Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Left Should Sit This One Out by Anthony McCarthy

You might be able to tell me because after writing this three times, from the beginning, thinking about it for the past several years, I don’t understand why the FCC banning the cable industry from using naughty words is an important issue for the left. I can’t see it being a valuable expenditure of our limited political resources. Worse than wasting our energy and time, I can see it being a useful issue for the Republicans to rally the “values voters” to come out for John McCain in November.

What does the left get from the cable industry? The cabloids? 24-hour Republican propaganda and lies, trying to kill us at the polls? What do we get from the other cable channels? The glamorization of homicidal sex killers and governmental use of torture, endless reruns of brainless sitcoms..... What is so important about the ability of people to say “fuck” on cable channels that it captures the energy and attention of so many people on the left?

The slippery slope argument, that if they can regulate dirty words we won’t be able to advocate a living wage, is funnier than anything on the Comedy Channel. They’ll be allowed say anything before they’re going to have on serious advocacy of economic justice. There is no regulation keeping them from it now. It runs counter to their corporate interests and could peel off just those same “values voters” who might come to realize that their families are at a lot more risk from bankers, insurance executives and businessman than they are from the entire population of potentially betrothed gay men and lesbians. We are effectively blacklisted by the cable industry now, we will always be in the absence of strict fairness, equal time and public service regulations. We simply have no important stake in their being able to talk dirty.

At one point I wrote a speculative paragraph about offering our support for our opposition to a ban on indecency in exchange for more of a voice on cable. But, let’s be realistic, even if there was some kind of understanding they’d play us for chumps. And the left would have to, yet again, provide our own chumps. The cable industry will never, make that NEVER! let the issues involved with justice, equality, environmental protection, etc. be discussed in such a way that they might actually have an impact on real politics. We owe them far less than nothing. We should let them fight it out with the FCC that they had such a big hand in appointing, we should let them sleep in the bed they’ve made.

While trying to write this a couple of days ago it came to mind that during the greatest period of progressive progress, the 60s, you couldn’t say the word “hell”, show a bra in a bra commercial or show a double bed in a married couples’ bedroom on TV. The absence of the word “fuck” or the equivalent of Janet Jackson’s breast on TV didn’t hamper real progress that made peoples’ lives better. And I also remembered that in the early 70s, even as many of the restrictions held, that in Boston, during Holy Week, for crying out loud, Sonia Hamlin, a pretty good local talk-show host who worked for WBZ TV, did a week long series on human sexuality. Though it would seem somewhat dated now, it was far more frank than just about anything you will hear today. As I recall it included fair and humane discussions of trans-gender issues, lesbians and gay men, various kind of heterosexual heterodoxy. The difference was that she felt an obligation to inform her audience, not to entertain and titillate them.

The closest equivalent to that level of public information on cable today, Stewart and Colbert , are pretty good but they might be even better if they had to work around restrictions. You can always find another way to say it, there is always a way to get around just about any obstacle. They made it through the writer’s strike, after all. I don’t think that a ban on dirty language would cramp their style in the least.

As for the left, we shouldn’t oppose cable regulation of that kind, neither side is our side. It isn't a matter of justice or even something genuinely important. Nor should we support it. We should allow the cable industry to fight with their dates. We didn’t force them to go steady.