Chilling Effects, Part XXIII

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An FCC-wary PBS starts bleeping, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

With the excising of three not-so-little terms—"s—," "f—" and "blow job"—from a forthcoming drama on PBS, the Hollywood creative community and broadcasters are finding, not to their liking, that a chilling effect on content has already taken place….

PBS doesn't have a lot of cash sitting around. In fact, the considerable woes now facing PBS are almost directly tied to money—the system simply can't afford to stand up against the government.

Because of this, a new drama called "Cop Shop" starring Richard Dreyfuss and other actors who made a sort of creative labor of love on the cheap for public broadcasting, has been edited to avoid the potential wrath of the FCC.

The best comment comes from series writer David Black: "As for the word 'fuck,' I stand with Vice President Cheney, who recently used the word on the Senate floor and who said sometimes you have to use it unapologetically because you feel better afterward."

Side note: Apparently, you can't say "shit" or "fuck" at the Chronicle, but you can say "blow job."

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  1. It’s the childish fixation of libertarian writers on the outre and the trivial that’s the real problem here.

    You say this while posting a comment to a blog?

  2. You say this while posting a comment to a blog?

    Well, I can’t get on PBS.

    Was my comment insulting? The profanity inflaming? Could that be the point?

  3. I highlighted this incident because it involves a bunch of actors working well below their usual fees for a relatively low-rated network, and thus seems like a pretty clear-cut case of expression that was aimed at something more than profiting off our prurient interest.

    I’m now flashing back to an old cartoon, with three beer-drinking guys in football jerseys, saying things like “Check out the knockers on the marquessa,” and “Wait’ll she finds out her son’s banging the duchess…” captions “The Masterpiece Theater Gang.

    I thought, perhaps foolishly, that it might impress some of the people who write off Howard Stern, Janet Jackson, and other high-profile targets of the indecency crackdown.

    I’d agree it’s bad in all cases, but where Stern was out, honorably, to make a buck, PBS, it seems to me, is really fighting for their very existence… but they lost my sympathy after the Grover dis… so I can’t get worked up

    /goes back to running porn site that I started on bet.

  4. Oh we sure are afraid of all those nasty old Saxon words. I?m reminded of ?I may not agree with what you say??. In a similar vein, while I got a chuckle out of ?fuckity, fuck, fuck? (the last use of the f-word in that phrase was, IMHO,excessive and gratuitous and thus should have been punished)I realize that Cheney using the word was further evidence of the hypocrisy of the administration in general.

  5. “So let me see? the government doesn?t have the right to censor its own speech.”

    What appears on PBS is no more “government speech” than the signs carried by people who got a permit to hold a rally on the town common. The fact that the speech occurs in a government-owned location does make it government speech.

  6. An issue I can finally weigh in on!

    “Profanity”, being wholly defined by 1) the societal taboos of a given culture and 2) the “ruling” class of the given culture, seems to me to be a really silly thing to argue about.

    Here’s why: as soon as words like fuck become completely common place (and I think there’s good evidence that they are, since even genteel gals like myself f-bomb every now and then) they lose their gravity. Then guess what, we invent new ones! Speaking of PBS, I was listening to NPR a few weeks ago where another linguist has actually done a study of the effect of profane words on children. Turns out, it doesn’t affect them at all…instead, they worry about offending their GRANDPARENTS.

    So all this hullaballoo over f-words and s-words is an utter waste of time…

    BUT, here’s a nice little tidbit. In many languages, you can have “infixes”, which operate like prefixes and suffixes except they go in the middle of the word. English does not have any of these, except….fuck.

    Unfuckinbelievable, eh?

  7. Is it really an infix if it’s just between the prefix and the root word?

    My high school football coach used to use damn as an infix in saying “guarandamntee”, as in “I guarandamntee you you’ll be doing sprints on Monday if we don’t beat this team!”

  8. Infix? So, that’s what you call “guarandamntee”. Your coach and mine must have gone to the same spit spewing school of motivation.

  9. … the system simply can’t afford to stand up against the government.

    They don’t seem to mind when they are the government. What goes around…

  10. Actually the title of this post should have been Tim Robbins’s “A chill wind” from the Nat’l Press Club speech, i.e., riding chill winds to the best supporting actor Oscar.

    Sorry David Black, but Cheney’s outburst was in a heated, but private, conversation that happened to occur on the Senate floor. Please cease the disingenuous attempt to portray Cheney as if he was giving a speech laden with f-bombs.

    Responding privately to someone publicly spewing Mooreisms (Mooreism, n. A statement which cannot be supported by facts) about you is much different than a discussion about a minimum set of standards for non-pay TV.

  11. What a shame. One less use of the words blow job, shit and fuck on TV. We surely are lost as a society now.
    And those poor scriptwriters and actors, having to come up with nonprofanities to express an opinion.
    The humanity.

  12. So far the responses are:

    1. I don’t care about this because liberals can be oppressive too.

    2. I don’t care about this because I insist on taking a joke literally. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to make fun of Michael Moore.

    3. I don’t care about this because it’s only a minor act of censorship. If you think it’s bad, that must mean you think it’s a major act of censorship. That’s silly.

    Anyone else have a reason not to care about this? The comments thread is open!

  13. Ouch, Jesse! Why don’t you just say, “Where’s the outrage?!”

  14. I don’t care about it because I don’t care about non-pay TV.

    I watch 1 show on the broadcast stations — the Simpsons. Everything else I get from cable, or the internet.

    I say let the market provide the solution. If people don’t want their show censored, they won’t watch. If people don’t watch then advertising revenue will dry up and all that will be broadcasted are syndicated & edited shows from the pay networks.

    Yes, it’s censorship. The government is wrong to try and control the media this way. The market would provide a solution on it’s own, with “safe” channels, etc if it was left alone. That’s what’s happened on cable. THere are plenty of family & kids networks where you don’t have to worry about potty-mouthed programs. And there are plenty channels where you can get an the cursing and sexual humor you want.

  15. Anyone else have a reason not to care about this? The comments thread is open!

    Richard Dreyfuss is supporting John Kerry, so he obviously hates America.

  16. Walker has convinced me…unless the major networks and PBS have the artistic freedom to include hardcore porn on primetime programming, we are all Winston Smith!

    No standards must be enforced anywhere, unless of course we’re talking about broad libertarian organizing principles, i.e., rule of law, contract enforcement, national defense.

    Hold on a second…”Rule of Law” implies an arbitrarily enforced standard!! Down with it!!!

  17. Jesse,

    #2’s inability to take the joke might be due to the fact that it’s totally misleading — there’s a fundamental difference between saying “fuck” in a private conversation and saying it on a free broadcast.

  18. Put me down in the “Glad that writers will have to express a thought without profanity” column. I drop the occasional f-bomb, but I don’t enjoy talking to people who say “fuck” every other word, and I certainly don’t enjoy watching it on television or in a movie for that matter. In my experience, the liberal use of profanity is evidence of a lazy mind. This is not “censorship”. It’s called culture.

  19. A misleading joke: Whoever heard of such a thing?

  20. so was cheney’s “fuck” on the senate floor during a debate? or a private conversation that got picked up by cspan or something?

  21. The great thing about “chilling effects” is that you get to be oppressed without actually suffering any governmental interferance.

  22. Ihave been reading alot of comments on this site in regard to free speech, vulgarity in the media etc etc. First of all, I would like to know who has been behind all the legislation and FCC regulations that fine media outlets and determine what is decent or indecent, vulgar or not vulgar. I do believe there is such a thing as “a little too much” for example if the dialogue in a particular program was full of “fuckety fuck fuck fuck”. Would I be horrified, ready to have a heart atack and the Puritan wax in my ears running all over the place? I don’t think so, but I might be annoyed. Should the government fine these folks in the name of maintaining standards of deceny. The crusade under the guise of “protecting our children” is deceptive. We all want our children to be protected….but that is mainly the job of parents not government. If I find something offensive, over the top, or just even plain monotonous..I can not tune in, I can complain to the broadcasters, or do a host of other actions where the individual can take action and the not have to rely on big daddy government.

  23. In my experience, the liberal use of profanity is evidence of a lazy mind. This is not “censorship”. It’s called culture.

    Yeah, that David Mamet. What a cretin.

  24. Dhex, it was reported to the media by people in the vicinity, which means Leahy’s staff members ran like little Eddie Haskells to the media.

    Leahy finishes public comments where he suggests that Cheney sent Americans to die to line Halliburton’s pockets, and the media pays no attention to Leahy’s despicable garbage, instead exhibiting faux outrage about Cheney’s understandable anger.

    Leahy’s lucky Cheney doesn’t carry a gold handled cane, he may have gotten all Preston Brooks on his ass!

  25. This is terrible. Someday I would like to go on the Bill Moyers show and tell him to fuck off, but now it looks like that won’t happen.

  26. I had no idea the patronage-and-secrecy-loving Dick Cheney was such a heroic figure among libertarians.

  27. Anyone who turns to TV for their filth deserves to have it censored – use the net, dummies!

  28. First they came for Janet Jackson, and I didn’t care because I’m not her.

    Then they came for PBS, and I didn’t care because I’m not PBS.

    Next they’ll go for ABC and I won’t care because ABC’s programming can’t possibly get any worse.

    And they’ll never come for me because my news channel will make sure that Bush is re-elected, and then my broadcast channel will have a monopoly on sex and violence! As one of my cartoon characters would say, “Whoo-hoo!”

  29. I’m with you Reason!
    I think this is seriously fucked up. I don’t think it’s as seriously fucked as say Cheney sending “Americans to die to line Halliburton’s pockets”. But it’s still another brick in the wall that separates us from liberty. I do care, and while it’s not so outrageous that I think we should be marching in the streets over it, it depresses the hell out of me that so many seem to be enthusiastically clamoring for greater government control over what we see and hear (and read?). Fucking eh, is it too early to start drinking?

  30. Jesse, and with all due respect, ’cause Lord knows I dig anyone who could go searching out a glass of Pabst down Fort Avenue with me, no matter how old the keg…

    But doesn’t this bit strike you as a lame attempt at PR for a dying network?

    I mean, “ooh, that dirty Washington won’t let us say all the bad words in our new, gritty, realistic drama that’s going to be shown at 10 Est? Here’s our with all the things he can’t say, in our gritty, realistic drama that’s going to be shown at 10 est. Here’s our program director, talking about all the things we can’t say, in our new, gritty realistic drama that’s going to be shown at 10 Est.”

    Where was PBS when Tsandra Tsing-Loh got canned? (Oh, OK. Well, maybe they were in production meetings for their new, gritty, realistic drama that’s going to be shown at 10 Est.)

  31. Gee snake, I’m amazed that cable isn’t just filled to the brim with profanity and hardcore porn. No wonder I never watch PAX or ABC Family.

    Isn’t Touched By An Angel Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy’s TV vehicle? It a good thing they’re protecting broadcast TV from naughty words. That way I can enjoy good wholesome programming like watching 30 women fight over one dumpy guy.

  32. I recall noticing a lot more profanity on the air in the 90s than before. Was there a deliberate loosening of FCC restrictions under Clinton, and does the recent crackdown represent a return to the status quo ante-Bubba?

  33. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of self-promotion here, David. But there’s too many other examples of FCC-wary broadcasters altering their output for me to dismiss it as nothing but self-promotion. I highlighted this incident because it involves a bunch of actors working well below their usual fees for a relatively low-rated network, and thus seems like a pretty clear-cut case of expression that was aimed at something more than profiting off our prurient interest. I thought, perhaps foolishly, that it might impress some of the people who write off Howard Stern, Janet Jackson, and other high-profile targets of the indecency crackdown.

  34. Joe: There wasn’t a formal loosening of the regulations under Clinton (except perhaps a change in the “safe harbor” during which profanity could be uttered on the air — I don’t remember offhand whether that changed under Clinton or under Bush Sr.). But there was a decline in enforcement, driven at least partly by a simple decline in listener complaints.

    The current crackdown began to gather steam with an increase in enforcement efforts, though it now involves alterations in the rules as well. This isn’t entirely a Democrat/Republican thing, given that the commissioner who’s really pushing for a clampdown is Michael Copps, a Democrat.

  35. “Leahy’s lucky Cheney doesn’t carry a gold handled cane, he may have gotten all Preston Brooks on his ass!”

    snake, that sounds pretty lame on the part of leahy’s staff but do you really think Captain Coronary could hit anyone with anything?

  36. … the system simply can’t afford to stand up against the government.

    Not exactly true. PBS stations in general have been outfitted with top notch equipment over the last decade and have generally been ahead of the curve on the HD front. These days, quite a few people seek work at the stations to get hands on experience in HD production and delivery. The statement is also misleading because for all intents and purposes, PBS wouldn’t exist without the government. Of course, there’s still no excuse for censorship.

  37. “Yeah, that David Mamet. What a cretin.”

    Oh boy, “Hill Street Blues”, except with the f-word. I can hardly contain myself.

  38. No one should be allowed to say anything that I do not want to hear!

  39. So let me see? the government doesn?t have the right to censor its own speech.

    Um, okay. Sure.

    So the corollary, is that the government is actually compelled to curse if it wishes to be observant of its own First Amendment rights.

    Therefore, Michael Powell made Dick Cheney to tell Pat Leahy to go fuck himself.

    Okay, I?ll buy that.

    On a related subject, did anybody see that episode of ?The Wire?, where the two detectives pieced together the forensic evidence of a murder in a kitchen, saying nothing but various conjugations of the word ?fuck?? A classic bit of profanity there, demonstrating that curse words only betray a poverty of imagination, when they are used unimaginatively. So go ass yourself, Snake.

  40. 1. I don’t care about this because liberals can be oppressive too.

    Was that me? Did you mean Liberals rather than liberals? Aren’t we supposed to be the liberals?

    It’s the childish fixation of libertarian writers on the outre and the trivial that’s the real problem here. Profanity is the censorship item that gets you riled? Those cocksuckers at PBS are your choice to champion? Those motherfuckers? What kind of fucking assholes worry about such shit when there’s real fucking censorshit going on?

    What was the topic?

  41. I am very mad about this! No, I am fucking pissed about this!

    Which one has more resonance?

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