FCC commissioner Michael Copps seeks indecency definition overhaul.
November 21, 2002 12:05 PM   Subscribe

FCC commissioner Michael Copps seeks indecency definition overhaul.
The current definition of indecency to me should be capturing for enforcement purposes some of these programs and it is not. We are only having a paucity of enforcement actions against programming that is palpably and demonstrably indecent.
Is it really time to redefine indecency, or to reexamine why exactly it is we are defining indecency to begin with?
posted by mikrophon (36 comments total)
I assume that "decency" is used as a filter to (supposedly) protect children from material that may be unfit for them, correct? And by unfit, we mean material that could be, in some way or in some conditions, psychologically damaging? In that case, there certainly does need to be an overhaul of the definition. I doubt there has ever been any kind of study that shows nudity as damaging to children, while I am also reasonably sure that graphic violence has been shown to be quite damaging. So how about a shift away from nudity-as-indecent and towards violence-as-indecent? Certainly nudity and sexuality are much more an aspect of the "natural" human condition than violence?

Does anyone have any good links to studies about child development and television content?
posted by luriete at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2002

While I'm not a fan of censorship in general, I think the outrage over the lingerie show is overblown, I would like to see less violence on TV. Especially all those naked, dead, beautiful women that TV cop shows love to include. It creeps me out to see the constant linkage of violence and sex.
posted by Red58 at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2002

Eerily reminiscent of the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. I keep being hit by how odd I used to think early 20th century history was, and then how similar things are today. Wait until they formally refound the House Un-American Activities Committee.
posted by whatzit at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2002

And why is lingerie controversial, but bikinis are okay? I still don't get that.
posted by bobo123 at 12:18 PM on November 21, 2002

Because swimming is good, and sex is bad.
posted by mikrophon at 12:24 PM on November 21, 2002

300 emails to a national official? Omigod, that... doesn't fucking matter. Why don't these fucking losers use their v chips? The last show drew 12.4 million viewers according to the first thing I clicked on after googling it. 12.4 million viewers. 300 emailed complaints about filth. 12.4 million viewers. Don't those latter people count for anything?

This is utter bullshit. I want to see the names of more people complaining than watched before we even consider doing anything about this programming. Personally, I love it. Hell, my Mom gets victoria's secret catalogs in the mail, and she's old. (Sorry, Mom.)
posted by Wood at 12:24 PM on November 21, 2002

I think the most indecent thing about the Victoria's Secret fashion show was not the underwear; it was the fact that it was merely a shameless hour-long advertisement! When Destiny's Child has to put a lyric in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" about how "my baby got me a Victoria's Secret shopping spree", well, that's when I became offended!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 12:26 PM on November 21, 2002

Certainly nudity and sexuality are much more an aspect of the "natural" human condition than violence?

I would argue that violence is just as "natural".

That aside, I was flipping around the radio last night and landed on that sex-line show (dunno if that's what it's called). It features the guy from the Man Show and that Dr. that used to co-host the MTV show... whatever. Point is, during the discussion of the much needed topic of anal sex while on mushrooms (because that's normal), the host of the showing actually uttered the phrase:

"...while nailing your wife in the ass"

I give up.
posted by Witty at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2002

This is strange, since I was under the impression that TVs already have little buttons that prevent people from having to be exposed to "indecency." I think they're called "Channel" and "Off."
posted by pardonyou? at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2002

Hey, mikrophon, what's up with the gratuitous South Park snark anyway? Who precisely is is that's claiming that South Park is demonstrably indecent? Copps didn't say that, although you make it appear he did. Do you disapprove of South Park? If so, why not 'fess up to it?

(Oh, and Wylie? Guess what? Big news! All of television in America - outside of the Public Broadcasting channels - is a shameless advertisement! Why the hell would they do it if it weren't? This might have been a tad more blatant, but last time I checked, nobody at NBC was funding Friends because Jennifer Anniston is a great actress - they do it to sell ad space...)
posted by JollyWanker at 12:34 PM on November 21, 2002

Witty, if it means anything, I think you ran into Loveline. Dr. Drew - the sane one - actually has a good background and gives out some useful smarts to some admittedly whacky people. The other guy, Adam Corolla, is the "radio personality," albeit a bad personality. It's not all hopeless...
posted by whatzit at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2002

what's absolutely indecent is the way the fcc has assisted in the theft of the public spectrum by the wireless services industries.
posted by quonsar at 12:45 PM on November 21, 2002

I am not eager to have the topic of indecency opened by our current crop of puritanical overlords who think that dressing greek statues is a reasonable thing to do. Somehow, I doubt that any overhaul would be restricted to an examination of violence. Looks like an opportunity for another faith-based initiative to me.

After all, our government doesn't have any other pressing priorities these days, does it?
posted by madamjujujive at 12:47 PM on November 21, 2002

No, Jolly W, it's not exactly big news to me that television is advertising controlled, but at least if I am watching that Jennifer Anniston show (which doesn't happen often) I can at least go make a sandwich or something during the breaks! :)
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 12:50 PM on November 21, 2002

I consider the suggestion that something is indecent to be an indecency.

By the way Witty. I was scanning through a MetaFilter thread and saw a poster, Witty I believe was his name, who posted something like:

"...while nailing your wife in the ass"

I mean, what the fuck, that's pretty indecent, wouldn't you say? I would assume if it's indecent on Loveline, a show that is supposed to be a frank discussion of sex, then it would be indecent in a thread about indecency.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:54 PM on November 21, 2002

posted by Witty at 1:15 PM on November 21, 2002

The government is notoriously bad at being the arbiter of what is or isn't "decent." Not only because its decisions tend to be political, but also because if you asked every American you'd probably get 250 million different definitions of what decency means. Hell, the best the Supreme Court could come up with for obscenity is "I know it when I see it."

Since we're not forced to watch anything, I don't see why, as a society, we need or want the government to act as our "protector." The "off" button is far more effective.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2002

I love the fact that the Yahoo article is accompanied by not one, not two, but forty-four photos of the "indecent" program, available in thumbnail and full-size versions.

Meanwhile: I like lingerie as much as the next guy, but this is just plain silly-looking.
posted by ook at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2002

There's a need to address the meaning of a whole host of concepts anymore: Sensuality v. Sexuality v. Pornography, Decency v. Vitality v. Indecency, Politics v. Marketing v. Issues, Liberal v. Democrat, Conservative v. Republican, Religious v. Spiritual, Public Policy v. Personal Ethic, Capitalism v. Corporatism, Social Compassion v. Socialism, the list goes on...
Adults--not children--have either A) lost their ability to distiguish or, B) lost their desire to abide by the factual differences between concepts like those mentioned above. Children are merely obliged to come along for the screwball ride we're creating for them.

Kids are remarkably inquisitive and emotionally resilient. They're gifted, in fact, at negotiating disruptive or puzzling elements of their reality--so long as the framework of support they're receiving from parental figures and community is adeqaute. That's not psychobabble--it's a matter of survival (emotional, intellectual and physical). So let's stop talking as though it's children we're trying clarify matters for. It's adults that need the help here.

I've noticed an increasing (and disturbing) tendency for people to regard as interpretive what is a factual definition. For clarity's sake, let's take the case of social compassion vs. socialism; these are all the time anymore being bandied about as though they were the same thing. They are not the same thing, of course, but because they're being so loosely interchanged both are losing their meaning.
We seem to forget that our body of knowledge is an ever-expanding project. It's absurd to expect that our expanding range of capacity (intellectual, spiritual and physical) will be, for the rest of time, adequately captured and articualted by existing references. We only create conceptual mud in the effort to innapropriately redefine existing concepts when we run into something that is not strictly one thing or another--when what we have is something else. We've collectively lost our appreciation for the boundaries of meaning: It is this and no other.
Americans, in particular, have grown far too fond of using a mental reference of two or three categories and lumping everything they run across into one of them--rather than delve deeper in order to more accurately define and understand the thing.

To find something objectionable is one thing--to unilaterally proclaim it as "indecent" is another thing altogether.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 1:24 PM on November 21, 2002

People like sex. People like violence. Advertisement driven media is --by definition-- designed to give the most people what they want. Regardless of my personal tastes about things (although I tend to regard Touched by an Angel as a more egregious offense than South Park) I do not particularly wish to live in a society that deigns to decide for people what they want.

There is an off button. Use it, or lose the box entirely, if your sensibilities are of the fragile sort. It's no one's job to tiptoe around your personal bugaboos. I agree with the poster above: 300 letters out of 12.4 million viewers? 25/10,000% ? If you printed them all out, you couldn't even make a decent fire log out of them.
posted by umberto at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2002

The good news is that we now know what it takes to get action at the FCC.

I'm pretty sure the Mefi crowd could generate well over three hundred emails. Now that we know how little it takes to a) dive policy decisions, and b) get free publicity, is there anything we'd like to push through?

I'm thinking we should lobby for making #006699 the official color for the FCC website. "Your website hurts my eyes!!! How many people must suffer before you take action?" Certainly no sillier than deciding to censor fashion shows rather than violence or exploitation.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2002

what's up with the gratuitous South Park snark anyway?

From the article:

Federal indecency rules bar the broadcast of obscene material and limit the airing of indecent material that contains sexual or excretory references in a patently offensive manner.

I guess I was thinking that South Park was an example of a program that relies pretty heavily on sexual and excretory references.
posted by mikrophon at 2:41 PM on November 21, 2002

I think a lot of people don't get it:

there is nothing wrong with sex, as long as nobody is forced to have sex and doesn't want to.

The Victoria show is just a marketing trick : using sex to sell some ordinary lingerie for otrageous prices. It's suggesting that if you wear that lingerie you're more likely to look like the top model who wears it, and that's VERY unlikely, look more often in your mirror.

What is needed is more attention on these topics:

a) violence is stupid, immature, dangerous
b) ignorance is bad, very dangerous
c) blind faith/trust, extremism, integralism are usually very dangerous and they're often found in religions, ANY.
e) racism, superiority feelings "i'm holier then anybody"
slavery ...

and the list goes on ..sex, itself, isn't among the great
dangers with must face daily. It is true that unsafe sex exists, but that's breeded by ignorance of safe sex practices like condoms use.
posted by elpapacito at 3:08 PM on November 21, 2002

de┬Ěcent adj.
Characterized by conformity to recognized standards of propriety or morality.
Free from indelicacy; modest.

Morally upright; respectable.
Properly or modestly dressed.

That appears to be an utterly meaningless word, which makes its opposite meaningless as well.
posted by rushmc at 4:45 PM on November 21, 2002

Shocked, the public cried, "Don't show us what we want to see!".
posted by abez at 4:56 PM on November 21, 2002

using sex to sell some ordinary lingerie

What else would you use to sell lingerie?
posted by ook at 6:15 PM on November 21, 2002

ook: i guess you're old enough to figure what lingerie is for without additional sex input from marketing ? Oh yeah I forgot people who never saw lingerie live, silly me :)
posted by elpapacito at 6:26 PM on November 21, 2002

jesus, the most indecent thing you could ever see is right there, as soon as you go to that "touched" page, and click View Source

my god... the horror
posted by badzen at 7:52 PM on November 21, 2002

RE: The "Just turn it off" argument. While I'm generally libertarian, and don't much like the government ever deciding on issues of taste, or art, or "decency", I also understand the fairly intense reaction some parents may have. I was at some friends' home last year. They have a couple of kids, including an 8 year old daughter. They do "use the off button" ... and carefully try to screen what their children are exposed to. (Not because they are prudes, or naive ... they simply want their children to have a childhood before they start dealing with the issues of adulthood). Anyway, their daughter came home from a firend's house while I was visiting, and was dressed up - with make-up and everything - into a Britney Spears look-alike. 8 years old, and trying to look "not that innocent" before she even fully knew what it meant. You can't just "turn it off" - it is pervasive.

An extreme position is just not good enough here I don't think. Obviously there are some social norms - Victoria's Secret on prime time? Maybe arguable. But what if NBC decided to follow Friends with movies of bestiality? Would that be ok? What difference would it make ... since people could just "use the off button"?

The issue here is one of degree, not kind. The question will always be one of where the line is drawn ... not if a line should be drawn. There will always be social norms ... many of them good. It is difficult to codify those, but that doesn't mean the attempt to do so automatically leads to McCarthyism. Somehow, I don't feel like I am being censored, nor that my life is badly diminished, just because the FCC would not permit the X-Files to be replaced by "The Anal Sex Hour".
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:54 PM on November 21, 2002

The slippery slope of "indecency":
50 Killed Over Miss World
EXCERPT: Angry mobs stabbed and set fire to bystanders Thursday in rioting that erupted after a newspaper suggested Islam's founding prophet would have approved of the Miss World beauty pageant. At least 50 people were killed and 200 injured, Nigeria's Red Cross president said.
Street demonstrations began Wednesday with the burning of an office of ThisDay newspaper in Kaduna after it published an article questioning Muslim groups that have condemned the Miss World pageant, to be held Dec. 7 in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Muslim groups say the pageant promotes sexual promiscuity and indecency.

"What would (the prophet) Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them (the contestants)," Isioma Daniel wrote in Saturday's article.

It's ironic isn't it? Sexual promiscuity is indecent, whereas setting fire to bystanders is acceptable behaviour--so long as it's done in the name of decency.
This example speaks all too clearly about why many people see even the initial steps to constratin the broader public, rather than seeing a shrink or spending a lot more time with your children so they model themselves more after you than pop icons, as a misguided and potentially dangerous pervasive threat.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 11:15 PM on November 21, 2002

Religious fundamentalism is being openly invited into the current administration.

Enjoy the results!

I wonder what position Falwell will get?

Didn't Moyers get it right when he said "if you want more religion in government, welcome to the Rapture" ??
posted by nofundy at 5:37 AM on November 22, 2002

Only the offended and motivated complain. Anything and everything offends some proportion of the public. So, taking Victoria's Secret as an example, how many people actually watched the show? Assuming 3 million (probably a way too low guess), 300 were offended enough and motivated enough to write in. We can probably assume that another 3000 or so were offended, but not motivated. So that still leaves about 296,700 people unoffended by the show, and I guess probably 100,000 of them actually enjoyed it and would like to continue to watch it.

This is the problem with the FCC type of complaint-driven system; they never hear from those 100,000. It's easy enough to say 'go write', and it would be nice if that happened, but realistically hardly anyone will. Enjoying a program normally motivates people enough to watch it, but very rarely enough to praise it. I don't think this fact has been brought properly to the FCC's attention, and even so, I don't think the FCC's mandate takes proper account of it.

So there's your answer. If you care about what you watch, if you don't want TV to degenerate to the level that won't quite displease the most irritable of literate nutjobs, write to the FCC and ask them to review their processes to take proper account of the views of the vast, unoffended, majority who enjoy what they watch, and if they didn't enjoy it, wouldn't watch it. In other words, let the free market decide what makes it to TV. (Entry barriers, monopolization and corporatization are the enemies of the free market, and the FCC may well count itself among these enemies, but that's a whole other debate :) ).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:30 AM on November 22, 2002

Religious fundamentalism is being openly invited into the current administration.

Enjoy the results!

Er, I think the guy calling for this is the sole democrat on the FCC. Results in this area probably wouldn't be much different if Al and Tipper "Let's censor Rap music" Gore were in office.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:22 AM on November 22, 2002

he: using sex to sell some ordinary lingerie
me: What else would you use to sell lingerie?
he: i guess you're old enough to figure what lingerie is for without additional sex input from marketing ?

I'd understand complaints about using sex to sell beer, or using sex to sell cars, or using sex to sell deodorizing carpet shampoo. But, seriously, complaining about using sex to sell lingerie? You'd rather they focused on stitching quality and the tensile strength of the elastic?
posted by ook at 8:22 AM on November 22, 2002

Last year, The Smoking Gun filed a FOIA request for comments on the Victoria's Secret 2001 show and posted some of the e-mails. There were actually a few pro-lingerie e-mails out there, surprisingly.
posted by Vidiot at 12:36 PM on November 22, 2002

Hoo boy.

Should not Victoria's Secret be required to inform their audience that fashion models have higher rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, STDs, divorce, and suicide? Or do we want our nation's beautiful young women to figure that out after it is too late?

WARNING: use of this thong may cause dizziness, shortness of breath, elevated pulse rate, and arrhythmic physical convulsions. For external use only. Keep out of reach of children. Discontinue use if rash, skin irritation, or chafing develops. If swallowed, contact a doctor immediately.

Beautiful young women of America, you have been warned.
posted by ook at 1:45 PM on November 22, 2002

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