so often, the Super Bowl is a fantastic sporting spectacle. As the years pass,
though, nail-biters are fewer as blowout snooze-fests become the norm, and sport
is replaced by sensation. Super Sunday has become a de facto national holiday,
but football sits shotgun as much-ballyhooed advertising and glossy music acts
steer the course.
The worst outcome yet: This
yearís halftime fiasco gave the increasingly draconian Federal Communications
Commission an excuse to wield unprecedented censorial power over the nationís
TV and radio broadcasters.
In the furor that erupted
after millions of Americans were subjected to one of Janet Jacksonís breasts,
the FCC decided to rewrite its rules of "indecency and obscenity."
Fines of $27,500 were suddenly raised to a soaring $500,000. The bill, passed
by the House in March, did include a maximum fine of $3 million, however, to
keep the rabid FCC hounds at bay.
The first victim of the
new fines was no shock: Howard Stern, shock-jock and perennial FCC whipping
boy. Since 1990, "The King of All Media" has earned more than half
of the FCCís total $4.5 million in fines. After airing a single episode in which
Stern discusses the "Sphincterine," a most personal hygiene product,
while also airing "repeated flatulence sound effects," as the commission
indignantly described them, Sternís carrier Clear Channel was fined $495,000.
The broadcast trespassed on the commissionís forbidden realm of "sexual
or excretory organs or activities." Stern was promptly cut from Clear Channelís
six national stations.
The victims of the new censor
tactics are not limited to the typically lewd. The show "E.R." cut
a glimpse of an elderly womanís breast on a medical table, fearing hysterical
mass-flashbacks to Super Bowlís flashdance. The New York Times reports a mass
erring on the side of caution; everyone from Rush Limbaugh to "Masterpiece
Theater" has been policing themselves for fear of incurring the commissionís
wrath. When Limbaugh, the conservative rightís seminal son, is bleeped on an
Indianapolis station for uttering the word "urinate," it would seem
that the situation has spun out of control.
With some radio stations
cutting songs like Elton Johnís "The Bitch is Back," for fear of reprisal,
itís worth remembering where this all began. A lone breast, nipple obscured,
aired on national television. Cut to commercial. Commercial advertises erectile
dysfunction drug Cialis and warns that though rare, "men who experience
an erection for more than 4 hours (priapism) should seek immediate medical attention."
The furor arose not from the promise (or fear) of enduring erections, but from
a natural solicitor of arousal: a near-topless sex symbol. As Americans, we
donít like to be reminded what is unattainable, but rather what temporal pleasures
prescription drugs can afford us.
The FCC, currently chaired
by Secretary of State Colin Powellís son, Michael Powell, is losing a grip on
reality. Considering the elder Powellís good-soldier willingness to be censored
by the Bush Administration when his Iraq warnings went unheeded, it comes as
little surprise that his son now enforces collective tongue-biting.
With its vague new rules
on profanity, the FCC is censoring taste rather than actual content. It is the
governmentís job to provide the environment in which the arts and entertainment
may flourish, not to dictate, through harsh monetary punishments, the flavor
of that entertainment.
Lowest common denominator
jokes about sphincters and flatulence may not be productive, but are nonetheless
a constitutional right. If the FCC wanted to ban something, it might start with
something truly sensational: Super Bowl advertising. Rife with cheap laughs
from FCC-despised flatulence humor, the ads have become the countryís great
carnal pleasure. Next year honor the game; play it commercial free.