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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday ó May 28, 2004

Arts and Entertainment

The Federal Censorship Commission

Express Staff Writer

Every so often, the Super Bowl is a fantastic sporting spectacle. As the years pass, though, nail-biters are fewer as blowout snooze-fests become the norm, and sport is replaced by sensation. Super Sunday has become a de facto national holiday, but football sits shotgun as much-ballyhooed advertising and glossy music acts steer the course.

The worst outcome yet: This yearís halftime fiasco gave the increasingly draconian Federal Communications Commission an excuse to wield unprecedented censorial power over the nationís TV and radio broadcasters.

In the furor that erupted after millions of Americans were subjected to one of Janet Jacksonís breasts, the FCC decided to rewrite its rules of "indecency and obscenity." Fines of $27,500 were suddenly raised to a soaring $500,000. The bill, passed by the House in March, did include a maximum fine of $3 million, however, to keep the rabid FCC hounds at bay.

The first victim of the new fines was no shock: Howard Stern, shock-jock and perennial FCC whipping boy. Since 1990, "The King of All Media" has earned more than half of the FCCís total $4.5 million in fines. After airing a single episode in which Stern discusses the "Sphincterine," a most personal hygiene product, while also airing "repeated flatulence sound effects," as the commission indignantly described them, Sternís carrier Clear Channel was fined $495,000. The broadcast trespassed on the commissionís forbidden realm of "sexual or excretory organs or activities." Stern was promptly cut from Clear Channelís six national stations.

The victims of the new censor tactics are not limited to the typically lewd. The show "E.R." cut a glimpse of an elderly womanís breast on a medical table, fearing hysterical mass-flashbacks to Super Bowlís flashdance. The New York Times reports a mass erring on the side of caution; everyone from Rush Limbaugh to "Masterpiece Theater" has been policing themselves for fear of incurring the commissionís wrath. When Limbaugh, the conservative rightís seminal son, is bleeped on an Indianapolis station for uttering the word "urinate," it would seem that the situation has spun out of control.

With some radio stations cutting songs like Elton Johnís "The Bitch is Back," for fear of reprisal, itís worth remembering where this all began. A lone breast, nipple obscured, aired on national television. Cut to commercial. Commercial advertises erectile dysfunction drug Cialis and warns that though rare, "men who experience an erection for more than 4 hours (priapism) should seek immediate medical attention." The furor arose not from the promise (or fear) of enduring erections, but from a natural solicitor of arousal: a near-topless sex symbol. As Americans, we donít like to be reminded what is unattainable, but rather what temporal pleasures prescription drugs can afford us.

The FCC, currently chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powellís son, Michael Powell, is losing a grip on reality. Considering the elder Powellís good-soldier willingness to be censored by the Bush Administration when his Iraq warnings went unheeded, it comes as little surprise that his son now enforces collective tongue-biting.

With its vague new rules on profanity, the FCC is censoring taste rather than actual content. It is the governmentís job to provide the environment in which the arts and entertainment may flourish, not to dictate, through harsh monetary punishments, the flavor of that entertainment.

Lowest common denominator jokes about sphincters and flatulence may not be productive, but are nonetheless a constitutional right. If the FCC wanted to ban something, it might start with something truly sensational: Super Bowl advertising. Rife with cheap laughs from FCC-despised flatulence humor, the ads have become the countryís great carnal pleasure. Next year honor the game; play it commercial free.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.