Filed under: Obscene!
It’s been said before, but there’s no reason USA Today shouldn’t say it again: Broadcasters walk a thin, fuzzy line between decent and not. Trouble is, there’s no agreement on where, or what, that line is.
Sixteen months after the exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl touched off a government-led crusade against indecency, broadcasters — from the bawdy to the buttoned-down — say it’s still exerting a chilling effect.
Many radio stations have dropped or edited songs such as the Rolling Stones’ Bitch. Some TV networks are covering cleavage and blurring the posteriors of cartoon characters. And even some cable channels, though free from indecency constraints, are reviewing programs more closely to try to stave off regulation.
Though some broadcasters say the line delineating indecent content has gotten a bit clearer, leading them to consider riskier fare, most say it remains maddeningly fuzzy. That’s left broadcasters grappling with a fundamental question: What exactly makes a program indecent?
Efforts to clean up that which is presumably dirty run the gamut. Radio stations have edited classic songs by Lou Reed and Steve Miller — songs that weren’t censored when they were released 30 years ago. And there was, of course, the Saving Private Ryan flap, when 66 ABC affiliates refused to air an unedited version of the movie for fear that they would be fined. (The FCC later ruled that the movie contained no fine-worthy material.)
But perhaps the most egregious (and strangest) example of broadcasters confusedly bending over backwards to protect themselves comes from Rhode Island. The Providence Fox affiliate (that’s Fox, mind you — you know, the raunchy network) has decided to put a five-second delay on its broadcast of the annual Bristol Fourth of July Parade — an event that features Little Miss Fourth and guys dressed up in revolutionary war costumes.