It seems that Super Bowls and FCC complaints go hand-in-hand. In 2004, it was Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction that left her breast exposed to the world and CBS exposed to a court case (which, by the way, the Federal Communications Commission lost.) This year, Super Bowl MVP and Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco dropped the f-bomb in a moment of understandable excitement, and the annoyingly relentless Parent Television Council (PTC) is already calling on the FCC to take action against CBS.
“Despite empty assurance after empty assurance from the broadcast networks that they would never air indecent material, especially during the Super Bowl, it has happened again,” PTC president Tim Winter said in a statement.
But the problem with Winter's statement is -- who the hell can decide what indecency is? The FCC, along with the fact that it violates freedom of speech and also infringes on the property rights of those who develop the airwaves, is ambiguous and incomprehensible, making it ridiculously difficult for anyone to follow their rules.
Although Flacco’s enthusiasm would probably be classified as a fleeting expletive, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the FCC does decide to pursue this case, seeing that they’ve done it many times before. Just last year, the Supreme Court tossed the FCC’s case against FOX for Cher and Nicole Richie’s expletive slips at the Billboard Music Awards and Bono’s “This is fucking brilliant” at the 2003 Golden Globes ceremony: For some reason, this doesn’t stop the FCC from pursuing what they already should know are going to be futile cases.
There is a catch though – not every CBS station in the U.S. would be in trouble. Flacco’s slip took place after 10 p.m. EST and according to the FCC’s indecency rules, you only really have to be decent between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
If the FCC does indeed decide to pursue this, the Supreme Court should not only throw out the fines but also the body of law that allows the federal government to censor broadcasts. By engaging in and allowing censorship, the government is both violating freedom of speech and also infringing on the property rights of those who develop the airwaves.
The FCC punishes TV and radio stations that air programs that depict sexual activities in a way that is "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.” The only problems are a). who exactly determines what the “community standards” are? And b). almost no one knows what is considered decent or indecent until the commission rules, and by then, it’s clearly too late.
The commission has decreed that saying “bitch” on television is OK, because technically, bitch isn’t an expletive. And how about the rising trending of violence in television shows? According to a Funeral Resource Guide study 40 television shows averaged 132 dead bodies in a single week – this isn’t including vampire and zombie deaths, by the way, because they aren’t measured on equal terms as human deaths. Is that considered decent enough for children to watch while flipping through channels?
In the end, despite the commission's slightly honorable intentions, the commission is a failure as an institution because indecency cannot be measured or have a set standard. Indecency is a matter of taste and only a viewer can decide what they personally deem acceptable or unacceptable.
Instead, all the commission has actually done is create a list of incomprehensible rules that are bound to get individuals and broadcasters in trouble with court cases that won’t really see much light of day.