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Monday, June 11, 2007

Time’s Profanity Problem

posted by on June 11 at 8:57 AM

If Bush can say “shit” to Tony Blair in front of an open mic and “fuck Saddam” in the West Wing, and Dick Cheney can say “Go fuck yourself” on the floor of the Senate—and if a federal appeals court judge can cite these examples of course language used in refined places when overturning the FCC’s decency standards—how come Time can’t use them in print?

On June 4, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of broadcasters in a challenge against Federal Communications Commission sanctions for indecent and profane language. Among the penalized quotes was Richie’s discussing her Simple Life experience on a live Fox awards show in 2003: “Have you ever tried to get cow s___ out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f___ing simple.”

The court argued, among other things, that the FCC’s enforcement was “arbitrary and capricious.” But the reason that stood out most was the court’s assessment of the national indecency climate: “In recent times, even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced ‘sexual or excretory organs or activities’”—the definition of indecency that the FCC and the courts have used. The decision cited Bush’s remark to British Prime Minister Tony Blair last summer, in front of a live mike, that Syria needed to “get Hizballah to stop doing this s___,” as well as Cheney’s hearty invitation to Senator Patrick Leahy, “Go f___ yourself.” (The court could have cited Bush’s remark, later reported by TIME, from March 2002 when war in Iraq was allegedly still a last resort: “F___ Saddam. We’re taking him out.”)

The fact that Bush sometimes curses may seem irrelevant, but the “community standard” is one of the most important factors in legally determining indecency. What’s good for Dubya, the court ruled, is good for the debutante….

Of course, the President and his party may try to exploit the inevitable outrage from this defeat. But actually there’s another way for them to make chicken salad out of something you are now allowed to say in prime time. They could call off the decency crusade. They could say it’s a good thing to protest idiotic crudity—on the radio, on TV or on the Senate floor—but to legislate against it is another matter. They could embrace the civil libertarians to whom they inadvertently handed a big win.

What do you have to lose, Mr. President? In recent years, you have disappointed your anti-illegal-immigration base, your fiscal-conservative base and now your family-values base. But to free-speechers, after this court ruling, you are the f___ing man.

If “fuck” and “shit” are good enough for the President and broadcast television—and the pages of the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and other fine publications—surely they’re good enough for the pages of Time. The only subscribers you’ll lose, Time, are the demo-killing subscribers you should be anxious to lose. Publications written by and for adults shouldn’t shy away from adult language, or patronize us with crap like “f___” and “s___”.

Go ahead and drop the “f” bomb, Time, we can handle it.

RSS icon Comments


If they want to self-censor, they should at least have the guts to completely delete the word. Do they think anyone over the age of 6 will not be able to fill in the blanks when they print "f___ing" and "s___"? Does this really mollify the hypersensitive don't-you-cuss-around-me types? It makes no fucking sense to me.

Posted by Matt from Denver | June 11, 2007 9:23 AM

Because Time is a readily available mainstream publication while the Oval Office utterances were done in locales that weren't so much?

Not that I condone 'seven words you can't say' mainstream censorship, but I can totally see the logic here.

Posted by Gomez | June 11, 2007 9:29 AM

@G cspan is on 24/7...

and when the utterances were made, they were repeated over and over again via mainstream media.

Posted by seattle98104 | June 11, 2007 9:36 AM

A society afraid of words doesn't stand a chance.

Posted by monkey | June 11, 2007 10:12 AM

@4 I'll disagree with you to some degree. Words have power. They are the main medium through which we communicate, and the best speakers pick their words very carefully, measuring them for the best impact. The best reason for not censoring shit, fuck, and the like is that they don't have the power they used to. "Golly," which was short for "God's body," used to be one of the most offensive words you could use, but given its current pedigree as the swear word of choice for people even devout Mormons would consider goody two shoes, no one would advocate censoring it now. Considering no one but my Gramma is all that bothered by hearing "fuck," anymore, there's no reason to bother.

It also means we need some new swear words.

Posted by Gitai | June 11, 2007 10:41 AM

...and then there's the "swear jar"....

Posted by duncan | June 11, 2007 10:56 AM

It just all seems so silly.

Posted by monkey | June 11, 2007 11:01 AM
Posted by Big F--kin' Deal | June 11, 2007 11:10 AM

Fucking double standards. Shit.

Posted by elswinger | June 11, 2007 11:26 AM

3. CSPAN is on cable, meaning limited availability compared to major network TV, and, honestly, next to nobody watches it. Plus, it got mentioned on network TV and forgotten, except of course by the CNN/Fox News wonks that harp on EVERYTHING (and only wonks watch wonks): it was only on the INTERNET where it got repeated mention.

Time, meanwhile, is available in every store and newstand with a magazine rack in the country.

Again, I don't agree with the logic or even think it's sound. It's just that, back over here in reality, it makes sense why both events were judged by the FCC in their respective fashion.

Posted by Gomez | June 11, 2007 12:12 PM

@5, new swear words?!?!? I'm listening...

Posted by Hot dog! | June 11, 2007 2:59 PM

When I was younger, I read Time--my parents subscribed to it. They never seemed to have any problem w/ me reading it. However, if the writers had started spelling out expletives, my parents probably would have considered canceling the subscription. (Yet I think my father had more of an influence on me as well as my siblings swearing.) Reading Time in my youth helped me become informed about many important events in the US and the world. It also sparked many good conversations w/ my parents through questions I would ask regarding the content. I'm glad I had that influence in my life. Time magazine is a pretty good magazine. I have been read Slog now for about a month, and I also like it. (Last two sentences are just my opinion ;).)

Posted by my two cents | June 11, 2007 4:57 PM

My 9-year old daughter reads Time and she certainly would be disturbed by expletives. Granted, she's sensitive (I told her a month or two ago that she was being a smart-ass, and she told me NOT to USE that kind of LANGUAGE, MOM!).

But even more to the point, dropping fuck & shit into a Time mag article means that no classroom before the 10th grade (and often not even then) will be able to use it. It's not a super-analytical publication but it's lightyears beyond that crappy Scholastic News schlock they try to foist on them now.

Posted by Bluefish | June 11, 2007 5:37 PM

F*** is not just f***.

Read this:

Posted by M'thew | June 12, 2007 12:56 AM

You know, The Economist, of all things, has no problem quoting profanities. It's way more staid and hoity toity than time, but it swears.

Posted by Gitai | June 12, 2007 11:17 AM

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