Viewer discretion advised

It’s not often the Federal Communication Commission publishes porn:

… a woman and a boy, who appears to be about seven or eight years old, are involved in an incident that includes adult female nudity. As confirmed by a tape of the program provided by ABC, during the scene in question, a woman wearing a robe is shown entering a bathroom, closing the door, and then briefly looking at herself in a mirror hanging above a sink. The camera then shows her crossing the room, turning on the shower, and returning to the mirror. With her back to the camera, she removes her robe, thereby revealing the side of one of her breasts and a full view of her back. The camera shot includes a full view of her buttocks and her upper legs as she leans across the sink to hang up her robe. The camera then tracks her, in profile, as she walks from the mirror back toward the shower. Only a small portion of the side of one of her breasts is visible. Her pubic area is not visible, but her buttocks are visible from the side.

The racy narrative is part a 25 page tome (See pdf) issued by the buttoned-down Federal Communications Commission on Friday that a 2003 scene of the ABC series NYPD Blue violated decency standards by being “titillating and shocking.”

The FCC also let it be known that organized letter-writing campaigns by a few organizations work, even if it took the government five years and who knows how much money to determine that the scene “depicts sexual organs and excretory organs — specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” The ABC lawyers response? They argued buttocks are not sexual organs, to which the FCC said, “we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense.” Next?

The FCC ordered TV stations to pay $1.43 million in fines, the second-largest indecency award ever.

Area stations ordered to pay the fine include KSTP in St. Paul, WDAY in Fargo, WDIO in Duluth, WXOW in La Crosse

  • Elizabeth Tobias

    How much of a breast is “too much”? 50% 20% 5%? The “bathing suits” worn in ‘beach volleyball’ are like pasties … how is that more modest than a side-shot of a woman’s breast? The beach-bunnys on the lead-in to most CSI:Miami definately have most of their buttocks on display with thong bikinis.

    Justice (Blackwell?) stated that he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Applying that philosophy, the FCC can certainly identify anything they want as pornography – all they need to do is close their eyes.

    This doesn’t even get into men’s nipples. Why are they less of a sexual organ than a woman’s? Buttocks aren’t actually functional for sexual reproduction. Neither are breasts or nipples. And, for that matter, full-frontal nudity shots of a woman still aren’t going to display any excretory organs involved in sexual intercourse. Just hair.

    Is the female breast covered under the “excretory organ” clause, rather than the sexual organ one? Or does it only apply if she’s lactating at that moment?

    There’s simply too much stupidity. I fail to understand how a side-shot of a woman’s breast is completely unacceptable, but a Fox-TV show about a pathologist which was showing people running around dressed in sexual paraphanalia at 8 p.m. is okay? Simply because there weren’t any boobs showing? But ball-gags are ok? I would certainly prefer my kids to see bare breasts or buttocks than adults engaged in such bondage playing. THAT isn’t supposed to be titilating?

  • Bob Collins

    I think it’s interesting that it took five years to determine that it didn’t meet the decency standards. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But if it was, why would you need to sit around for 5 years and think about it?

    “Let’s see, am I shocked by this? I’ll get back to you in five years after I figure it out.”

    Case law exists on whether buttocks are sexual organ? Who knew the law could be so interesting?

  • Greg

    Where is the news value in a story about an industry being regulated?

    Where is the news value in a story about an industry resenting its regulation?

    Is it newsworthy that decency is subjective? Why is that a surprise? Aren’t most regulations subjective?

    For instance, what is the acceptable level of mercury in the Mississippi? Who came up with that level? And why? Statistics?

    Why can’t I dump just a little bit of mercury into the river? What harm is there in that?

    Can anyone show me who has been harmed?

    Talk about subjective?

    Toxic culture is just as dangerous as mercury or dioxin – last year over half the college students in Minnesota had some form of STD.

    Could that be blamed on the entertainment industry dumping toxic culture onto our airwaves?

  • Bob Collins

    Hi Greg. I guess it depends on when one believes people should be allowed to make their own decisions, and when the government — especially a politically appointed panel — should make those decisions for them. For example, there was a disclaimer at the beginning of NYPD Blue warning of nudity. It was on later in the evening (10 pm in the East) .. and TVs have parental controls. How does one blast past that to end up shocked and titillated by a woman’s tush (disclaimer: I admit to being pretty creeped out when we saw Andy Sifowitz’s behind in another episode, but that’s a whole ‘nother story)

    I do kind of wonder how many people who took part in Mr. Wildmon’s letter writing campaign actually saw the episode and how many were, instead, told that they were shocked by what they didn’t see?

    It also was the most highly rated show, which means that on the standard of community judgment (which, for the record, the FCC refused to apply in this case.) people were being forced to watch NYPD Blue for that to have been the case.

    I understand what you’re saying regarding toxic culture, but the same people who usually argue for the rights of the individual — and who you know who you are (g) — are the most supportive of taking that choice out of the hands of the individual. What is the point at which that general philosophy is turned 180 degrees?

    Personally, I was a big fan of Joan of Arcadia on Friday nights.It was a little schmaultzy (although I’ve always had a fondness for the actress who played God — the one who played Mrs. Landingham on West Wing), its ratings were low and I was disappointed when it was canceled. But it was. The people voted. That’s the marketplace at work, I guess.

    Like I said, upstream, why does it take 5 years to determine something is obscene? Wouldn’t you know it right away?

  • Greg

    Hey Bob,

    Broadcast media is a special case, The very word broadcast is suggestive of puttting something out on the public airwaves without the ability of the broadcaster to filter the audience.

    It is quite different than publishing media or the film industry where the consumer must chose and pay to participate.

    Yes, we can as individuals select our content, but the airwaves are a public space where we are subject to public rights, not individual rights.

    Then there is the matter of children whose shoulder we cannot sit on 24/7.

    That is why the nation asks for and gets standards.

    And like all regulatory agencies, the FCC, the agency who enforces these standards takes a very long time to deliberate.

  • Bob Collins

    I dig. But why have these tools available if the filtering is going to be done at the front end?

    And clearly, the FCC takes a long time to deliberate. But when Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, the action was lightning-quick. This took five years. Seems kinda odd

    If something is obscene, isn’t it OBVIOUSLY obscene? If you know porn when you see it, what’s deliberation going to accomplish?

  • Daveg

    What’s obscene is the ability for the FCC to “order TV stations to pay $1.43 million in fines” for what can at best be described as a victimless (and subjective to the extreme) “crime.”

    You want to know the FCC’s motivation? I can point to 1,430,000 reasons for this decision. I very much doubt if there is a legitimate 1,430,001st reason.

  • Bob Collins

    A lot of folks allude to the public airwaves as justification for any FCC action. And maybe so. But who did the public buy them from? What made them “belong” to the public.

    Regulation of the airwaves was primarily based on a technical need. Someone had to sort out who could broadcast where so that signals weren’t ramming into each other.

    That’s why “licenses” were granted.

    Based on the wording put on the licenses to operate “in the public interest”,” that gave the FCC the authority to regulate content.

    Greg, an old pal by the way, points out that the nation “asks for and gets” standards. But when did the nation ask for them? And if a naked butt were on this November’s ballot, how would it do? (Note: Please resist the urge to compare any existing candidate with a naked butt.)

    As part of my research, I TIVO’d an episode of NYPD Blue off TNT and watched it last night. No nudity but there was language, which — if it hadn’t been on a cable channel — would’ve gotten an “over the air broadcaster” fined.

    Should that be regulated, also? If so, by what authority?

  • bsimon

    If I’m not mistaken, NYPD Blue has aired, on occasion, male buttocks as well. Would they be fined for male buttocks as well as for female? If not, why not?

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, that was what I was alluding to upstream. In this case: Dennis Franz’ tush. I’m sorry, that really WAS obscene.

  • Greg

    “Greg, an old pal by the way, points out that the nation “asks for and gets” standards. But when did the nation ask for them? And if a naked butt were on this November’s ballot, how would it do? (Note: Please resist the urge to compare any existing candidate with a naked butt.)”

    The public does ask for and expect standards, in everything from building codes to quality of air. We do not vote on the level of mercury acceptable in our rivers, nor do we vote on how an electrical box is to be wired – but none the less, our legislatures are fully aware of the level of regulation expected and detailed statutes are created accordingly.

    The same goes for rules of public modesty and decorum. In most places in America, it is not socially acceptable, nor legal to flash one’s tush in a public place. Why then is it suddenly acceptable and presumably legal to flash a tush over the public airwaves?

    In good humor we can joke about the absurdity of a tush being a “sexual organ” — until someone grabs the tush of our spouse or child, then suddenly there is not question about the act being anything less than sexual.

  • Greg

    “A lot of folks allude to the public airwaves as justification for any FCC action. And maybe so. But who did the public buy them from? What made them “belong” to the public.” – Bob

    I am not a lawyer, but I think you are confusing public domain with ownership. The public does not “own” the sky, yet we all need clean air and a clear view. In other words, the sky is in our everyday domain.

    If someone were to skywrite an obsenity, they would be intruding on our use and enjoyment of our domain.

    The same with the airwaves. Since broadcast media by its nature intrudes into our everyday domain, it is the public’s right to establish some basic community rules.

  • Bob Collins

    I wonder how many viewers actually get their TV “over the air” as opposed to via a cable or Dish?