning America; and, of course, the grand mammary (sorry!) of all obscene blunders, Janet Jackson and Boobgate at the 2004 Super Bowl.

addCredit(“Cher: Michael Caulfield/WireImage; Richie: Kevin Winter/Getty Images”)

Much like it was 30 years ago, the Court seems divided over theissue, with Justice Scalia blaming television for “coarsening” publicdiscourse and Justice Ginsberg saying there “seems to be no rhyme orreason” for some of the FCC’s decisions, such as allowing thetelevision broadcast of the movie Saving Private Ryan, even though it contains expletives.

After much heated debate, this will likely boil down to the issue of”fleeting expletives,” as opposed to dirty language on scripted showsor the broadcast of movies, because the networks know better than tomonkey around with the FCC bylaws when children might be watching (theissue of Saving Private Ryan being an obvious, if curious, exception). So, what to do about these once-a-year (or thereabouts) goofs?

In my opinion? Nothing. People have been using questionable language in public forums since, well, Biblical times, according to some folks.(If anything, it’s when the media runs with the story that “offensive”language gets maximum exposure.) In 1978, when George Carlin deliveredhis pointed ”Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine, itsparked a narrow 5–4 Supreme Court decision in the favor of thegovernment’s power to regulate indecent material on the publicairwaves. Because of that decision, broadcasters can be fined more than$325,000 for a single utterance of the F-word, even if it is said by aguest on a live show. So we do have a system in place, and asimperfect as it may be, it keeps raw discourse to a minimum and givesthe networks the creative space to do what they do best — keep usinformed and keep us entertained.

But what do you think? Do we need more stringent laws and strictercensorship of the airwaves? Or is a goof now and again the price we payfor the freedom of speech?

   

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