This time, the FCC is coming after your cable shows

Curbyour_l"The government has no control over what’s released in movie theaters oron DVD, what arrives in books or on CDs, or what’s piped into homes orphones via iTunes or YouTube or MySpace," Mark Harris recently noted in an excellent EW column. "Perhaps it’s time to ask why TVshould be treated any differently — why, in fact, the government has any business regulating it at all." Yep. Long past time, actually. But that’s not the question that the censors at the Federal Communications Commission are asking themselves this week. No, they’re wondering how they can extend their control over American pop culture even further: FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is reportedly proposing that his agency start regulating cable TV in addition to network broadcasts. In the past, cable’s been safely outside of the FCC’s reach, but Martin has discovered a loophole based on a long-forgotten law passed in 1984. (Appropriate year!)

Right now, it’s not clear whether Martin’s proposed policy change would affect cable-TV content, or just various business practices. But that’s no excuse; history has shown that Martin is all too eager to punish American citizens for saying things that he deems objectionable, and there’s no reason to think he’d act any differently in this case. That’s something that ought to make pop-culture fans seriously wary. Just look at how HBO and Showtime have flourished while network TV has struggled to catch up creatively over the past decade. Free, unpoliced expression hasn’t just let the pay channels show more nudity or include more foul language; it’s allowed them to create more compelling works of art.

Martin has made it clear that he doesn’t care about any of that (or about the fact that government censorship is pretty unambiguously prohibited by the Constitution). Do you? I can’t imagine any real TV fan wishes that the FCC would start vetting Curb Your Enthusiasm (pictured) or Weeds, but if you have a compelling defense of Martin’s position, let’s hear it.

addCredit(“Curb Your Enthusiasm: Claudette Barius”)

Comments (42 total) Add your comment
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  • Montserrat

    Martin is the new Macarthy.

  • Sean

    I can’t defend Martin’s position, but yours does seem odd. Essentially, it sounds like you’re saying that it’s precisely the ability to use foul language and nudity that allows cable channels to produce more provocative works of art. I’m no Puritan, heaven knows I’ve used enough foul language and seen enough nudity to fall way short of that standard, but I find it somehow disheartening whenever I hear someone make an argument that free expression is held back when nudity and foul language is censored. It just seems that creativity is made less creative when people can fall back on the easy antics of foul language and nudity. Granted there are appropriate uses for both, but I wonder if they’re just overused and/or not always used correctly. Perhaps that’s what Martin is going after or maybe he’s just a control freak – I don’t know.

  • Todd

    I love Sean’s point.
    Also, isn’t ‘cable TV’ supposed to mean regular cable channels, and not premium pay channels like HBO, Showtime, etc.? If so, this writer is diving down a slippery slope head first.

  • BinkyM

    Mark Harris’s column was *most* excellent, and shold be required reading for all adult TV viewers. Why should ANYONE regulate what I’m paying very, very dearly to watch? It’s MY freaking TV, and I want the government to keep their grubby mitts off it! When I don’t like what I’m seeing, I change the channel. If someone else doesn’t like what’s on TV, he can do the same, and he doesn’t need to go mouthing off that what’s on there needs to be pulled or censored. He doesn’t come into my home and pull books off my shelf, songs off my Mac or my iPod, or bookmarks out of my browser, and it oughtta be the same way with my TV. Why can’t everyone keep his nose in his own danged business?

  • Todd

    I also think that a NETWORK show like Arrested Development was extra funny BECAUSE it was censored.

  • eliz.s.

    I hate to defend the current FCC chair, but he is going after big cable companies, trying to open up the field to smaller players (competition basically means lower prices for us). No, I don’t like the FCC censorship (especially for channels I pay extra to watch), but I can’t say that Martin is all bad.

  • Ep Sato

    I hate the FCC and can’t stand their “hollier than thou” antics ever since 2001 took over. Powell was bad enough, but this new cat’s stinking like the pits of Gargarus 7 in mid summer heat.
    The FCC’s rules on tv drug use alone are reason to believe they shouldn’t be allowed to regulate pay tv channels. Even though some 40+% of American adults have smoked a joint in their lives, not one is allowed to be shown smoking a joint on tv. This has detracted from plots in several shows.
    In “how I met your mother”, they had to use “eating a good sandwich” as their analogy. In “Madmen”, everyone was shown passing the joint, but not hitting it up.
    You can argue that they want to ban drug use on tv because drugs are illegal, but that logic fails. Why? Because we see murder, robbery and other illegal acts committed on tv every day. If they ban drug use, then they need to ban everything illegal on shows.
    Agreed it’s unconstitutional anyway.

  • Lisa

    I don’t think its cable’s ability to show nudity or say foul language that allows it to flourish creatively, I think it’s the fact that they don’t have to think about government intervention *at all* that let’s them run free with ideas. It’s not just bad words and naked people that get network censors rattled about what the FCC will do. It’s ideas, concepts, and themes that get shot down.
    In any event, let the FCC try to regulate cable. The courts won’t have any of it. The FCC only has the power to regulate broadcast because people cannot prevent it from coming into their homes if they own a TV (courts aren’t much for personal accountability or parental responsibility, sadly). You have to pay for cable, meaning you can prevent it from coming into your home. I’d like to see the FCC try to get around that, loophole or no. In fact, they should be worried that TV ratings and filters may make the “nonconsensual home infiltration” argument moot for broadcast too.

  • Ben S

    I guess us Brits are quite lucky with this sort of thing. We have a government enforced 9pm watershed, so before 9pm shows don’t have swearing or excessive violence, but after 9pm we can show whatever we like. It’s a common sense policy that doesn’t try to tell people what they can and cannot see. That’s why American cable shows with adult content can be shown on British network TV. In fact the time I ever heard the word “c*nt” on TV was an episode of Larry Sanders on BBC2!

  • V.M.L.

    I agree with Ep Sato. The quality of TV went down after the Janet Jackson thing because the people and FCC over panicked. (Gosh, its just a nipple.) I’d hate to see more censorship on cable television. What’s going to happen to [adult swim]?!

  • Mike

    The FCC is appointed isn’t it? If so Mr. Martin could be out of a job in 14 months. So expect him to do all he can to protect us from ourselves until January 2009.

  • Nix

    I think we should realize that sometimes great art comes with foul language and nudity, and that just because something has foul language and nudity doesn’t make it worthwhile in itself. I’ve often wondered whether some serious Soviet-style censorship would act as a sieve for all the self-styled artists who essentially get by merely on shock and awe. Probably not a good idea to test that out, though.

  • Snarf

    Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children!?? (Wretched, wretched things) So censorship is illegal, yet practiced on a regular basis? Only in America.

  • BlinkyM, I completely agree.
    Not to mention the very valid arguement of why is swearing and nudity considered “inappropriate”, but I can turn on ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox at any given time to see a woman’s mutilated body, some sort of fight, or a head in a box. I don’t want to see THAT. I find that inappropriate. And highly offensive. And so I turn it off. It’s really quite easy to change the channel.
    And I understand we have to be careful for our children, but I’LL do that. I know what is inappropriate and what isn’t. And quite frankly, if by some chance my kid happened to see something inappropriate, I’d rather have to explain what a breast is (a body part that we all freaking have) than why that person just got stabbed, or shot, or raped… This puritanical idea towards nudity and language, and blaze attitude towards violence, is just ridiculous.

  • Stephen

    I think this is a great idea! I mean, “Tell Me You Love Me” is coming on, and my little sister is right in the room. What do I do? I don’t want her to see it! And there’s no way I can stop her from seeing it! I wish there was some way to…get my tv! Is there a way? What can I do???
    P.S. Yes, I’m being sarcastic

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