Oct 6, 2009

The FCC not cracking down on TV

by Abby Armbruster

Most fans tuned in to the “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) season premiere to see the comedic side of Megan Fox, but instead were greeted with someone dropping a curse word on air.

Jenny Slate, one of the newly featured players on SNL, was the main character of a skit in which her character repeatedly said derivatives of the four-letter word, without saying the implied expletive. But becoming wrapped up in the character, Slate slipped the word in for everyone watching in Eastern Standard Time to hear during the live taping. Once it reached Pacific Standard Time, the offensive word had been censored.

Though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims that language after 10 p.m. is permissible, more and more vulgar language is allowed on the air, with hit shows such as the CW’s “Gossip Girl” and CBS’s “CSI” passing through the velvet ropes. Both allow uncensored expletives, even though the shows are at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively. Since these shows are scripted, and not prone to improvised slip-ups, they should be held to a higher standard.

The FCC does not describe specifically what words are on and off-limits. The standard for language must be reconsidered, as explicit vocabulary continues to slip into culturally accepted territory. Television producers, directors and scriptwriters should know where the line is drawn instead of pushing the envelope in every episode.

In the past 10 years, the FCC has received a fair number of cases concerning profanity and indecent behavior. From Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl incident to “Family Guy” episodes causing the Parents Television Council (PTC) to go berserk. Since no official, definitive line is drawn, the FCC has been forced to go through major rulings on a case-by-case basis.

Even though crass words are slipping into primetime television, there is proof that many Americans still want more conservative language in television shows. After a “Family Guy” episode aired in March of 2009, over 150,000 people submitted in indecency complaints to the FCC for graphic sexual themes. The PTC was behind most of the complaints and they still rallied for “Family Guy” to pay for their vulgarity at their pre-10 p.m. time slot.

As far as the Jenny Slate SNL case goes, neither SNL nor the actress was fined by the FCC for her slip-up occurring after 12:40 a.m.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In February of 2005, ABC Broadcasting Company decided to air “Saving Private Ryan” in its totality without censoring any language. The movie’s storyline, containing 21 words that would have been omitted under normal circumstances, was considered raw and heroic, and bypassed censorship even though it aired before the 10 p.m. safe harbor.

But when did “Gossip Girl” and “CSI” become heroic tales comparable to “Saving Private Ryan?” The work of primetime shows should focus on the storyline instead of the vulgar language. Although mistakes tend to happen on the air from time to time, pre-recorded television shows should hold a tighter reign on what they are and are not allowed to say.

Contact Abby Armbruster at aarmbruster@liberty.edu.

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