Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Oh, the Profanity!"

The Parents Television Council is sounding the alarm on an increase in profanity on television. In a report aptly named "Habitat for Profanity," the watchdog group alleges that foul language on network TV has increased 69% from five years ago. Are they kidding, is that the real number?! Not 68% or 70%?

The PTC spent the first two weeks of the fall TV season counting dirty words in prime time. The group monitored ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, UPN, and the WB in 2005; the Big Four plus the CW in 2010. 124 hours of programming from 2005 was compared to 128 hours in 2010.

The Parents Television Council monitored 18 terms it considers indecent. According to federal law, content can be considered indecent if it describes or depicts “sexual or excretory organs or activities… [and] the broadcast must be patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.” A full list of the terms they encountered and how often they were repeated can be found here.

PTC reports that the most popular curse word on TV was a bleeped F-word. The group found 156 instances of it, compared to just once in 2005. The word "hell" is next with 119 instances. The least used profane words were "douche" and "balls," each tied at one.

The group said the biggest increase of foul language occurred during the 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. time slots. During the 8:00 pm "family hour", instances of the f-word increased from 10 in 2005 to 111 in 2010. Use of the s-word during this hour increased from 11 instances in 2005 to 42 in 2010.

Why such a drastic increase? It has been attributed to a court ruling against profanity censures by the Federal Communications Commission. As Television Broadcast explains:
The Second Circuit ruled in July that the FCC’s penalties for fleeting expletives were “unconstitutionally vague.” The case evolved out of a 2004 FCC indecency dragnet resulting in $4.5 million in fines. Fox was cited for expletives uttered during live awards telecasts in 2002 and 2003, though a similar previous occurrence was given a pass. Fox challenged the ruling. The Supreme Court agreed that the FCC's fleeting expletive rules were vague and tossed a First Amendment challenge back to the lower court.
In response, the networks instituted tape delays to bleep fleeting expletives or cut away from indecent material during live shows. That nixes most of the PTC's complaints. However, the group is increasingly opposed to scripted programming such as Fox’s “Family Guy,” the title of CBS’s “$#*! My Dad Says,” and “Two and a Half Men.”

Personally, I'm not opposed to profanity or "offensive content," I just find this subject to be particularly interesting as an avid fan of classic film and television. Every fart, boob, and penis joke reminds me of just how far censorship on American television has come since shows first began broadcasting in the 1940s and 1950s. Back then, Lucille Ball wasn't allowed to say she was "pregnant" on "I Love Lucy," she had to use the word "expecting." The first Tweety Bird, a featherless pink baby bird, was considered to be too naked and to satisfy the censors the animator was forced to add the distinctive yellow colored feathers we know him by today. Oh my, how times have changed!

Historically, edgy shows that push the envelope like those listed above have been popular with audiences. The predecessors of today's show's owe some of their freedom to groundbreaking sitcoms such as "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Three's Company," "Married... with Children," and "Roseanne." Is it a coincidence that some of the biggest sitcom hits on television right now are also some of the most "profane"?

No comments:

Post a Comment