think tank

Bleeping during Emmys adds salt to old wounds

I thought all those letters to Penthouse Forum were made up until … well, until I read on the wires how the infamous men's magazine had signed a $10 million television deal that plans to bring the company's brand of "adult entertainment" to the small screen.

It's a funny thing about speech, that Penthouse can make a pile of money putting things like their famous letters column on cable, but Sally Field can't say "goddamn" during this year's Emmy broadcast. It really doesn't make much sense.

Speaking of the Emmys, I know why the Emmy broadcast averaged just over 13 million viewers, the second-lowest number on record for the awards. It was boring. Something for which I blame the government.

Ever since the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" during a Super Bowl halftime show a while back, there's been at best a de jure and at worst a de facto war against live TV, at least over the airwaves. Whether it meant to or not, the FCC has sucked out what little soul the medium possessed.

One of the reasons why seemingly normal palookas like myself tune in to the Emmys, the Oscars and the Grammys is to watch the stars do something stupid.

As I watched the Emmys telecast, I kept wondering why my TV or the cameraman was screwing up. It wasn't until a while later that I realized the network had bleeped Sally and the gang.

Hey! Didn't anyone inform Fox that the FCC's policy on "fleeting references" was tossed by the federal courts? Oh, that's right, they didn't have to. It was Fox's case to start with.

No matter. The point is that, even when the government loses, it wins. As long as they can keep people running scared, people will overreact. Does anyone really believe that Field's little "goddamn" will cause the fall of Western civilization?

I don't know about those who believe it just may, but my son thought godammit was his first name for about six years. My dog still answers to it.

Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., apparently do think Western civilization is at risk. Both are pushing bills that restore the FCC's authority over a single word. Rockefeller's bill has already passed the Senate Commerce Committee.

While the federal appeals court in New York tossed the FCC's fleeting references policy back in the commission's face in June, the commission defended its decision in the Janet Jackson case on Sept. 11 in Philadelphia, where it used a coulda, shoulda, woulda defense.

FCC lawyer Eric Miller told the court that Timberlake sang the lyrics, "Gonna have you naked by the end of this song," and that's what happened. Well, she wasn't exactly naked. She was only a little bit naked, but that was enough to get CBS a $550,000 fine.

So, let's get this straight. For a little bit of nakedness on broadcast TV, you have to pay the government, but a lot of nakedness on cable will earn you about $10 million?

"We do not want our children to grow up with the mindset that certain behavior and language is OK," Pickering said when he introduced his bill.

That's bull. That's exactly what we want. We want them to speak up. To be unafraid. To demand their rights, godammit. We want them to tell the Pickerings and Rockefellers of the world to get off our backs and quit worrying about a few stray words and worry about more important things like the nation's deficit — or the goddamn war in Iraq.