Tube Tied: I'll Show You Indecency, Sir: A Rant
Because of Kanye West (about whom Sady has said most everything that need be said) there is some current bizarre preoccupation with the “lack of decency” in America today. As if in response, the FCC announced this week that it intended to reopen the investigation into the famous Timberlake/Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl. Adrift in the sea of flat-out crazy and disgusting that is American public discourse lately, there was barely an eyelash aflutter at this news. We have more pressing things to worry about, one supposes. Fair enough.
But how shameful is it, how absolutely insane is it, that the major discussion about “standards” for broadcast television today always takes place in the context of “indecency” – and in particular, that women’s bodies are “indecent”? I mean, I don’t know about you, but the only think I found shocking about Janet Jackson’s breast-exposure on live television was that metal thing she had on her nipple. Christ, wouldn’t that hurt?
My point is that I don’t think the half-second or so of nipplage has done nearly as much damage to “the children” (always so undefined) as the notion that crazy people who think Barack Obama is a secret Muslim are deserving of more than two seconds of derisive airtime on cable and network news.
Back in the day when the Super Bowl event happened we could sort of brush all this off as the craziness of living in Bush America: the inmates were running the asylum, what can one do when sanity is unrepresented in government, etc etc. This is, happily, no longer the case, and yet, here we are, still stuck on whether the real indication that something is “desperately wrong” is that egotistical jerk artists are behaving like egotistical jerk artists.
I’m actually no free speech absolutist – I come from another political culture, yadda yadda yadda, and I think there is value to having limits on what should and should not be okay to broadcast on national television. I am perfectly well aware, as a feminist, that I have to be wary of state regulation, because the state is not my own – living in the world, talking to all the Men Who Explain Things (like the First Amendment, as though its value were far too abstract and majestic for my poor lady brain to wrap itself around), has taught me that well enough.
I just think that if there is some value in federal broadcast regulation in an albeit imperfect democracy – and there probably is – it resides in its ability to spark national conversation about what kinds of speech are valuable and relevant, and what are not. That is not, of course, what the FCC is doing. The FCC wants to make some idiotic top-down ruling about the trauma inflicted on children by seeing a tit. (Does this make all nakedness child abuse?) I’d just like for this conversation about the limits of decency to center on stopping people from getting to broadcast their flat-out stupid and hateful views to millions of people. I’d like for it to be about building a sense that the dehumanization of entire swaths of the population isn’t just contributing to the marketplace of ideas – it’s mocking the very notion of ideas themselves. It’s valuing ignorance at the expense of that marketplace, because it’s handing people megaphones who hardly deserve them. And at the end of the day, it’s my respect for pop culture as a liberatory practice, in television as a medium in which one does learn things, that suggests to me we all have a stake in better rearranging it to promote certain public goods. Like, you know, civic responsibility.
But then I always have been something of a dreamer.
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