Protecting America From Flying Fucks


When I sent my column to Creators Syndicate this week, I wasn't sure how to treat bullshit and dickhead, two words featured in the 2nd Circuit's decision overturning the FCC's ban on broadcast indecency. Newspapers generally like to replace the last three (or middle two) letters in shit (and fuck) with hyphens or asterisks—a policy that has always seemed rather silly to me, since there's no mystery about what the missing letters are. But in this case the appeals court spelled out all the naughty words, and it seems especially absurd to shield readers of a newspaper column about a court decision from words that appear in that decision. I also thought that maybe bullshit had, like BS, become acceptable as a slightly stronger variation on nonsense, balderdash, poppycock, and pishposh. (It's the name of a TV show, after all.) Evidently I was wrong: My editor thought it was best to take the cautious route of censoring bullshit, bullshitter, and even dickhead (which the FCC had certified as totally OK for prime time [correction: I see that dickhead made it through, so maybe the FCC has a firmer grasp of "contemporary community standards" than I thought]). He also added a warning about the language, perhaps to cover Milk Nymphos and Storm Squirters 2, porn movie titles that do not include any forbidden words but might, "in context" (as the FCC likes to say), be a little too suggestive for squeamish newspaper readers.

The more I think about these rules, the less sense they make to me. (For an interesting exploration of language taboos, I recommend the 2006 documentary Fuck.) This press release nevertheless made me proud to be an American:

New Profanity Filter Battles the F-Word in Living Rooms

ROGERS, Ark., July 21 /Christian Newswire/—Just one week after a federal appeals court opened the door for the F-word to be used freely on broadcast TV, an Arkansas company says they have a solution: Filter the words out on your own.

TVGuardian, LLC is just this week receiving shipment of the first of their new profanity filters—boxes that connect to TVs and automatically filter out foul language.

"It's now clear families can't rely on broadcasters to provide profanity-free TV," says TVGuardian, LLC President Britt Bennett. "Families have to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves from obscenity."

A second new model is due to be released next month, one that works with high definition TV. Both new models are available on the company website, www.tvguardian.com.

What's new about the new models? "New software, new boxes, now in HD, and a new rental program," says Bennett. "Families can now rent TVGuardian for as low as $6.99 a month."…

TVGuardian was invented by Rick Bray in 1997, and the company produced more than 400,000 units before discontinuing production in order to pursue licensing. They successfully licensed their foul language filtering technology into over 12 million DVD players. Their return to the marketplace with new set top boxes comes after a nearly three year absence.

"I used to be more hopeful about the future of TV for our children," says Bennett. "But now that even the F-word is allowed? At any time of day? It looks like we'll be in business for a while still."

Contrary to Bennett's implication, it's quite unlikely that TV networks will start recklessly tossing F-bombs into people's living rooms, because they don't want to alienate viewers. There are plenty of family-friendly options available on cable, which has always been legally free to transmit profanity-laced dialogue between SpongeBob and Patrick or Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. But for those extra-cautious parents who do not entirely trust the standards of children's channels or the TV rating system (on which the omnipresent yet little-used "V-chip" relies), TVGuardian offers another option (in addition to relying on DVDs and streaming video, turning the TV set off, or even not buying one to begin with, an option that some strains of cultural conservatives have been known to exercise). Whatever you may think of TVGuardian's approach, it is vastly preferable to the attitude of former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who in 2005 defended the commission's censorship this way: "You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want….But why should you have to?"

NEXT: Obama's Lack of Faith

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oh wow, OK that actually makes good sense dude.


  2. “You know, Fox turned into a hard-core sex channel so gradually, I didn’t even notice!”

    1. “And so I ask you this one question. Have you ever tried simply turning off the TV, sitting down with your children, and hitting them?”

  3. An entrepreneurial solution?

    The mind boggles.

  4. Where’s the inevitable Hollywood lawsuit against TVGuardian for infringing on artistic copyright? I bet there’s a loophole in the ART Act that doesn’t provide an exception for live broadcasts.

  5. Q: What’s a word that begins with “f” and ends with “uck”?

    A: Firetruck.

    1. Seen in a college dorm room window many, many years ago:

      F-CK All that’s missing is you.

  6. FCC those ratFCCers at the fuck, yo.

  7. What’s a word that begins with “mo” and ends in “ck”?
    I mock you, motherfuck.

  8. “I used to be more hopeful about the future of TV for our children,”

    Aw, free babysitter turns out not be a very good babysitter.

    1. Where the fuck is this cunting free television to which you refer?

  9. Remember: V Chip and ratings filters were supposed to end this dicussion once and for all, and usher in a new age of innocence for children.

    1. It doesn’t work?

      1. It helps the kids find the good stuff.

  10. “There are plenty of family-friendly options available on cable, which has always been legally free to transmit profanity-laced dialogue between SpongeBob and Patrick or Maggie and the Ferocious Beast”

    I always thought sponge bob was an subliminal allegory of interspecies gay bondage sex, copraphilia, etcetera, and the lack of dirty words was a clever coverup of their nefarious plan to pervertize America’s youth – am I the only one who thinks that?

    1. Your first mistake was in admitting you watched it.

    2. SpongeBob sort of reminds me of Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy which both seemed to me, as a kid, to have something nefarious running under the hood. Luckily, being a kid and all, I was too dumb to pick up on most the innuendos unintentional or otherwise. Now, I am the most foul-mouthed perverted motherfucker I motherfucking know. Motherfucker.

      1. SpongeBob sort of reminds me of Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy which both seemed to me, as a kid, to have something nefarious running under the hood.

        I saw a Spongebob where SB & Patrick saw a dirty word written on the dumpster, and kept on repeating it (obviously, it was bleeped out with cartoon noises). However, if you mentally replaced the bleeps with your favorite vulgarity, it was a very funny show.

    3. Without Teletubbies to turn the childrens gay, one can only assume that SpongeBob is now to blame. I know that everything about the adult I would become, from sexual orientation to speech patterns, was based on the lameass 90’s TV I watched as a child.

  11. But for those extra-cautious lazy-assed parents who do not entirely trust the standards of children’s channels or the TV rating system (on which the omnipresent yet little-used “V-chip” relies), monitor what their children watch, TVGuardian offers another option

    1. Obviously, CN, most parents are too busy trying not to be parents. Who could blame them? Except their children…

      Our entitled sense of permenant youthful irresponsibility enveloped the realm of parenting years ago. Why raise/get to know your kids if some unfeeling color-box can do it for you thus alotting time for you to nap after coming home from your soul crushing government subsidized job? Moreover, why care what your kids are taught, as long as some unfeeling, depressed, sexless public union employee can do it for you?

  12. I’ll never understand people who are frightened, offended, or otherwise disturbed by so-called obscene words. I could just as well decide that “banana” (manana?) means gay buttsecks. Any word can mean anything; that they have any meaning at all is only because of widespread agreement that this combination of sounds reflects that particular meaning.

    1. While you are correct, there are always, in all languages, words that are considered “taboo”. These words change over time, of course. Unfortunately, some idiots can’t seem to distinguish between taboo words and getting hit with a bat.

    2. one widespread meaning from the past, it seems to me, was that profanity was viewed as a class issue…profanity for those without the ability or compunction to express themselves creatively. Profanity representing more the lazy, one or two syllable grunts of the uneducated…sort of like, um, you know, like, lazy speak. Either that or it threatened to titillate all ears into which it penetrated!

      1. fuck that shit.

      2. Nah, the lower classes stuck to Anglo-Saxon monosyllables while the Frenchified dandies learned to swear in vulgar latin.

      3. You know, that’s an interesting point. I have a couple of friends who cannot articulate a single sentence without using the word “fuck” and its permutations several times. When I think about, they use “fuck” the way a more eloquent speaker would use adjectives, tone changes, inflection, and metaphor. What a couple of fucks!

  13. This seems like a good thing. It is nothing but an advanced off button. These people buy this thing. And now they can leave the rest of us alone. Free market solves another problem.

    1. Free market solves another problem.

      Whoa, whoa, now. This is clearly an externality and market failure that only our guardians in government can regulate away, not your free market false god. And don’t try any of those “real world examples” that clearly prove your point. It’s not like someone is going to make a box that censors tv for you.

  14. Hell, kids are the biggest users of profanity out there (with the possible exception of Hit and Run commenters).

    1. What the fuck are you talking about?

    2. Don’t go to /b/.

      Wait, you said kids are the biggest users of profanity. Fucking brilliant.

      1. I received a 5-day suspension in 6th grade for that…luckily, it was on the last day of the year, and the next year, I ended up going to another school.


  15. A lot of people seem to think Teh Media has magical, mind-controlling powers that I just don’t see the evidence for. From the feminists trembling in fear that porn turns men into rapists, to cultural conservatives freaking the fuck out over fuck, it seems a bit hysterical.

    What is the specific fear for the children in this case? My (non-religious, non-conservative, just lame) parents were super anal about what I watched, and I still grew up to be a swearing, drinking, sex-having, violent-entertainment-consuming person.

    (Standard Libertarian Disclaimer: shield your kids from whatever you want. I just don’t think it does what you think it does.)

    1. Patrick: Patrick: Hey SpongeBob, wanna go jellyfishing?

      SpongeBob: Go fuck yourself, Patrick.

    2. Basically, I shield the kiddies from crap I don’t feel like having a conversation about just yet, or stuff that will just give them screaming nightmares.

      Hence, they watch no news programs, but PG-13 movies are OK for the most part.

      Of course, the missus freaks out if they see James Bond-level sex on screen.

    3. From a moral perspective the whole thing is distinctly un-Christian. The point is to save people’s souls. For the sake of argument lets assume that watching porn is immoral. If that is the case, I am morally no better off if the govenrment prevents me from getting porn. I still think that it is okay and would watch it if I could. I just can’t. I am no better than the person who watches it all the time. I just have less access. So the Christians have accomplished nothing by preventing me from watching it.

      Now some of them would say they still have accomplished something because seeing pornography makes one immoral. But that seems to me to have the causality wrong. The porn doesn’t reach out an corrupt us. No, we watch the porn because we are already corrupted. To believe otherwise, you have to have a view of man that denies free will. Maybe you could say that there is something in our genes that makes us suceptable to being damaged by porn. But, that isn’t the kind of argument most Christians would want to make.

      Bottom-line, Christians need to save souls not the world. The world belongs to the devil. And there is nothing they can do about it.

    4. “My (non-religious, non-conservative, just lame) parents were super anal about what I watched, and I still grew up to be a swearing, drinking, sex-having, violent-entertainment-consuming person”

      That is just because they didn’t beat you enough Dagny. It they had back handed you a few times, it would run the devil out of you. 😉

    1. Kevin Smith’s virtuoso-level usage of the word “fuck” and its derivatives has a great deal to do with my enduring love for him. Hell, the screenplay for “Clerks” is like a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card with me, guaranteeing selective amnesia where travesties like “Jersey Girl” are concerned.

      As a side note, early exposure to bad words did not harm my children. They use them properly and well, and understood from a very young age that there are people around whom it is disrespectful to swear and places where it is inappropriate. I think the fact that it was no big deal robbed swearing of its shock value, making them far less inclined than many kids I’ve met to use it specifically to piss off adults. As Ice Cube says he told his kids, it’s up to you what words you use around friends, but no adults should ever hear you swear.

    1. Is this a new record for SFing links?

    2. I fear your lack of sucrose, glucose, or fructose is easily observed by even the most casual of observers.

      1. Have no fear. You are in good company.

  16. “You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want….But why should you have to?”

    Well, I want to see tits and hear people say “fuck” on TV. Why should I have to pay for cable (and not just basic cable either) to do that? Why isn’t anyone concerned about what I want?

    1. All you need to see tits and hear the word “fuck” is high-speed internet access.

      TV sex is lame.

      1. So is movie sex. Who jumps into bed before taking their clothes off? Who has sex without a little foreplay (Christ, can they not show a little oral for once)? Why are these people always having sex in a darkened room? Quite possibly the lamest shit ever.

  17. I hear that NBC is replacing its Thursday night line-up with a series based on Milk Nymphos 2.

    1. Working title: “2 and a Half Milk Nymphos.”

  18. I’m pretty sure it’s “2 and a Half Milk Nymphos 1 Cup”

  19. I remember the good old days, when I watched Barney and Blue’s Clues in the mornings. Then in the afternoon, my brother and I would play in the living room with each other as my mother watched the OJ Simpson trial!

    But really. Life is vulgar. People cuss. I don’t understand how people actually think that keeping kids from hearing certain words is going to make a real impact on their development. Oftentimes, the kids don’t even understand the context in which the “vulgarity” was spoken, so there’s really no harm done anyway. The wee kiddies see “fuck” as just another word until the parents freak out about it.

    1. As if TV, or parents’ mouths, are the only places little Shitty Pants, Jr. is going to hear f-bombs.

    2. You know you’re old when you read this sentence, “I remember the good old days, when I watched Barney…” and think of Barney Miller.

  20. It was kind of sad to watch the Mythbusters episode on common sayings get censored — they were testing the myth that “you can’t polish a turd” but Discovery bleeped out “turd” every time they said it.

    1. Were they able to successfully polish one?

        1. Lemme guess: After the turd got all polished up, it ran for office. And won!

          1. Still happily employed in the White House.

            Is that racist?

      1. Yeah, but it was a lion turd (chosen because meat produces more natural luster in the stool), and Jaime was adding polish to it which Adam thought was cheating. It was the first time I’d ever seen them really pissed at each other.

        But my favorite part from that episode was making a balloon from lead foil (from the saying “that went over like a lead balloon”), which they also accomplished.

  21. “You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want….But why should you have to?”

    I can always not kick that guy in the balls, or even block out the thought of kicking him in the balls….Buy why should i have to?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.