Indecent Proposal

The Supreme Court, 1942: There are certain well defined and narrowly limitd classes of speech, [such as the obscene and the libelous, that] are no essential part of any exposition of ideas and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality (as written in Geoffrey R. Stone's Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime).


With that said, this year the Super Bowl, unlike many primetime programs, treated its viewers to tasteful programming. Paul McCartney’s wholesome tunes replaced Nelly’s crotch-grabbing, Janet’s peek-a-boo, and Timberlake’s Musketeer mime sex. The commercials, for the most part, refrained from crotch shots, crude jokes, and booby bonanza: the Super Bowl was a primetime event the whole family could sit down and enjoy without awkward “how to explain this one/I’ll explain when you’re older” moments.

I suggest the Democrats pounce on this opportunity and introduce either a bill or initiate a crusade aimed at enforcing decency standards on public airwaves: both television and radio. Before anybody yells, “Censorship!” or “Violation of the First Amendment!” let me point out this enforcement would, and most importantly could, only apply to public airwaves and would - of course! - not restrict political commentary (see Supreme Court quote above). Unlike Tipper Gore or Delores C. Tucker, I do not advocate regulating private material: Eminem can rhyme about a “fag,” Ice T can “fuck the police,” Lil’ Kim’s albums can be dedicated to oral sex, pornography can continue its own Grammy's, and Howard Stern can switch to satellite radio. But, the Democrats should argue, the abundance of commercials and regular programming saturated in overt sexual content and violent material pouring into peoples’ home

uninhibited has crossed the line.

The sex and violence don’t offend me, although I’m sure they offend plenty of adults. But this is how I envision the Democrats structuring their message: target parents who, more than ever (remember all those after school programs being cut), need all the breaks they can get raising their children. After all, the Republicans dominate those areas in the country that are growing most rapidly, especially exurban areas, presumably places abundant with families.

While the government is not in the business of raising children, the government should be in the business of not allowing such material to freely flow into the private homes and vehicles of its citizens. The government already dictates what is and is not appropriate public behavior: indecent exposure, disturbing the peace (say I start screaming in the middle of the street at 2:00 AM), George Carlin's infamous 7 words, public schools can ban kids from wearing offensive t-shirts, and I can't yell "fire" in a theater.

If I’m a parent of a 10 year-old boy and I do not want my son to watch sexual content, I am comforted by the fact he can’t rent certain movies or see such movies at the theater (minimum age requirements), I can inspect his cd collection, but if I’m cooking dinner, paying bills, or working, I cannot rest assured that my son isn’t watching inappropriate material on network television, no matter the time of day. By allowing this to happen, the government is demanding that at every instant of the day, even in my own home, I have to guard my child from offensive material. Look, the airwaves are public so isn't it inconsistent to suggest sensitive people should simply not possess a television or a radio in their homes?

Yes, there is the V-Chip. However, the V-Chip concept is backwards. The material I wish to censor should not be allowed into my home in the first place. Perhaps the solution is if I decide to allow such material into my home, then I can purchase an X-Chip that allows me to access such programming. Parents, in the privacy of their homes, should not be held completely responsible in blocking radio and television content that liberally flows into their homes with the press of a button.

What about the Internet? I’d argue that due to its evolving status, we have to leave it alone.

-- Steve Cieslewicz