This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 14, 2004.
In a landmark motion, fully the equal of Dred Scott or Brown vs. the Board of Education, Colin Powell’s son Michael, who is Chairman of the FCC, is asking his fellow commissioners to overturn a decision. It involves Bono, singer with U2, who said during the undoubtedly pointless and nauseating Golden Globe Awards last year on NBC, and I quote: “This is really, really, f-word-ing brilliant.” End quote.
Apparently the FCC has an enforcement bureau, and it decided last October that the comment was neither indecent nor obscene because the word was used as an adjective or an expletive and, for all that, not one that described the sexual act, heaven be praised. This all came about because the Parents Television Council, which you’ll be shocked – shocked! – to learn is a conservative group, complained after the Golden Globes were broadcast. Did anyone else notice? Of those being punished by watching such a program, did anyone care?
Powell circulated his request this week and needs two of the four commissioners to vote with him on it.
Well, goodness, isn’t this interesting? No? Well, let me see if I can make it so….
The f-word became an internal intensifier during the First World War, when it gained credence as a meaningless exclamation in the British Army. Before those years, it never appeared in such usage as a mere intensifier, at least in English. Further, it has two parents. One is the word that means the sexual act, another means death. This is determined, I guess, from two proto-words: f-o-c-h and f-u-c-h, which come from totally different original languages. I’ll take someone’s word for it.
What the original expletive meant when screamed at you, it seems, was ‘may you have an early death,’ or let our army perform such an act of outrage on your men that you'll wish you'd had an early death. That makes sense. It is possible that the French aided a confusion by referencing orgasm as the little death, and in the hell of that war all got confused.
Fascinated? Well, me neither, but here is the logical conundrum. If f-word with ing at the end is an adjective, how does the FCC define an adverb or a gerund? Because the word in question is modifying ‘brilliant’ in the sense of itself meaning ‘extremely,’ and that means it isn’t an adjective, but an adverb. Which means the FCC - that's the Federal Communication Commission - doesn’t know English grammar any better than most rock stars know coherence, and reading its written product gives little cause to alter that opinion. Leave no child or commissioner behind.
Further, how can a one word verb, which has a definition, be obscene in one construct and usage and not in another? If the verb ‘run’ is obscene, how could ‘running’ not be? Conversely, if the FCC agrees that ‘running’ in one usage is not obscene, how can it and its root be so in others? And by the way, when did mere sex and its act become obscene? Oh, right. Augustine of Hippo.
On national television broadcast into the homes of conservative parents, programs like CSI invariably show and discuss sexual themes complete with re-enactments under the guise of x-ray and bullet trajectory. I don’t know if it is obscene, but it is disgusting and not commonly discussed by school children. I hope, anyway. Further, it is often shrouded in nihilistic humor that really meets all the standards for low regard for life and death that conservatives say is reflected in sex oriented programs. How do they reconcile these hypocrisies?
Well, they don’t, of course. They shine it on. And insist on time of broadcast as criteria.
But here, under a Republican administration with strong conservative ties, the FCC may be about to open a door and nail it open so that words of common understanding and meaning might be included in our entertainment. There would be no seven words we pretend we cannot say except at certain hours over the air. Unless you have HBO, but that’s cable and not free. That makes sense, right?
But if the federal government is going to apply censorship to our programs and do so under laws of grammar, then the very least they could do is get it right. And if they cannot, perhaps they shouldn’t take it upon themselves to censor at all, if they don’t know what they’re talking about, either in vocabulary, grammar, or history, and let us deal with it. Given that most new shows last only a few weeks before being defined a failure and dropped from the lineup, we know that if such language were a criteria for popularity, the ax would fall quicker than if it landed in the FCC’s lap.
Let the market decide, oh Republicans. And everyone with good intentions would be happy, wouldn’t they?