Can you imagine the repercussions of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman or Governor Ted Strickland using an obscene word in a public address? The media would have a field day reporting such a career ending event.
In our society, there are acceptable and unacceptable vocabulary words for public and private discourse. There are words that we will use with our most intimate family members and friends that we wouldn’t think of using with an employer, a clergy-person or a casual acquaintance. Words speak volumes about who we are: they tell people how much educations we have had; what “social class” we grew up in and, to a large extent, how much self-respect we have.
One of the most clever strategies for teaching the power of language I’ve seen utilized was by the very conservative English wife of a Rabbi who walked into her religious school class and asked “So how the bloody f-ck are all of you today?” You could have heard a pin drop in that room of teenagers. With just a few words this woman was able to initiate a powerful discussion on how words, like clothing and behavior are one of the critical ways we market ourselves to the world. I’ve employed her strategy for that same lesson dozens of times since I first heard about it. I usually conclude such a discussion by asking my students “How will your words determine the first impression people have of you?”
“Listen to me douche-bag!”
This past Tuesday (7/13/10), a federal appeals court struck down an FCC policy regarding the broadcast of “fleeting expletives” on TV and radio. The court found the policy to be vague and having the potential to inhibit free speech. The court wrote that “By prohibiting all ‘patently offensive’ references to sex, sexual organs and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what ‘patently offensive’ means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive.”
The case was brought before the court by a number of mega broadcasters including CBS and Fox News who have been subjected to fines by the FCC when unscripted individuals have inadvertently been broadcast using obscene language.
But don’t expect to start hearing 4 letter words being utilized by network anchors or in prime-time network sitcoms in the near future. Undoubtedly the “market-place” will to some extent, continue to make it undesirable to employ obscenities on most TV and radio broadcasts. Regardless of whether or not we ourselves utilizes such language, most Americans are not comfortable hearing words they would prefer their children not hear or utilize, on the air.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the decision will only make parenting more difficult. “In the name of free speech, artistic expression, tolerance and self-determination, contemporary culture has grown gradually but relentlessly more coarse, more brutal, and more outrageous to the point where it has all but lost its power to shock,” Land said.
“I thought the Ambassador was a total as-hole”
“This federal court of appeals ruling will push society further down this alarming path. While parents have the responsibility to hold the television remote firmly in hand, sudden outbursts of obscene and profane language, as well as so-called equipment malfunctions, often cannot be anticipated.
Most religious traditions frown upon the use of obscenities which are viewed as as an impediment to achieving an idyllic character. In Judaism for example, great emphasis is placed on the idea that each person is created in the Divine Image. The individual is encouraged to strive to emulate the kind of behavior that might be ascribed to God.
The FCC has the option of appealing the court decision to the Supreme Court or developing new policies that don’t, in the language of the court, inhibit free speech.