Better methods to deal with foul language than what FCC would impose

What others say

Posted: Wednesday, February 04, 2004

It's hard to remember the time when profanity on stage or screen could get you arrested. These days, with profanity so prevalent on cable television and in rap and rock music, it's more likely that spewing curses earns you a pile of money.

Not so in 1964, when the famously foul comedian Lenny Bruce was convicted on obscenity charges after a performance at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. After the arrest, Bruce had trouble finding work. He died of a drug overdose in 1966 at age 40. Last month New York Gov. George Pataki pardoned Bruce, after a yearlong First Amendment-inspired campaign championed by Bruce's daughter and comedians Robin Williams and the Smothers Brothers.

That crusade brings to mind a new campaign by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, who wants the help of Congress to crackdown on violations of the agency's broadcast decency standards. What incensed Powell and others is the FCC enforcement division's ruling after rock star Bono uttered the f-word on live television in his celebratory remarks after he won a Golden Globe last year. ...

There is one approach to dealing with offensive language: Change the channel and register a protest with the station.

It's not a perfect answer. When profanities on TV catch parents unawares, they are deeply aggravating. But viewers who are offended by the often witless and indiscriminate use of vulgar language still have that ultimate power to turn away. That's better than an ill-conceived throwback to the bad old days when even the mildest expletives could bring consequences far out of line with the offense.

Chicago Tribune - Jan. 22

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