The Federal Communications Commission has
had a tough year. Bono’s casual “fucking” at the
Golden Globe Awards, Janet Jackson’s flagrantly naked right
breast at the Super Bowl, everything Howard Stern has ever said
— the FCC must feel so helpless, so violated. Accordingly,
it’s striking out, issuing fines left and right, pressuring
huge media conglomerates to drop “offensive” shows.

Aubrey Henretty

Who do these people think they are and why do we pay them money
to make rules about what people can say over the airwaves?
Personally, I would like to opt out — keep those tax dollars
for myself, thanks — and let people say whatever they’d
like on the air.

Before you accuse me of being an unrefined child with no respect
for language, remember, I am a writer. I have a large vocabulary. I
understand the weight a single word can carry, the degree to which
the wrong syllable uttered at the right moment can ruin a day or a
life. But I like “bad” words. I like them a lot. Sorry.
I especially like “fuck” because it’s the only
established infix in the English language — as in
“unfuckingbelievable” — and because it is
simultaneously noun, verb, adjective, adverb and interjection. It
is concise and evocative — a word as valid as any other.

Of course, not everyone is a linguaphile like me. Lots of people
like the word simply because it’s fun to say, or because it
can elicit a wide range of dramatic response when deployed
strategically. And that’s OK too. Or it should be. The FCC
certainly doesn’t think it’s OK.

Like many other interesting four-letter words,
“fuck” almost always falls under at least one of the
FCC’s two major definitions of “indecency.” To be
considered “indecent,” a word or phrase “must
describe or depict sexual or excretory organs or activities,”
and also be “patently offensive as measured by
contemporary community standards.” Simply put, I might get
away with saying the FCC’s policy toward the word is fucking
ridiculous, but I would not get away with observing that the
FCC really fucked Howard Stern in the ass with that $27,500
fine.

I am uncomfortable with this restriction. I have no particular
problems with sex or shitting, and I certainly don’t trust
the “community” to tell me what’s “patently
offensive.” In some communities, it is considered patently
offensive for a woman to bare her ankles in public. It is part of
the public consciousness, the same part that bristles at every
public mention of oral sex or masturbation. The difference is only
in degree.

But what about The Children? Shouldn’t we filter
everything at the source in case they see or hear it? Nothing sends
the censors into a frenzy like a precious little virgin ear, and
somehow they’ve managed to convince most people that
censorship doesn’t count if it is done to protect the
sanctity of childhood.

If you are one of these people, I’m afraid I have some bad
news: Your kids know the words already. They have heard them in
school or from you when you thought they weren’t listening.
And, horror of horrors, they also know all about their sexual and
excretory organs. They have belched. They have farted. They have
poked and prodded themselves and figured things out, because that
is what children do. And they will not be horrified or corrupted by
sex and/or “bad” words in books or on television, the
radio or the Internet unless you make a big deal out of it. If your
kids grow up depraved, it’s your fault and no one
else’s. If they don’t learn to respect the language
they speak and the bodies they inhabit: also your fault.

And anyway, your standards make very little sense. You
won’t allow “fuck” when it implies rough sex, but
you will allow “rape.” Fucking can be fun for everyone
involved. Rape can’t. You don’t want to hear the word
“cock” when it refers to an anatomical structure, but
you won’t ask to have it bleeped out of a discussion about
guns and how they are fired.

I do not appreciate these people — and their
government-funded arm, the FCC — coming into my living room
with their outrage and their bleepers and deciding what’s
good for me. I don’t appreciate their deciding what’s
good for anyone. The truth is, the FCC wouldn’t know its ass
from a hole in the ground, and even if it did, it would be too
priggish to articulate the difference.

Henretty can be reached at
“mailto:ahenrett@umich.edu”>ahenrett@umich.edu.

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