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War Is Poopy!
The FCC is fighting with Ken Burns over two profanities in his WWII documentary. Most appropriately, the story in the London Times is by a guy named James Bone:

The War, by Ken Burns, which includes veterans using profanities to describe their experiences on the front line, has become a test case in the Government’s crackdown on indecency on the air. The 14-hour series, created by the documentarian known for his epic television histories Jazz, Baseball and The Civil War, is scheduled to be broadcast on public television stations in September next year.

Despite the government clampdown, the defiant new head of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is refusing to bleep out the offending words or to air it after 10pm, when the rules are less stringent.

“The American people need to know this is not about Janet Jackson,” Paula Kerger, the president and chief executive officer of PBS, said in Pasadena, California. “This is about film-makers that have powerful stories that now are not being allowed to tell those stories on public television or broadcast television.”

...Before the crackdown (post Janet Jackson) the FCC had ruled that Bono’s exclamation at the 2003 Golden Globe Awards — “This is f***ing brilliant” — was not indecent because it was not a sexual comment. But the commissioners reversed themselves after the Super Bowl incident.

The FCC regards material as indecent if it “depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium”. The regulatory agency says that even bleeped-out expletives can incur a fine if the words are comprehensible by lip-reading. The policy has forced broadcasters to pixellate, or obscure, speakers’ mouths when they utter bleeped words. Congress has increased indecency fines by a factor of ten, to a potentially crippling maximum penalty of $325,000 (£175,000) a station for each incident. PBS is already fighting a $15,000 fine levied on an affiliate station in San Mateo, California, for an episode of Martin Scorcese’s documentary The Blues.

Burns, who has spent six years working on his project, told The New York Times that he was not worried that The War would fall foul of the new decency standards because, although it contained graphic violence, there were only two profanities, and they were read off camera. He said he was flabbergasted that FCC policy was being applied to documentaries, particularly after President Bush was caught on camera using a vulgarity in a conversation with Tony Blair at the recent G8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia.

Sorry, but these words hurt whom...and how? Can anybody explain why we have these prohibitions? I mean, is there some good reason?

Posted by aalkon at July 31, 2006 10:31 AM

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Comments

Maybe the good folks who invented the DVR (for recording live TV or a show that you may want to watch later) could invent a "bleeper" or some sort of a device that would remove the "profanities" that someone would not wish to hear. i wouldn't have one though as i really couldn't be bothered by some curse words....

Posted by: Rob at July 31, 2006 5:44 AM

Okay, so you probably shouldn't say fuck in front of your granny. And I make an effort not to swear in front of my friends' young kids. But the problem of hear some swear word or "profanity" in general...is what, exactly? Especially when it serves the narrative. And trust me, if a kid is mature enough to stay up and watch Ken Burns doc, they're mature enough to hear "fuck" and "shit" or whatever they're saying in it. I love that the news reports don't even say...like "fuck" or whatever is written word kryptonite.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 31, 2006 8:03 AM

My English grandmother swore like a sailor.... please pass the goddamn marmalade dear.

I can't help but to wonder if part of the agenda here is to maintain the American fantasy that war is a noble cause. Have you noticed the difference in the graphic reporting of the Israel/Lebanon war vs the Iraq debacle? Last night CNN was showing young bodies being pulled from the rubble, being tugged out from under cinder blocks and concrete trusses, and chucked onto flatbed trucks or gurneys. Blood and gore everywhere, body parts... you know, actual reporting. How much of our war have we seen?

Then again, the same people have trouble with Saving Private Ryan, Slaughterhouse Five, or even our beloved Mark Twain, for the use of real language. I will bet that the Veterans groups would support Ken Burns...

Posted by: eric at July 31, 2006 9:33 AM

> How much of our war
> have we seen?

Fair question, and the answer is not enough. Our media didn't show the WTC jumpers either... Too distasteful.

Nobody said war is an inherently noble enterprise. Defeating bad guys is a good way to go.

Bush thought he was speaking to Blair privately, and Burns knows he's broadcasting. The people who worry about cuss words on TV are wrong, but they're not wholly inconsistent.

To avoid saying 'fuck' in front of your granny (if not Eric's) is to acknowledge that we don't want a perfectly flat realm of expression, where we can say anything to anyone at in time in any terms. Such a world would be even worse than the one we actually have.

Posted by: Crid at July 31, 2006 10:23 AM

I was in England on 9/11- they showed the jumpers. I think they were even betting on them at Ladbrokes...

Posted by: eric at July 31, 2006 11:30 AM

If the older members of a society are fine with using vulgar language to describe one of the most vulgar things human beings do to one another, and in front of a film or TV camera, then it's time for everyone else to get off their high horses about the acceptable use of such language on TV.

The older segment of society is not usually expected to challenge or subvert the level of "decency" in society. The older populace is there to shake its fist and say "get off my yard, ya rotten kids!" and uphold the traditional/conservative stance.

The fact that we have WWII veterans who are more comfortable with their use of language than the prissy-assed complainers to the FCC says a lot about the schism we're seeing in public discourse today. What was obscene once upon a time has changed. The PTC and FCC should change with it.

Posted by: Kitt at July 31, 2006 1:54 PM

Fuck the fundamentalist prudes who are trying to take over the planet. I'm into subversion by any means necessary.

Posted by: Little Shiva at August 2, 2006 10:11 AM

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