The FCC has changed its mind and ruled that when Bono said “fucking brilliant” on national TV at the Grammys he was using “the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language”. They said it was both indecent and profane. Interestingly, reports Fox news story above, “the decision also marked the first time that the FCC cited a four-letter word as profane; the commission previously equated profanity with language challenging God’s divinity.”

Meanwhile, This American Life ran an interesting story as part of their “Propriety” show which discussed these issues. One of their guests has done study after study to try to determine if profanity harms children. He has never found any evidence that profanity in any way harms children. Furthermore, he found that children as young as 2 years old already know most swear words. Children old enough to comprehend Bono on the Grammys have heard and probable said the word “fucking” many, many times.

Well, what about the idea that if children hear Bono swear that they’ll think it is OK to swear. This researcher said that children learn these words from their parents. Who has more influence over a child, his or her parents or Bono? I’m very scared if the answer is Bono. It’s not the Bonos of the world teaching our kids to swear.

So if kids already know the words and perhaps even use the words, and if most adults know the words and perhaps even use the words, why are we so concerned about this stuff? I think our media can be mostly children-friendly but must it be entirely children-friendly? Can the adults in this world have media available to them that is not necessarily rated G?

First of all, I really believe that if your kids hear profanity or perhaps even use it themselves, it is not a big deal. Good parenting can make sure kids know what is appropriate and what is not. I will make sure my kids know that using language like that is for adults and is rarely appropriate. (And I’m a Dad now so I can say that). At the same time, I’m not going to freak out if me or my friends or some guy on TV swears in front of my kid. It’s not a big deal.

The bigger picture is this pseudo-moral bullshit that is going on. There are a bunch of church ladies (men included) who think they need to be the morality police. They don’t like gay people, they don’t like premarital sex, they don’t like swearing, etc. These people (mostly on the Christian Right) are using our government to evangelize their religious values. For good reason people in Europe and other places think we are a bunch of prudes.

Fucking relax, people. Republicans love to bitch that liberals want to legislate their lives. Here is their chance to put their money where their mouths are and drop these “morality police” issues. The world is not nor can it ever be G-rated. Don’t cheat your children by tricking them into thinking the world is G-rated. If you are a good parent Bono saying “fucking brilliant” is not a threat.


8 thoughts on “Profanity

  1. Dan says:

    Nice points, but we see this differently.

    1. “The term “public airwaves” is a little bit of a misnomer because we essentially sell/give them to for-profit companies”

    If we the people own them, then we the people have a right to decide how they are used.

    2. “…let me point out that your statement implies that you beleive if we let the market decide, the market would opt for what you describe above. Is that true and if it is true, what role is government playing in trying to make sure that never happens?”

    I do not think a majority of Americans would support it, but I think someone could make money by catering to a sexually deviant segment of society. Just because someone can make money at it, however, does not mean its acceptable to a majority of Americans or in the best interest of the nation.

    As for the part about regulation, I have no problem with bowing to the majority will on any subject. I do not want to regulate anything for the sake of regulating it, but I want to make sure the will of the people is heard and followed. Ultimately thats what its all about. I just don’t think a judge can tell us when the majority’s will is relevant or irrelevant. Thats not his role.


  2. What’s funny is, you the right-leaning guy thinks we should regulate it and me, the left-wing guy, thinks we should let the market decide. Your solution does not address my original point: I do not want to live in a G-rated world even if a majority of the people think we shoud live in a G-rated world. There is certainly enough people to warrant a small piece of the airwaves for people like Howard Stern. The term “public airwaves” is a little bit of a misnomer because we essentially sell/give them to for-profit companies.

    I think the “This American Life” guy summed it up pretty good in his show. Can’t we have certain channels/stations that are always 100% family-safe and then let the market decide what other channels/stations are like?

    Finally, in regard to:

    “I mean, if its just a matter of each person chosing what they want to watch, whats the harm with putting the most graphic and deviant sexual acts imaginable out there for everyone to see if they choose to do so?”

    …let me point out that your statement implies that you beleive if we let the market decide, the market would opt for what you describe above. Is that true and if it is true, what role is government playing in trying to make sure that never happens?


  3. Dan says:


    I want to ask you a question? Why can’t a majority of the people decide what is acceptable for the public airwaves? I mean, you pretty much draw your line in the grey area of this issue your argument does not really seem to be about anything like freedom of speach. If so, then all speach should be protected no matter how distasteful of harmful it may be.

    Since your position is about where we should draw the line in the grey area, I say its better to leave it up to the people.


  4. chad says:

    I should also say, that the Clear Channel decision to drop Stern after all this time–his show has not changed–is obviously directly related to the Super Bowl show and Congress’s newfound obssesion with moraltiy. Congress wants to increase the fines for “profanity”:

    “On Tuesday, in an amendment attached to a Defense Department bill, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the FCC’s raising the maximum fine for radio and television broadcasters airing what it deems indecent material from $27,000 per incident to $275,000. The House previously approved a $500,000 figure.”

    Thus the decision to drop Stern was not just a corporate decision but, rather, it was a decision directly affected by the government acting as MORALITY POLICE. It is not exactly a stretch to imagine that just a few (lol) of these Congressmen reside in glass houses. I wonder if Dick Cheney would have got the $275,000 fine for saying “Fuck” in the Senate chamber the other day?


  5. chad says:

    Well, in the case of Howard Stern… He has millions of fans who want him back on the air. Unfortunately, Clear Channel chose to drop him from their stations. Obviously millions want to listen to him but, on the other hand, those who who indifferent aren’t going to complain. And when Clear Channel and about two other companies own most of the radio stations, it’s not like there’s a great number of alternatives. So if Clear Channel decides your guy is no good there’s not much you can do about it. The market is an oligopoly. And since radio is free, there is not nearly as much complaining as if it was some product that people had to buy and they only got three colors and the same three colors every day. I’d say it’s better if we had more competition in radio, which would limit “corporate censorship”, but obviously most Americans don’t give a shit.

    But, in general, Americans are really weird about profanity. What is profane? To Americans it’s sex and “fuck”. But blowing shit up and killing people is OK because we assume that children are able to differentiate between beating someone up and TV and in real life. But we assume that if an adult on TV drops the F-Bomb children are not able to differentiate between that and real life (i.e. that it’s not OK to do it in real life). Either that is why we consider sex and language profane and violence to be OK, or the other answer is that Americans think sex and language is less moral than violence. Either idea seems pretty dumb.

    The news is also profane. If we talk about contract killing, assasination, or accidently dropping a bomb on a market and then, inevitably, it comes on the news–isn’t that profane? Well, the argument can be made that it’s real life. But so is Bono dropping the F-bomb–adults in real life sometimes swear–and his bomb didn’t hurt anyone.

    I wouldn’t advocate porn on TV, or tons of swearing, etc. but, on the other hand, I think our current “moral outlook” is really weird.


  6. Dan says:

    Its not that these people do not want Howard Stern to speak. Its just that they do not want public airwaves being used for programs that are more about their obscenities than anything else.

    If the public airwaves are ultimately owned by the people, then why can’t the public decide how they are used.

    Its a crazy world when the same person who becomes enraged when a bunch of rednecks pray before a highschool football game also feels its some sacred right for Howard Stern to say the word “fuck” on a public broadcast whenever he feels moved to do so.

    According to your, don’t tune in if you do not want to hear it argument, then the basic broadcast televeision channels should be able to show any form of pornography they wish. I mean, if its just a matter of each person chosing what they want to watch, whats the harm with putting the most graphic and deviant sexual acts imaginable out there for everyone to see if they choose to do so?

    Sometimes I feel like we have all gone down the rabbit hole.


  7. First of all, the argument that if you tell someone to stop forcing their philosophy on you, you are forcing a philosophy on them is BS. I agree, let’s let the market decide. That is not what is happening. The morality police are legislating it. (and yes, certainly there is a long history in this country of legislating morality.) The people you claim have a right to be heard are not asking that they not be subject to certain material, they are asking that no one be allowed to be exposed to certain material. That’s my problem. Howard Stern, as an example, should be able to say pretty much whatever the hell he wants. Don’t tune in if you don’t want to hear it and parent your kids if you don’t want them to hear it. Let the market decide.


  8. Dan says:

    Do you really think this is a new thing that started with the religous wing of the Republican party? Remember when Hollywood would not show a husband and wife in the same bed in a movie? Guys like FDR and Truman were president while many of these movies were being made.

    Preferences based on moral views have affected government policy for as long as we can see in recorded history. Its just a fact of life. By saying the church has no place in government, you are pushing an agenda that supports your moral views onto other people as well.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not part of the religous right. I am not even a regular church goer. Still, I think its hypocritical for you to think a moral view is less valid simply because it is religous and not anti-religous.

    Lets throw it up to public opinion and let the chips fall where they may. If a majority of people do not want their kids hearing some word or looking at one of Janet Jackson’s breasts on TV, then they do have a right to be heard just like you have a right to be heard.


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