To be against censorship, you must be against ALL censorship
Two stories in my local paper today caught my eye. One echoes the drumbeat we've heard for a few days throughout the right side of the blogosphere about the censoring of South Park. I too am pretty ashamed at Comedy Central for refusing to air a fairly innocuous scene of the prophet Mohammed in an episode on Wednesday, especially since they've shown Mohammed in an episode five years prior. I'm against censorship in all its forms: as someone in media who's had to re-colorize the blood in video games green, who's had to cover up the word "suck" with a bleep, it angers me to see this abrogation of free speech, especially when its self-censorship practiced by nervous media conglomerates eager to deaden the edginess of their product to reach the broadest possible audience. (The worst, incidentally, is the local news, when somebody gives the finger to the camera, BLURS OUT THE FINGER, as if there's some other object in the middle of someone's hand. "Is that a tennis racket? A piece of earthenware?")
However, it's a logical impossibility to selectively decry censorship. So I wonder what the same figures on the right who are so frothy with rage about the Mohammed Cartoon Wars think about the other story I read today:
In a move that seems certain to force a showdown over what constitutes indecency on the airwaves, four TV broadcast networks and their affiliates announced Friday that they had united to challenge a Federal Communications Commission ruling that deemed language used in several of their shows indecent.
They are seeking to overturn a March 15 ruling that found some broadcasts of the CBS News program "The Early Show," "Billboard Music Awards" on Fox and ABC's drama "NYPD Blue" to be indecent because they contained variations on two obscenities: what people on both sides of the issue refer to as the "F-word" and the "S-word."
Of the offending incidents, which all aired between 2002 and 2004, those on CBS and Fox involved words that the networks said were blurted out spontaneously. Those on ABC were scripted.
You're either for censorship or against it. If you think the world has every right to see the prophet Mohammed shown, whether in an innocuous or a blasphemous way, then you can't at the same time be in agreement with the FCC when they fine CBS because Bono called his Grammy Award victory "fucking brilliant." You just can't.
But of course, take a wild guess where Brent Bozell and his minions at the Parents Television Council stand on this lawsuit:
But L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, which spearheaded an Internet campaign to petition the FCC about several programs, said such arguments — and the appeals filed this week — only prove that the heads of networks and TV stations "are even slimier than I thought."
"The broadcast networks are spitting in the faces of millions of Americans by saying they should be allowed to air the F-word and S-word on television," Bozell said. "The networks are showing the degree to which they are determined to go to pollute our airwaves."
Brent Bozell and Michelle Malkin, head mullah in the war against cartoon censorship, both write columns for the website Townhall. They frequently end up on the same side in most debates. Here's an article by Malkin from 2000 in which she vigorously defended Bozell and the PTC's right to call for the censhorship of WWF Smackdown:
Just what did Bozell's organization do to set the unitard-clad artisans of WWF off? The parents dared to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to protest the the WWF's foul-mouthed programming and ask advertisers to boycott the UPN network's family-hour airing of "Smackdown!" According to the parents' group, they persuaded advertisers to spurn the WWF not through "threats," but by disseminating transcripts and videotapes of the wrestling conglomerate's family-hour programming.
See for yourself the half-million other examples of Malkin and Bozell on the same side. Yet censorship by Comedy Central is worthy of scorn and rage, while censorship on practically all other counts is "protecting family values."
Excuse my language, which I couldn't say on network television in the family hour, but, bullshit.
Network media to this day has received no clear guidelines on language whatsoever; fines are leveled on a catch-as-catch-can basis. We know that approximately 99.8% of all the indecency complaints filed in 2003 were generated by Bozell's PTC. Nobody cares about this issue. And yet the PTC has successfully lobbied the FCC to take a hard and haphazard line on indecency, forcing media companies to risk losing their licenses over an errant word. You cannot defend Trey Parker and Matt Stone's right to show Mohammed without also defending their right to have Kyle say "fuck."
Censorship is an important issue to me, and this country has run rampant with it since the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of 2004. I refuse to let those on the right hijack this issue and narrowly define it to be about cartoon drawings of a religious figure. To be against censorship, you must be against ALL censorship. Let's not let them get away with this.