Tag Archives: Federal Communications Commission

Why We Should Stop Bleeping, Blurring, And Censoring

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Over the course of history, certain tools, traditions, and words have become obsolete. It’s just part of the ever-changing nature of society. It’s why we don’t use VCRs or cassette tapes anymore. It’s also why we don’t use words like jargogle, corrade, and kench. Those are all real words that used to be common in the English language. Now, they’re relics of history.

Given the chaotic, yet evolving nature of language, why do we still censor certain words in the media? I don’t ask that question as someone who thinks Big Bird should start dropping F-bombs on Sesame Street. I’m genuinely curious as to how we can still justify bleeping certain words when they’re said on TV or over the radio.

I know the history of censorship in mass media in the United States. I know there are laws like the Communications Decency Act and famous Supreme Court cases like FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. Many of these laws have a basis in protecting the eyes and ears of children from hearing or seeing something objectionable.

At a time when the media had only a handful of accessible channels, the might have made sense to some extent. I say might because I certainly don’t agree with bleeping or blurring anything. Hiding something, be it profanity or female nipples, doesn’t make it less real. If anything, it gives it a greater allure, but that’s beside the point.

We live in different times now. That FCC v. Pacifica Foundation decision was rendered in 1978, a time before the internet, smartphones, and comments sections. Today, anyone with a cell phone and an internet connection can look up any amount of obscene, indecent, profane content, plenty of which is accessible to children for free and without a credit card number.

Kids know what these words are. Chances are, they know what female nipples look like too. However, TV shows and radio stations still blur and bleep these things as though they’re as damaging as a pack of cigarettes. I know the law is often slow to catch up to trends in technology, but at this point, bleeping or blurring anything is more a joke than a legal mandate.

That’s easy for me to say as a legal adult with no kids, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid. I remember hearing these dirty words and seeing these dirty images. I knew what they meant. My parents didn’t hide that from me. They didn’t like me saying those words or talking about those topics all the time, but they told me the truth and I understood it.

Kids may be impressionable, but they’re not stupid. Most kids are smart enough to understand that words carry certain meaning and the human body is composed of many parts, some more visually appealing than others. Censoring it doesn’t change that. If anything, it sends the message that everyone thinks they’re too stupid or weak to handle these concepts.

Aside from insulting kids as a whole, it also operates under the assumption that just hearing certain words or seeing certain images somehow damage them, as though human beings are ever that simplistic. While there is some research on this topic, the conclusions are fairly limited. The only common thread seems to be that, when it comes to dirty words, context matters.

There are times when we, as human beings, need to verbalize our emotions. When we’re angry, in pain, or upset, we’re going to want to communicate that. Profanity is just a byproduct of that. I know that when I stub my toe, I don’t stop to censor myself. I drop as much F-bombs as I have to and the world remains intact, even when there are children nearby.

That doesn’t mean I want kids to cuss like me all the time. Again, there is a context. There’s a time and a place for that sort of language. That’s an important lesson to teach someone at any age. That way, they’ll know not to sound like an asshole at a job interview or while on a date. Bleeping words doesn’t teach that lesson. It just gives these words more power than they deserve.

Standards are always changing. There was a time when Clark Gable saying “damn” in “Gone With The Wind” was considered shocking. When I was a kid, I certainly got plenty of scorn when I said words like that, even while not in public. However, hearing them on TV and movies didn’t change my understanding of these words. It just sounded stupid.

This used to be considered mature.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “damn” in a TV show or song. It doesn’t get bleeped or censored. More and more, words like “shit” aren’t being bleeped either. Rick Sanchez says it at least once an episode on “Rick and Morty.” There was even an episode of “South Park” that made saying “shit” on a TV show a big deal.

In terms of knowing when something has become obsolete to the point of absurdity, that’s as clear a sign as any. The same goes for blurring certain body parts. The widespread availability and accessibility of internet porn has removed all sense of mystery from the imagery of breasts, butts, and genitalia. Kids today no longer need to find someone’s porn stash to see these parts in all their glory. They just need an internet connection.

Now, that’s not to say I’m okay with every prime-time network show depicting the same level of profanity, sex, and violence as an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Like anything, there can be too much of it and if overdone, even the most obscene or indecent concepts lose all meaning and are devoid of impact.

There are also some people who are genuinely uncomfortable using certain words and seeing certain images. That’s perfectly fine. That’s their choice. Since there are plenty of options in terms of channels, websites, and radio stations, they don’t have to listen to or see this kind of content. Even if they do, the world doesn’t end because they’re temporarily distressed.

When the late, great George Carlin famously listed the infamous seven dirty words that became the basis of a Supreme Court case, there was a context and a situation at the time that made this kind of censorship seem reasonable. That context and those times are long gone. Carlin himself understood that. When it came to deconstructing the absurdities of language, he said it best when he made this observation.

These words have no power. We give them this power by refusing to be free and easy with them. We give them great power over us. They really, in themselves, have no power. It’s the thrust of the sentence that makes them either good or bad.

 

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How NOT To Fight For Net Neutrality

It’s neither unusual, nor surprising when the government does something stupid. It’s also fairly common to see those same governments make decisions that are not popular with the people. Governments are human-led institutions and humans are flawed creatures to begin with. As such, there will always be moments where government action incurs significant outrage.

The latest example of this has to do with net neutrality, a topic with a boring name, but enormous implications. If you’ve been near a news feed at all over the past few weeks, you know that recent government decisions regarding this topic have generated a lot of headlines and that’s rarely a good thing. Outside wars and moon landings, more government headlines usually implies more trouble.

However, I don’t intend to make this article about the merits of net neutrality or why it’s important. There are already people much smarter than I am who have broken this issue down and organizations much better-equipped than I am to help people do something about it. Let them be your guides in navigating the nuts and bolts of this issue.

Instead, I want to focus on one particular element of the debate that isn’t being discussed, but has been painfully obvious. It has less to do with the actual controversy surrounding net neutrality and more to do with how some are reacting to it. To say those reactions have been heated would be like saying Johnny Depp is mildly eccentric.

When the FCC rendered its controversial decision on December 14, 2017 to reverse the net neutrality provisions that had been put in place back in 2015, it generated a negative backlash almost on par with a major tax increase and a new sex scandal. Celebrities were quick to voice their opinions. Here are just a few.

Those reactions, for the most part, were fairly tame. They expressed dismay, concern, and anger over the decision. That’s entirely okay. That’s even appropriate, given the nature of the decision.

However, some reactions were a lot more severe. On top of that, they were a lot more personal as well, directing the anger and animosity towards one particular person. That person, whose name has become synonymous with all that is wrong and ugly about the world, is Ajit Pai.

Now, without getting into the details of who this man is and why he did what he did, I need to make one thing clear. I’m not out to defend this man or endorse his politics, nor am I looking to add to the pile of hate that he’s gotten over the past few weeks. I just want to note the sheer breadth of that hate. This is just a sample of that hate.

The level of hatred got so absurd that Pai himself actually took the time to read some of these tweets and after getting into an argument with Mark Hamill, no less. I’m not sure if whether it’s him having a sense of humor about the whole situation or he’s just entered that state of learned helplessness that renders him incapable of caring.

Whatever his reaction and whatever further reactions anyone may have to Mr. Pai, there is one important detail that is getting overlooked in this situation. It’s a detail that both Mr. Pai and those that hate him need to acknowledge. It may not make much difference at this point, but here it is.

Hating and insulting Ajit Pai will NOT change his mind or undo his decision.

If I could yell that into a bullhorn and direct it into the ears of every person on the internet, I would because it’s a critical detail for anyone that actually cares about the topic at hand. Insulting the man who helped render the decision and directing all that outrage into personal attacks will not undo what has already been done.

The decision is made. Whether you think it’s a good thing or the worst thing to ever happen in the history of modern civilization, it’s too late now. It’s in the past and unless you’re Dr. Who or have a flux capacitor handy, no amount of outrage or hatred can change that.

If anything, that may make it even worse. There’s a sound, psychological reason why overt personal attacks don’t work in debates. Anyone who has any debating experience or has taken any classes in the subject learns fairly quickly that these kinds of attacks are considered logical fallacies for a good reason. They don’t further the argument, nor do they change or shape the minds of others.

In fact, “South Parkdid an entire episode recently about just how counterproductive these sorts of attacks can be. They showed with their trademark vulgarity that just insulting someone only makes them more defensive and more determined to justify their actions, no matter how irrational they may be. This is also why debates with creationists are so counterproductive.

If there are legitimate reasons to oppose Mr. Pai’s decision regarding net neutrality, and I believe there are, then insulting or attacking him is the quickest way to ensure that neither he, nor his supporters will listen. They’ll just dig in even more, clinging to every reason and excuse they can to justify their decision. At that point, neither yelling nor rational discourse will have any meaningful effect.

I don’t deny the passion and the sincerity of those who decry the recent FCC decision. I get why they’re singling out Mr. Pai for such scorn. He’s the chairman of the FCC. He’s the one who signed off on this decision. It’s his name on the dotted line. He’ll bare a larger chunk of responsibility than most once the consequences of his decision set in.

Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean anger and hatred are the best ways to combat that decision. I know that sounds like the kind of touchy feely crap that has no place on the internet these days, especially on the unfiltered platforms like social media and 4chan. However, there is some merit behind a less heated approach and it has precedent.

It comes courtesy of a man most of us knew growing up as kids. His name is Fred Rogers, host of the long-running children’s program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Beyond being a wholesome kids show, Fred Rogers might have been the nicest man to have ever endured these harsh modern times.

He did this by being caring, compassionate, and completely genuine in everything he did. When there was something terrible happening, he didn’t focus on the negatives. He looked to inspire hope. He did it after the September 11th attacks. He did it every day on his show for decades. He also did it in front of Congress.

Back in 1969, Congress was looking to cut federal funding to PBS, calling it an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money. Mr. Rogers, who relied on public broadcasting to get his show to the masses, decided to take action. He didn’t do this by using John Oliver’s approach of incessant and childish mockery. Instead, he used the same caring, compassionate rhetoric he used to inspire children.

It worked too. In fact, it worked so well that instead of cutting PBS’ budget, it actually got increased after Mr. Rogers’ testimony. He did all that without a single mean tweet, angry rant, or public shaming campaign. He just reached out and connected with these powerful people with sincerity and heart and they responded.

That is how you exact meaningful change in a tense debate. That is how you get someone to listen to your arguments, even if they’re not inclined to accept them. Insulting or yelling at them only gives them reason to shut you out. Show a little heart, as Mr. Rogers did every day, and people will respond.

I don’t know if it’s too late to use that approach with Ajit Pai, but I do know that the debate over net neutrality isn’t over. There will be other chances to confront the issue and change the course of the debate. There will be other people not named Ajit Pai who will end up making this hard, unpopular decisions.

When that time comes, anger and outrage will do little to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way. There’s a right way and a wrong way to convince people of what the right thing to do is for a complex issue, such as net neutrality. Even if the ways of Mr. Rogers aren’t enough, the ways people are using to attack Mr. Pai can only do more harm than good.

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FCC Official Retires (Due To Porn) And (Overdue) Lessons We Should Learn From It

FCC sign is pictured. | Getty

Every now and then, there’s a news story that sounds like it came from The Onion, but it’s actually real. Personally, these stories tickle me like mountain of puppies. They show that, as crazy and distressing as this world is at times, it can still be pretty damn hilarious.

There’s actually an entire subreddit dedicated to these kinds of stories. They have funny headlines like “Kids Work Harder When Dressed As Batman, Study Says” and “Property Prices Lower On Streets With Silly Names, High School Students Find.” Again, these are not clips from The Onion. They’re real and they’re more hilarious because of that.

It’s for that same reason that when I saw this particular headline, I laughed and smiled like a kid in a room full of chocolate and kittens. If you’re having a bad day, just read it over a few times and let the world around you become inherently better.

Politico: FCC Official Retires Amid Complaints About Porn Viewing

As someone who regularly writes about the folly of regressive sexual attitudes, this kind of story is as informative as it is hilarious. That’s because when it comes to sexual regression, the joyless suits at the Federal Communications Commission are right up there with the Vatican. Remember, these people made a national scandal of Janet Jackson’s nipple, for crying out loud.

To be fair to the FCC, which tends to be an exercise in inanity, they get some pretty crazy complaints from citizens who grossly overestimate the destructive power of female nipples. Between complaints about shows like “South Park,” the WWE, and Miley Cyrus, they can’t help but be a little uptight. Fair or not, this story is another testament to just how powerful our collective sex drives can be.

While article singles one particular official out who accelerated his retirement plans after word of his porn viewing habits came out, it goes onto note that this is not an isolated incident. This one unidentified worker isn’t just the FCC equivalent of the town drunk. Apparently, FCC employees viewing porn is major problem. This is a direct quote.

“An investigation that began in January found “pornographic and inappropriate images” indicating the employee used his FCC-issued computer and the agency’s network in violation of commission policy, according to a new report from the FCC’s office of inspector general.”

Now, it goes without saying that viewing porn at work is a bad idea. There’s a time and a place for certain things. Even aspiring erotica/romance writers understand that. Unless you’re a porn star or working in the porn business, you should generally avoid putting that sort of thing on your browser history.

However, this story with the FCC and porn viewing is extra revealing in that it exposes something about our culture that we rarely acknowledge, but sort of assume in the back of our minds. Some of it has to do with our sexuality. Some of it has to do with the institutions we empower to control it. In the end, though, most of it has to do with how futile our efforts are when it comes to contain our sexuality.

Think back to when Osama Bin Laden was killed in the famous 2011 raid. Not long after his compound was raided, word got out that Bin Laden had a pretty extensive collection of porn. For a man who often bemoaned the decadence of America and the west, as a whole, this was a moment of egregious hypocrisy on his part.

However, not a whole lot of people were all that shocked by this revelation. Most found it funny. I doubt those same people aren’t that shocked by news that people at the FCC, the same organization that often clamps down on porn, has a problem with its employees viewing it. Again, we found it hilarious and rightly so.

Think about that for a moment, though. What does it say about the situation when we find it funny and not abhorrent? The fact we’re neither surprised nor disgusted by the fact that both the FCC and Bin Laden love watching pron in their spare time reveals something about our attitudes towards sex that’s worth scrutinizing.

The FCC certainly isn’t the first organization to decry porn as immoral. Islam isn’t the first religion to denounce it, either. In fact, there’s an ongoing anti-porn crusade unfolding in the Mormon-heavy state of Utah. That’s also inherently hilarious because Utah also happens to be the state with the most porn subscriptions, which kind of reinforces my point.

These efforts, regardless of whether they’re sincere or misguided, are doomed to fail. On some levels, we even realize that. We wouldn’t find stories like this so funny if they weren’t. I don’t doubt that some are still genuinely shocked, but I think the overall lack of outrage surrounding these revelations tells us something about our understanding of human sexuality.

On some levels, we know the FCC and Utah republicans can never hope to succeed in their goals. They’re never going to successfully censor porn. They’re never going to control our sexuality. We still empower them to at least give the perception that there’s some sort of government/spiritual guardian protecting us from the really kinky stuff that we can’t handle. As I’ve said before, perception tends to kick reality’s ass.

Overall, though, we know the people behind those efforts are still human. As such, they get horny like the rest of us. When that happens, they seek an outlet and it shows on their browser history. None of that surprises us. It only becomes hilarious when they’re supposed to be the ones setting a better example, but fail miserably. We’re never surprised that they fail. If anything, we expect it.

It’s for that reason I wouldn’t put this sort of story on the same level as Pamela Anderson’s hypocrisy on porn. Sure, the FCC and Utah republicans are trying to regulate or censor porn, but they’re not going out of their way to condemn other people for using it. They’re basically taking on the impossible task of regulating human sexuality. Even they have to know on some levels that they’re going to fail.

That, beyond the inherent humor, is the biggest take-away from a story like this. We know what the FCC and other organizations like it are trying to do with sex in media. We know it’s a losing battle, but we let them fight it anyways because it gives us the illusion that we’re making an effort to sanitize the kinkier parts of our sexuality. It’s because it’s an illusion that we can find stories like this so funny.

Funny or not, there’s still a danger in letting organizations like the FCC make that kind of effort to censor our sexuality. Remember, this organization made a big deal about a goddamn nipple. At some point, those kinds of efforts stop being hilarious.

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