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Holy $***!

Swearing: It’s something we all do. OK, not all of us, but a hell of a lot of us (oops, I apologize if the “hell” in the last sentence offends. I’ll try to do better, dammit.)

The Federal Communications Commission decided over 30 years ago that we are not allowed to swear on the broadcast airwaves, in the “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On TV” case that made George Carlin even more famous than he already was. And if you don’t remember the seven words, they are:

Ha! You didn’t think I was really going to go there, did you? (Although over the last three decades several of the words have lost some of their punch. If you really have to know what they are, go here. Gotta love Wikipedia.)

Anyway, CBS’ Andy Rooney weighed in on the obscenity question on last week’s “60 Minutes.” You can see his piece (or read the transcript) here. He comes down very solidly on the side of free speech, reacting negatively against the FCC deciding what can or can’t be said over the air. However, he also points out that he doesn’t like obscenity, doesn’t use it, and would be happier if others didn’t either.

I never thought I’d be siding with Andy Rooney, no matter what kind of curmudgeon I usually am, but I think he’s 100% right here. Full disclosure: I swear. I swear a lot. You can’t have ever worked in commercial TV and not have developed both a sick sense of humor and a potty mouth. But that doesn’t mean that I swear around my kids, or other people’s kids – I don’t. Ever. Still, I think it is the height of hypocracy to watch shows like “Project Runway” or other “reality” programs and hear bleep after bleep after bleep. People know what is being said; I even think my kids have a pretty good idea of what is being said, and they are only 11 and 8 years old. So what is the answer?

First of all, parents have to do their job – raising kids is a contact sport. You decide what they will and won’t watch. Second, I would be in favor of reinstating some concept of “family hours” on broadcast, where you could be assured of a “clean” experience. Lastly, tell the censors to take a hike when it comes to more “adult” fare, and let Ice Cube fire off the F-bomb if the script calls for it. I can assure you my kids aren’t watching “Law & Order,” so it won’t be a problem for them. And it would behoove producers of shows like “Project Runway”, which I guarantee has a very large number of young girls watching, to tell the contestants to clean it up. (Although the chances of that happening are roughly equivalent to a snowball’s chance in hell. Oops, there I go again.)

The Supreme Court is soon to rule on whether “fleeting expletives” (like Bono exclaiming that winning a Golden Globe award is “f###$%g brilliant” – which is a lie, as well as a swear) are so heinous that every station that (accidentally) aired one should be fined $350,000 per transmitter, per incident. Lots of stations out West have strings of dozens of translator stations, so a misplaced “$#!t” could clean out their bank accounts in a split infinitive. Or maybe, just maybe, the Supremes could rule that a bad word here and there isn’t the end of the world, that adults can be adults, and kids access to more adult fare should be a family matter, not a government one.

What do you think? I say not a chance in hell.

Oops, there I go again!


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A 1981 graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Bruce A. Johnson got his first job in broadcast television at WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL. While there, he rose through the ranks…

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