Thursday, February 24, 2005
'Indecency' and the Far Right
With Desperate Housewives and the GoDaddy.com costume malfunction spoof ad a runaway success, and the tape-delayed Golden Globes and the Grammy's losing audiences by the busloads, the hypocrisy between those who complain about 'indeceny' and their friends who benefit from it monetarily is revealing, and the impact on those who are targeted such as gay and lesbian kids and families especially horrifying. According to this Frank Rich column in the New York Times (registration required):
As Jake Tapper reported on ABC News, Adelphia [soon to launch XXX programming vs News Corp's Direct TV's double X films] is a big Republican contributor. Its beneficiaries include Rick Santorum, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania who has likened homosexuality to "man on dog" sex, a specialty item that his campaign donor might yet present some day. Sift through the Center for Responsive Politics' campaign contribution site, and you will also find that Fred Upton, the Republican point man in the Congressional indecency crusade, is one of the many in his party (President Bush among them) raking in contributions from Comcast or its executives. Comcast subscribers are awash in porn. In Mr. Upton's own Kalamazoo district, its pay-per-view networks have offered such hard-core fare as "Young, Fresh & Ripe" and "As Young As They Come No. 8" even as the congressman put the finishing touches on the penalty-enhanced Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.
Cheering Mr. Upton on is the Parents Television Council, the e-mail factory that Mediaweek magazine credits with as much as 99.9 percent of all indecency complaints to the F.C.C. in 2004. It is also quite a little fount of salacious entertainment in its own right. On its Web site, the organization's tireless "entertainment analysts" compile a list of every naughty word used on television and invite visitors to "Watch the Worst TV Clip of the Week." An archive of past clips - helpfully labeled individually by sin ("gratuitous teen sex," "necrophilia") - is there for your pleasure, with no requirement for the credit card number or membership fee that porn Internet sites use as a roadblock for children.
That politicians and public scolds like these have succeeded in the temporary laundering of live TV shows, and even "Saving Private Ryan," is a symptom of the political moment. It won't last long. The power of the free market, for better or worse, will prevail, and the market tells us that it is still the American way to lament indecency even while gobbling it up. This is the year that Sports Illustrated for the first time published the number for its subscribers to phone if they wanted to skip the swimsuit issue - and almost no one called. Sandra Dee really is dead, and no fire-and-brimstone speeches by James Dobson are going to bring her back.
But that does not mean that the indecency campaign is benign. Even if it barely slows the entertainment industry juggernaut, it inflicts collateral damage elsewhere - whether casting a chill over broadcast news or crippling public broadcasting by inducing it to censor even the language of American troops in a "Frontline" documentary about Iraq. The Parents Television Council may purport to complain about "The Simpsons," which last Sunday presented an episode both sympathetic to same-sex marriage and skeptical of a Bible-thumping minister. ("If you love the Bible so much," Homer asks him, "why don't you marry it?") But that's a game; this organization knows full well it can't lay a finger on Fox or its well-connected proprietor, Mr. Murdoch. The same anti-indecency forces, however, can and did set the stage for the new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, to go gunning for a far milder evocation of same-sex parents in the children's show "Postcards From Buster" on PBS.
Fresh from sending a cartoon rabbit to the slaughterhouse, Ms. Spellings will figure out ways to discriminate against real-life lesbian moms in other departmental policies that have nothing to do with entertainment. And she's not the only administration official empowered by the decency crusaders to apply censorship to public policy well removed from the TV screen. No sooner were PBS's lesbians sent to the indecency gulag than The Washington Post reported that the Department of Health and Human Services had instructed the presenters of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention this month to remove the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the name of a talk heretofore titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals," thereby rendering it invisible and useless.