The Daily Stern: The profane edition
: THE RIGHT TO PROFANITY: The more I think about this the more I come to believe that profanity — treating the sacred with contempt or irreverence — is what free speech is all about.
And so it is all the more appalling that the FCC — in the post-Bono-F-word era — has moved to censor profane speech. (See Ernie Miller’s illuminating and insightful posts on the topic here, here, and here.)
The FCC has its own definition of profanity.
The FCC: “language that denotes certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”
The English language: “Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred.”
As Ernie Miller points out, by decreeing Bono’s F-word profane — by decreeing anything profane for the first time in its history — the FCC has opened the door to government regulation (read: government censorship) of speech that goes far beyond sexual and excretory talk.
First, there is the matter of religion. Profanity is usually defined as blasphemy. Sacred is usually defined as holy and religous. The FCC is setting a regulatory precedent that gets dangerously close to religious beliefs and codes that are none of the business of government: a First Amendment double-whammy.
Second, there is the matter of hate speech. Ernie argues convincingly that if the F-word is a “personally reviling epithet” that “provoke violent resentment” then certainly, the N-word fits that description and shouldn’t it be regulated? And the other F-word. And the K-word. And….
Third, I came to realize that this opens the door to regulation of politically incorrect speech — that which offends. And, oh, man, there is so much that offends so many these days.
Finally, look again at that dictionary definition. Tearing down the sacred cows and subjecting them to irreverence or contempt is what free speech is all about!
We have a right to be profane about a President or anyone in power or what they do: F Bush! or F Kerry or F their war or F their taxes or F their laws about the word F! We have a right to be profane about God and church and kiddie-diddling priests. We have a right to be profane and offensive about sex — as Dan Savage pointed out yesterday, it was profane and offensive by the definitions of some — but necessary — to talk about anal sex, for example, at the start of the AIDS epidemic. We have the right to be profane. That is what the First Amendment protects above all. It’s not unoffensive, safe, middle-of-the-road speech it protects. It’s profane speech.
I don’t point this out because it has anything to do with government; it doesn’t. And I do believe that SFGate has the right to set its no-no-word policy (the same way I do) for whatever reason (for me, it’s so I don’t get blocked; for them, I’m just betting it’s advertisers).
I just add this because it indicates the hypersensitivity to F-words out there these days. It’s like “Niagara Falls” in the old Abott and Costello routine: An F-word triggers an autonomic American response today.