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The S Word
The FCC has always maintained the right to fine people for the use of the F and S words when used to describe sexual or excretory functions on the public airwaves; and if you repeatedly used the words merely as expletives, they'd fine you, too. But the issue here is the fleeting expletive, a little, accidental slip of the tongue that was not in itself profane nor intentional. But now, the Supreme Court has decided the FCC has the right to police fleeting expletives as well.
It might seem like this is no big deal, that no one should be able to say the S word on live television- and on that point we can probably agree. But what this does is allow the levying of massive fines against a station when a guest they had no control over accidentally swore out of surprise. Now let's be clear here; by massive I mean $325,000 per station.. That means it isn't just the original producer who brought a guest who accidentally swore on live television, but every affiliate who was carrying the broadcast at the time.
Now, my heart doesn't bleed for media conglomerates, but what it would have is a chilling effect, preventing stations from bringing certain guests on live television. That's a disturbing kind of censorship, one that is darker for its subtleties.
In his prevailing opinion, Justice Scalia (and we're using the word “justice” here rather loosely and only as a formality) wrote: "We doubt that small town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances... their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big city folks, and small town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood."
Scalia's statement is tiny-minded, and proof of his own naïve, classist leanings. I've lived in a big city; I've lived in a small town. The thing is, swearing isn't a a city or a country thing- it's something individuals do, and, most importantly, it's something individuals from all areas and all points on the political spectrum do.
But I consider myself a reasonable man, and this is a complicated and difficult case. What I propose is a simple compromise, that rather than the offensive S word we have, we make use of a new one, one which, while repugnant, does not carry the same profane history. I even have a suggestion:
scalia, (pron. ske•lē•a); sometimes shortened to scli (pron. sklē) n. excrement. v. to defecate; also, to wipe one’s ass with, from Justice Scalia frequently wiping his ass with the Constitution.
Now we just need a new F word. If Scalia has his way, it might just end up being “justice.”