Mon February 16, 2004
By Mark Bacon
Lafayette, LA – Broadcast Indecency. That's a term garnering increased attention. The phrase, upon closer scrutiny, casts a broad net. Obscenities and vulgarity, topics considered taboo in decades past, now seem thrust upon listeners increasingly. And to single out a specific genre-Hip Hop-is not entirely correct.
How did this all come about? The floodgates burst open in the 1970's and 80's. Violence and sex in lyrics increased during the decade in ways previously unheard. To be sure, NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" is a prime example to point to in the 80s. But Tupac, Eminem, and many others, followed suit quickly. And it isn't limited to Hip Hop. Politically charged lyrics in hardcore punk, drug soaked topics, or even cover art, also raised the bar for groups, to point to modern music's increased controversial content.
Several of the bands mentioned above retain a high level of artistic control of their product. "Do It Yourself (DIY)" is an approach to music, which is on the rise, and in many instances one cannot fault any band's desire to do so. The fact seemed destined to become a reality after artists began to question the tight control the major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) enjoyed widely until the 1990's over artists.
Many artists today profess an increased social and political consciousness, and use language rarely heard before. But it isn't something artists never thought about until recent times. The late George Harrison once stated, around the time of the release of The Beatle's "White Album," that the band would like to use the f- word in their songs. At the time, Harrison's use of the word "damn" on "Piggies" created quite a stir. A few years later, shows by Iggy and The Stooges, The Cramps, The Plasmatics or Gwar, were bent on shocking the audience. The Minutemen and Black Flag playfully and pointedly used language to put across points as disparate as Republican policies, safe sex, and drinking and driving. And recently, two stars of a television "reality" program appeared on a televised awards show, spouting profanities at a rate censors, despite a three second delay, could not keep up with in the Eastern Time Zone. The Super Bowl halftime show became a "skins game," a term usually associated with golf. The performance itself was an uninspired medley of hits by Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and others. But it ended with a moment that may generate more discussion than the game itself. Timberlake ripped off the right side of Jackson's bustier; the result was the day's most spectacular fumble.
What is the government's position on this? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a decidedly firm stance against the issue of broadcast indecency's spread. A case involving Infinity Broadcasting's WKRK-FM, Detroit, in a Forfeiture Order confirming an earlier Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) for the broadcast of indecent programming. The incident occurred during the "Demenski and Doyle Show on January 9, 2002, between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., in violation of the Commission's rules against broadcasting indecent material during the hours between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The FCC proposed imposing the statutory maximum fine of $27,500 against Infinity. The licensee argued against this imposition, but the agency determined it should not reduce the sanction because this incident was so egregious.
In the NAL, the Commission had found that during the broadcast, listeners were invited to call in and discuss their sexual practices. There were discussions with nine individuals who opted to do so. Callers and the show's hosts described in detail how specifically named sexual acts are performed. The broadcast included explicit and graphic sexual references to sexual practices. These practices were described in non-clinical descriptive terms, and comments of the on-air personalities demonstrated a desire to pander, titillate and shock the audience. The FCC described the tone of the show as extremely vulgar and lewd.
A day after the FCC released the WKRK-FM decision, The U.S. Senate took up S.Res. 238, calling upon the Commission to make "every reasonable and lawful effort" to protect children from indecent programming. The Senate was reacting to an October ruling by the FCC in which it determined the incidental use of the f- word by the performers on the televised Golden Globe Awards program was not classifiable as legally indecent. The Resolution called for the FCC to "return to vigorously and expeditiously enforcing its own U.S. Supreme Court approved standard for indecency in broadcast media." This is in reference to a Supreme Court decision in which it found that the f- word is among those to be considered indecent for broadcast anytime children may be in the audience. The Senate is now urging the FCC to "reassert its responsibility as defender of the public interest by undertaking new and serious efforts" against those who do not adhere to the standard established in the high court decision.
What is KRVS' position on this issue? "Simply put, KRVS will not allow broadcast indecency at anytime in its programming," stated General Manager David Spizale. "Shock tactics, profanity and vulgarity are not concomitant with the standards and values of our community, and public radio in Acadiana exists to serve the community. It will not be tolerated on any level."
One might question today's artists as to what do they want to be remembered for. Most people don't think that there is anything lasting in songs that overdose on expletives.
How "free" is free speech? Free speech does not mean anarchy. In short, you say whatever you want, but that does not mean that what you say does not come with some measure of responsibility or accountability.