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  • Tuesday, September 04, 2007


    Silencing Voices, Devouring Communities

    A recent Boston Phoenix editorial ("In praise of four-letter words") reminded me the depth of the FCC's chilling of speech:
    And now filmmaker Ken Burns, who tackles apple-pie subjects with uncommon grit and intelligence, is caught up in a controversy about whether four words — two “fucks,” one “shit,” and an “asshole” — in his 14-hour documentary about World War II, The War, will land broadcasters who air his work in trouble. That trouble could cost stations up to $1.3 million in fines each time they broadcast an uncut and uncensored version of Burns’s work.
    It's easy to say "who cares?" about these few rude words: Who cares whether they are cut out of the documentary and/or who cares whether these words are broadcast and heard? The answer, of course, is you should care.

    We are indoctrinated to believe that people who want to be heard and taken seriously should express themselves without using these verbal vulgarities and intensifiers. Yet this attitude is designed to exclude vast numbers of people, to ensure some voices are never heard widely, never reach the broadcast airwaves.

    "Oh, no one really wants to hear those people who can't be bothered to speak politely and with a civil tongue!" And that's the point: Using these words doesn't invalidate someone's humanity or ideas and concerns. I have a strong feeling this is the very point of not allowing certain language on broadcast TV and radio, to censor culture and expression. Much is made of protecting children from the influence of these words but it strikes me as a weak excuse to cover control of ideas and people.

    "The pigs keep fucking with us." Or "The police engage in constant harassment of our community." The first example lacks some specifics but I think the meaning is clearly parallel to the second example. (Yes, these are examples that I made up from whole cloth; it's my post and I'll fucking write it the way that makes sense to me.)

    It's obvious that I prefer a nuanced voice with a vocabulary that eschews vulgar words for the most part, particularly in the written form. But I also don't imagine myself as an arbiter of culture or a dictator of everyone else's public voice. That's what bothers me about the FCC's recent ramping up of fines and penalties for "obscenity" on the air, the sense that words used regularly in daily conversation and expression by vast numbers of people are taboo in broadcast public discourse. What it creates is a disconnect, a split between the language of everyday and the so-called "civilized" level of broadcast media. Does it create a better, more truthful and accurate presentation of our world in the media? Unsurprisingly, I think the bullshit still flies thick on TV and radio. Of course, no one can call it bullshit because that's a forbidden word.

    Umph. No strong ending here. Might I suggest you hie yourself over to this nice little article on the word "Fuck" at the Ireland Information Guide? It's fun and educational.

    Listening to: "Is This Where You Live" by Church, The

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