Remembering the Code


Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis is doing great work reminding readers of just how bland and boring much broadcast TV and radio fare was during the dreary days of the "code of decency." Which, he notes, only broke down in the '80s, partly due to the machinations of former broadcaster Ronald Reagan. As the FCC and other assorted lunkheads talk about the need to neuter what has been nothing less than a two-decade explosion in quality programming serving every goddamned niche imaginable--from The Teletubbies to The Sopranos, from Seinfeld to Strangers With Candy--it's worth remembering the rules that once governed the idiot box.

And it's worth remembering, too, that there's a real effort afoot to extend content regulation to basic cable. Legislators and contemporary Comstocks alike have been driven stark raving mad by too many doody jokes on Howard Stern and the blurred, momentary site of Janet Jackson's nipple.

Writes Jarvis:

SEAL OF GOOD CENSORSHIP: Since broadcasters -- under pressure from government -- are considering reinstating a code of decency, I thought I'd reexamine the Code of Practices that was rescinded -- under pressure from government, namely the Reagan administration -- in the '80s. Or in our parlance, I'm fisking The Code.

As irrelevant as The Code became, it's quite relevant today, for it will necessarily be the starting point, the touchstone for any new Code they create. Where's the line? Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? Where's the line? And who says where that is?

Some excerpts and comments:

Profanity, obscenity, smut and vulgarity are forbidden, even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience. From time to time, words which have been acceptable acquire undesirable meanings, and telecasters should be alert to eliminate such words.
No boobs, you boobs.

Attacks on religion and religous faiths are not allowed.
Reverence is to mark any mention of the name of God, His attributes and powers…. [Clergy] portrayed in their callings are vested with the dignity of their office and under no circumstances are to be held up to ridicule.
So The Code is explicitly trying to proselytize the nation. And it won't allow us to make fun of, oh, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, or hundreds of kiddie-diddling priests….

Illicit sex relatoins are not treated as commendable.
So much for prime time.

Drunkenness and narcotic addiction are never presented as desirable or prevalent.
The administration of illegal drugs will not be displayed.

Just ignore them and they're not there.

Exhibitions of fortune-telling, astrology, phrenology, palm-reading, and numerology are acceptable only when required by a plot…
So much for Crossing Over with John Edward….

The presentation of cruelty, greed and selfishness as worthy motivations is to be avoided.
So much for reality TV.

Unfair exploitation of others for personal gain shall not be presented as praiseworthy.
Donald Trump: You're fired!

The presentation of techniques of crime in such detail as to invite imitation shall be avoided.
CSI: You're canceled.

The use of horror for its own sake will be eliminated; the use of vusual or aural effects which would shock or alarm the viewer, and the detailed presentation of brutality or physical agony by sight or by sound are not permissible.
Well, I guess you won't be seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion on TV.

Law enforcement shall be upheld, and the officers of the law are to be portrayed with respect and dignity.
Unless they rob, steal, or beat up people for no reason. OK, destroy the Rodney King tape.

The presentation of murder or revenge as a motive for murder shall not be presented as justifiable.
While you're at it, destroy those "Murder, She Wrote" tapes.

The costuming of all performers shall be within the bounds of propriety, and shall avoid such exposure or such emphasis on anatomical detail as would embarrass or offend home viewers.
The movements of dancers, actors, or other performers shall be kept within the bounds of decency, and lewdness and impropriety shall not be suggested in the positions assumed by the performers.
Camera angles shall avoid such views of performers as to emphasize anatomical details indecently.

Henceforth to be known as the Janet Jackson Clause.

News reporting should be factual, fair, and without bias.
Commentary and analysis should be clearly identified as such.
Good taste should prevail in the selection and handling of news.

Insert punchline of choice here….

Whole thing here.