Letter to President Obama #16 | Subject: Television and Obscenity
Dear President Obama,
I’m writing because I read that the Supreme Court has finally issued a ruling about the whole Janet Jackson brouhaha. I was surprised to learn that the Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to consider reinstating a $550,000 fine against CBS, which had been thrown out. In its decision, the Supreme Court essentially argued that the FCC and the federal government have the power to levy fines for certain varieties of language use, and for nudity.
First of all, I really don’t see what the big deal was all about. I mean, on the surface level, I suppose I can understand the argument that children were watching the game and were therefore exposed to something they hadn’t seen before. And then you can take that further and suppose it’ll lead to social ills like teenage pregnancy.
But that all seems like a slippery slope to me. Well, since I’ve never been on a slope that was slippery (I’m from Minnesota, we don’t even have hills, let alone slopes), that argument sounds more like one of those slip n’ slide things that I had as a kid. (Did you have one? If not, you should get one for your kids. They are fun. It could be the first slip’n slide on the White House lawn! Just don’t leave it down too long or the grass will die.)
What I mean is, nudity’s pretty common in all sorts of cultures, and it doesn’t seem to be affecting them one way or the other. Consider Germany. Nudity’s not a big deal there and the country isn’t on fire or anything. They’ve got naked folks all over the place—even at some city parks—and our teenage pregnancy rate is four times theirs. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go nude at any parks in Minnesota. (Woodticks!)
Anyway, I went to Germany after graduating from high school and was surprised to find ice cream advertisements with half-naked models in them! And yes, I did end up getting some ice cream, but not because of the advertisement. It was like 87 degrees Celsius or something like that. OK, OK, I’m not good at any of those conversions—before I left for Germany, I forgot about the Celsius to Fahrenheit thing and kept reading that the temperatures for most of Europe would be in the 10s and 20s, which I thought was kind of cold for June. So I brought along a lot of sweaters. I ended up being overheated for most of the trip, and let me tell you, nothing makes you feel more left out than wearing a sweater to the beach.
There was nudity at the beach, too! I was playing volleyball with some friends, and then I realized that a half a dozen topless women were watching us play. Now this didn’t lead to any type of social decline or personal decline for me—it just led me to be an even poorer volleyball player than I already was.
Anyway, since the issue seems settled, I doubt I’ll be able to change your mind. So since we’re banning stuff, I have a few recommendations for things that I find obscene and would like banned.
First of all, I think that pharmaceutical ads have been given a free pass by the FCC. For instance, I am personally offended by the Flomax commercials, which make repeated references to a lack of bladder control and an overactive bladder. That’s gross, and something I really didn’t ever want to hear about.
As an aside, I’m also baffled how a marketing company was able to find actors to go along for this role. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my face associated with the phrase, “frequently feels an urgent need to go.” It doesn’t matter how much money they paid me. Of course, it gets worse with the Viagra ads. I mean, if we’re going to start banning stuff, isn’t innuendo obscene? Isn’t it especially obscene when it involves Bob Dole and Viagra?
The worst thing about the pharmaceutical ads is the laundry list of side effects at the end of the commercials. You know, when the announcer guy starts speaking really, really quickly, as he tries to expeditiously inform you of all the terrible things that can go wrong if you take the drug he’s selling. They get pretty serious, increased risk of heart attacks, lung disorders, strokes. At times, they seem like threats, or horror movies. Did Stephen King ever try his hand at writing one of those? I’m pretty sure he’d be good at it.
If you think I’m exaggerating, remember Vioxx, that arthritis drug that gave people heart attacks? In retrospect, we should have seen this coming; Vioxx really sounds like a curse, or something you’d yell at someone you really didn’t like. (That’s how I use it today. No one gets it.)
I’d also like to ban the Emergency Broadcast System noise. Not the whole thing—I get why it’s important—just that high-pitched modem-like sound at the beginning. I hate that sound! As a kid, it scared me more than any tornado could. It still does. I mean, it sounds like something received by SETI! Every time I hear it I half expect some alien named Zortron to start addressing all the Earthlings about the new interplanetary regime.
I mean, I do understand the point of it—the noise is supposed to be really jarring and annoying. Couldn’t we just hire a well-known celebrity with an annoying voice to tell everyone to pay attention? Gilbert Gottfried would be a perfect choice, though many people might think the government had bailed out Aflac. But we could clear that up by just having him say “Disaster! Disaster! Pay attention! Not Aflac!”
In any case, I hope we don’t censor things to begin with, but if we do, these are my censorship priorities. But I’ve got others, so stay tuned for another letter if we really start censoring a lot.
Thanks and take care,
This is letter #16 to President Obama. I'm sending a letter a day, or thereabouts. See the rest at www.knockoutlit.org/brett.html
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