Saturday, May 15, 2004

Ultimate Censorship & Parental Control

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

New Year's Day. 1965. A date I will always remember as my initiation to Government sponsored censorship. My favorite television program was yanked from Channel 5, WNEW, New York. Yes, Soupy Sales was gone. It seems Soupy had crossed the invisible line by asking his young audience to go into Mommy and Daddy's wallets and get the "little green pieces of paper with pictures of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln, and Jefferson on them, send them to me, and I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico". While it was only a gag, (much of Soupy's humor was directed to his adult viewers), this is the one they caught him on. There had been others. Like the time he was showing White Fang Flash Cards with letters on them. Soupy would present a card to White Fang and White Fang would dutifully name the letter shown, until the last letter came up. The exchange went something like this:

Soupy shows the letter O.
White Fang: O
Soupy shows the letter B.
White Fang: B
Soupy shows the letter F.
White Fang: K
Soupy wrinkles brow, turns card around and takes a second look at the letter F, then shows card to White Fang again.
White Fang: K
Soupy starts waving the card at White Fang and says, 'What's going on here? I show you F. You see K.'"

( Thanks to Shirl Kenedy at TVparty/Soupy Sales )

A few days later, when the realization that Soupy had been pulled hit home, New York City was in an uproar. Columbia University was shut down due to student protests. The offices at WNEW were targeted for massive demonstrations by irate Soupy Fans. A huge "Be-In" in support of Soupy was held in Central Park. I was one of the many teenagers who attended. Within a week, our Hero had been returned to the airwaves. A small victory perhaps, but a victory none-the-less over the "moral majority" who still fail to realize that they hold the ultimate form of censorship in their own hands.

I guess I'm a rebel. I have always gravitated to those who push the envelope when it comes to exercising our Constitutionally guarenteed freedoms. The right to free speech. The right to peacefull assembly. Even the right to keep and bear arms. (All are guarenteed to us by the Constitution, and all have been challenged by folks who want to restrict, redefine or, in some cases even remove the rights we enjoy under the Constitution.)

For instance, I was 18 years old when I brought George Carlin's record album, "Class Clown" home. This is the album with the now infamous "Seven Words" bit. I had no idea what was on the album and plunked it down on the stereo and let it roll. My Mom was in the kitchen, one room over preparing dinner. I was happily enjoying the album until Carlin shouted the Seven Words,

"Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker...and Tits! And Tits doesn't even belong on the list. Tit's is a friendly word. Like a snack! Betcha can't eat just one! "

The explosion that erupted from the kitchen would make an Atomic Bomb look like a firecracker! Totally disregarding the fact that I was an 18 year old Marine and considered myself an adult, Mom flew out of the kitchen, on a bee-line to the stereo. Ripping the still spinning disc from the turntable, she roared, "Not in MY house! Not under MY roof!". She then broke it over her knee with a vehemence that would make a Parris Island Drill Instructor proud! Ladies and Gentlemen, THAT is Parental Control!

In spite of Mom's good intentions, I remain a Carlin fan to this day and actually met him while working on the Jennfer Lopez/Ben Affleck Film, "Jersy Girl" . I like him even more now. Real down to earth, good natured guy. The following excerpt from an interview with Stephen Thompson, of The Onion, on November 11, 1999, speaks for itself.

O: A few of the seven words are actually on TV now, where you've got "shit" on Chicago Hope. How do you feel about that?

GC: Well, it's always been kind of a false arrangement anyway. When I was a little boy, I was taught to look up to policemen, look up to military personnel, and look up to sports figures. We all know how they speak, so apparently the message was, "These people have not been corrupted morally; therefore, I can derive from that that dirty language didn't corrupt them morally." There's no foundation for this language being harmful in any way; it's just rude to some people, less rude to others. So it's one of those fake barriers that's rooted in a fake morality about sex, the body parts that produce sexual experience—and, as it happens, bathroom experience—and an ultimate fear of the human body and sexuality. And therefore, I don't honor those arbitrary demarcations, and that's that. [Laughs.]

That not everybody agrees with the above summation is evidenced by the fact that George has also fallen under the watchful eye of the "moral majority" and subsequently, the law. In one instance he was arrested after performing the Seven Words Bit at a concert in Milwaukee, WI. But guys like Carlin aren't for everybody.

So, after reading this, it should come as no surprize to the you that I am currently a big fan of the notorious Howard Stern. Not since Lenny Bruce , has a celebrity taken more hits from the so-called "moral majority" for " indecent content" than Howard Stern. I'm not going to discuss that content here. We all know what it is, even those of us who "claim" not to listen to him. The content is not the point. (If you care to discuss content how about the numerous ads that ran during the Superbowl dealing with Erectile Dysfunction? How would you like to explain that to your 6 year old son or daughter?) The point is that he has been pulled off the airwaves by ClearChannel in 6 markets and has predicted that his syndicator, Infinity Broadcasting will soon cave-in to the Religious Right and cancel him due to enormous fines levied by the FCC. The fines are the result of numerous complaints by a relative handful of people calling themselves "representatives of family values" and the "moral majority". Notice I am careful to say Religious Right, because, until recently, Stern was one of George Bush's biggest supporters and counted many Republicans and Conservatives among his own supporters. His relentless on-air campaigning helped both George Pataki and Christie Whitman achieve the Governorships of New York and New Jersey respectively. In fact, Christie Whitman was so grateful to Howard she fulfilled a promise she made to him during her campaign and named a rest-stop on the New Jersey State Turnpike after him. The fact that he was able to mobilize his enormous audience in New York and New Jersey makes him a very powerful figure, perhaps too powerful for some to be comfortable with. Factor in Stern's other markets and his listeners number in the millions.

But that's what it's all about, isn't it? Listeners. Why do you think he has so many listeners? Millions of them. Why do you think he can mobilize them? Because they like him. And his programming. It is worthwhile to note here that unlike Janet Jackson, who "ambushed" the Superbowl audience, Stern has been broadcasting for some 20 years! Folks know what he's about. Even those who claim they don't listen to him. And there-in lies the crux of the argument. What the Christian Conservatives and the "moral majority" failed to realize in 1965 and still don't realize today is that The Ultimate Censorship is at our fingertips. If you don't like a program, turn the dial! If enough folks did that, ratings would drop, ad sales revenues would drop and the program would be dropped. But that isn't the case here, is it? And before you start on me about "the children", exercise a little of that Parental Control my Mom used on me.