Tuesday, December 14, 2004

War of the (Four Letter) Words

I hope this blog isn’t becoming too myopic, but the decency debates that have been waged all year may very well be the most important story in Entertainment this year, and the one with the most lasting impact on the future of pop culture.

Especially with Michael Powell’s latest comments regarding the Saving Private Ryan battle:

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has concluded the agency should not take action against the other 159 stations that aired the acclaimed movie because the language was part of accurately portraying the story about the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, the FCC official said.

This may very well open the floodgates. Couldn’t the same rationale be used to defend the use of profanity or violence in any number of other movies that have been censored over the years on network television? Certainly the language in films like Boyz N The Hood or Goodfellas could be described as “part of accurately portraying” those stories.

Likewise, that rationale could open the doors for a show like Rescue Me or The Sopranos to air on FCC-controlled broadcast networks, or to push the boundaries further on 24, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, etc.

And then there’s the ambiguity raised by his emphasis on context (and seemingly, Importance). The definition of what is “Important” is much more open to debate than what is “obscene,” and if that argument is used to justify the condoning of ABC’s broadcast of Saving Private Ryan, expect it to open a whole other can of worms. Some may say that Mystic River is Important for tackling child abduction/molestation. Some may say that Beloved is Important for dealing with slavery. Some may say that Trainspotting is Important for portraying the ravages of drug abuse. All three are rated R and contain material that here-to-fore has been considered unacceptable for broadcast over federally regulated airwaves, but the FCC would be dragged into a very sticky debate over which is a more Important issue, slavery or World War II if Jonathan Demme sought to use the Saving Private Ryan ruling as precedent to get Beloved on the air uncut. Hell, who’s to stop Trey Parker and Matt Stone from claiming that Team America is an Important movie about war and international relations, or that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is an Important movie about freedom of speech where the language is absolutely relevant and accurate to the way that many fourth-graders speak?

It’s only just begun…


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