Oh, for F-bomb's sake
November 6, 2008 2:36 PM   Subscribe

The current FCC case [PDF] before the U.S. Supreme Court presents a fascinating dilemma for the judges: how do you respectfully discuss the legality of profane words in the nation's highest court? And for reporters: how do you report on the specifics of the case? It seems decisions vary across publications: NYT, Washington Post (reg req), LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, AP, McClatchy. As for the judges themselves, they opted to allow only substitute terms. PDF transcript with word count at bottom. Background.
posted by Tehanu (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
holy feces!
posted by qvantamon at 2:50 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


To is a preposition. Come is a verb.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:54 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was watching them discuss this on CSPAN the other morning and they were dropping the F bomb like it was no big deal. I can't stand the double standard involved in this thing. Because we are discussing the ramifcations of saying "Fuck" it is okay to now say "Fuck" on TV because we are talking about the problems of saying "Fuck". Oh, and "Shit" is also okay to say if you are discussing why "Shit" is a bad thing and that saying "Shit" can make some people uncomfortable. It really was strange to see them discuss vulgarity like adults instead of giggling school children, which is how most politicians seem to address the issue. As far as I know, vulgarity never killed anyone.
posted by GavinR at 2:54 PM on November 6, 2008


And for reporters: how do you report on the specifics of the case?

Respect the reader by using the words under discussion instead of condescending baby-talk euphemisms and tortured circumlocutions?

No? That's not it? DamnDagnabbit, I always miss that one.
posted by enn at 2:57 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, sugar.
posted by boo_radley at 2:59 PM on November 6, 2008


GavinR, what double standard are you referring to? CSPAN is on cable, not broadcast TV, so they're free to use profanity if they want to.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:01 PM on November 6, 2008


The double standard that the FCC and the govt. cronies apply to all the different ways to broadcast info. I'm all for profanity, and I'm all for people taking their own inititative and deciding what to watch and what not to watch. It being about cable VS broadcast TV isn't a real argument because even cable has to watch what they do on certain channels at certain hours. This was on my channel 3 at 8am and yet we still live in an America where the FCC acts like some type of dirty word police and takes certain individuals, holds them up as an example of why vulgarity is a bad, bad, bad thing and should be stomped out. Take (god I hate to use this example because it is so worn out, but it serves a purpose none the less) Howard Stern using certain phrases and words that Oprah used during the same airing times, and yet Stern got the FCC attack hounds on him. Flash forward a few years later and I'm watching CSPAN on channel 3 in the early AM and they are using actual vulgarity. That is what I'm talking about. I'm not opposed to it in any way, but they manner in which the govt. has handled this issue if totally fucked.
posted by GavinR at 3:07 PM on November 6, 2008


Reminds me of one of my fave law-movies, From The Hip, which has a hilarious scene on the admissibility of the word "asshole" in a lawsuit.

Robin: If opposing counsel can think of another word that describes the particular quality of slime that his client oozes, I'm more than happy to use it
Opposing Counsel: Jerk?
Judge: With all due respect counsel, you're making his point for him...
posted by nomisxid at 3:07 PM on November 6, 2008


Remember, the word fuck is derived from phonetically pronouncing FCC.
posted by dhartung at 3:11 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


It being about cable VS broadcast TV isn't a real argument because even cable has to watch what they do on certain channels at certain hours.

But cable does not, in fact, have to do anything of the sort. Many (most?) cable outlets choose to censor themselves, but they're under no legal obligation to do so. My guess is that they do it because they still feel that profanity is socially unacceptable, and fear that advertisers would desert them (I think cable is probably wrong about this, but then again I don't run a cable network).

I certainly agree with you that the FCC's policy on indecency is a) stupid and b) often capriciously and inconsistently applied (and indeed some of the justices seemed to point that out, to their credit). But the fact remains that Congress gave them authority to regulate the publicly held airwaves, and the courts have thus far agreed (though I have always thought that the legal basis for content restrictions was tenuous at best). I'd love it if this case results in a Supreme Court smackdown of the FCC, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:21 PM on November 6, 2008


CSPAN is on cable, not broadcast TV, so they're free to use profanity if they want to.

I'd call that a double-standard.

"In other news, today the FCC announced that broadcast stations could use profanity on air only if they were on odd-numbered channels, or if their broadcast antennas were painted hot pink ..."
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:23 PM on November 6, 2008


At this point in the 21st century, arguing about broadcast VS cable is semantics. Information is information and it gets out just about equally at this point. Anyone mired in the argument about broadcast VS cable is stuck in the 20th century. Most of our current political leaders are still stuck in the 20th century. STOP BEING FUCKING STUCK IN THE SHITTY ASS GODDAMN 20TH CENTURY. It just doesn't make any goddamn sense at this point. The kids of the future aren't even going to understand the difference between broadcast and cable.
posted by GavinR at 3:28 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't some of the legal basis for the difference between Cable vs Broadcast, the idea that the airwaves are a publicly owned asset, whereas a cable network is a private asset?
posted by nomisxid at 3:39 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


kiltedtaco, the FCC vs. Pacifica case that nailed down the indecency rules was decided in 1978, at a time when the TV that came to most US households came over the airwaves. In fact, the previous year the FCC lost in their attempts to regulate program content on HBO, under the rationale that because HBO was a *paid* service that subscribers chose to invite into their homes, it did not meet the test for scarcity and intrusiveness that had previously (and would continue) to be applied to broadcast TV.

The fact is that today, most US households get their TV delivered through cable and/or satellite, so they tend not to see the difference, but there is still a technological and legal difference between broadcast and cable.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:41 PM on November 6, 2008


The legal difference is outdated. The FCC laws are totally old and completely borked. Arguing FOR them is arguing for dinosaur powered garbage disposals along the lines of the Flintstones. Just because the current laws exist doesn't make them good, or doesn't make them have a purpose. Laws based on old tech and outdated broadcast techniques is just plain stupid. They have to get in step with the modern age, and yet they are still wasting time with lawsuits, fines, and lobbyists who are all stuck in the 20th century. None of it makes sense at this point. The line between broadcast and cable is almost nonexistent at this point. Do you still want to base states rights issues on Mason-Dixon Line? No, because that would just be fucking stupid. The difference between broadcast and cable has become that vague at this point. The regulation at this point is somewhat random and arbitrary.
posted by GavinR at 3:47 PM on November 6, 2008


The kids of the future aren't even going to understand the difference between broadcast and cable.

The kids of today already don't understand the difference, nevermind the kinds of the future.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:49 PM on November 6, 2008


GavinR I agree with you, and I'm not trying to defend the FCC (that's the last thing I want to do), I was just trying to explain what the current legal status is.

From what I heard about the case earlier this week, and from skimming through the transcript just now, it does seem that the scarcity issue being made irrelevant by new technology was brought up at least once, but the government lawyer basically countered that *because* people can turn to cable or the internet if they want to see/hear indecency, that's all the more reason why people who want to avoid this kind of content should be able to count on broadcast TV as a safe harbor. Again, given the make up of the court, I kinda doubt they will jump on the clue train of the 21st century. Plus you have groups like this who work tirelessly to make sure that politicians THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

You also have to remember that broadcast indeceny rules apply to radio as well as TV, so if standards are relaxed on TV they have to be relaxed on radio as well. I think frankly there would be more public outcry if DJs started saying fuck whenever they liked, since the vast majority of the US public still does listen to terrestrial radio.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:01 PM on November 6, 2008


Irreverently.
posted by Mblue at 4:05 PM on November 6, 2008


Justice Scalia reminded him that people “don’t use ‘gollywoggle’ in place of ‘the F-word’,”

I don't like hearing that kind of racist epithet in our country's highest court. Where do I complain?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:26 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


SCOTUS will of course rule for the FCC, but hopefully the dissent will be cruder than Bob Saget's aristocrats joke.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:41 PM on November 6, 2008


I don't like hearing that kind of racist epithet in our country's highest court. Where do I complain?

Complain anywhere! That's why I love this country. Approach strangers on the street and complain about it. Write about it on your blog. Send Scalia a letter. Call your local news station. All these methods of complaint, and more, are available!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:45 PM on November 6, 2008


Robert Anton Wilso was way in front on this issue. I don't remember too many of them but "Potter-Stewart", "Fallwell" and "Rehnquist" have all stuck with me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:14 PM on November 6, 2008


The kids of today already don't understand the difference, nevermind the kinds of the future.

And lets not limit it to the kids. How many questions have you heard asked about how the digital TV changeover is going to affect people's cable service?
posted by smackfu at 7:33 PM on November 6, 2008


Kinda sorta fuckin' related: Steven Pinker's 2007 essay, "Why We Curse" in The New Republic.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:59 PM on November 6, 2008


AND THUS IT CAME TO BE that the Supreme Court of the United States had to decide whether it merited restricting footage of their proceedings for, I think it can be seriously argued, the sole purpose of preventing a legion of teenage boys from having a low chortle at their expense.
posted by JHarris at 6:02 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of Dave Barry:
Totally true item: The Herald refuses to publish an episode of the comic strip "Bloom County" because it contains the quotation "Reagan sucks." To explain this decision, the Herald runs a story containing the quotation "Reagan sucks." Several days later, in response to a letter from an irate "Bloom County" fan, the Herald prints an explanatory note containing the quotation "Reagan sucks."
posted by Wolfdog at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2008


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