Supreme Court ruling (link opens a .pdf document) against even fleeting profanities on broadcast TV is being hailed by right-wing TV watchdogs as a victory for family values, but it’s clear that the decision does not really put to rest the issues at hand. As Variety reports, the ruling essentially tosses the ball back to the appeals courts, leaving undecided the larger First Amendment questions (should the FCC really have the authority to regulate content on broadcast TV?) and any recognition of how much the TV landscape has changed since the FCC started punishing networks for airing (even in passing, on awards shows and such) words from George Carlin’s notorious list.
The old standards used to apply because broadcast TV was a “uniquely pervasive” medium that made use of the public airwaves. Now, the broadcast channels are just a handful of options in the 500-channel universe, and they have to compete (unfairly, network execs will say) against cable channels that, because they don’t use public airwaves, are free to air unregulated and uncensored content. But the court also didn’t address whether the FCC should be regulating content in the first place. Networks complain that FCC sanctions often seem arbitrary, while the FCC commissioners argue that to issue an explicit set of don’ts would amount to prior restraint, which clearly would violate the First Amendment. That leaves only the Potter Stewart standard (named for the former Supreme Court Justice who defined pornography by saying only, “I know it when I see it”), which seems no fairer, and which may also violate the Constitution. Continue reading
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik at Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons
Sunday was the first time in eight years that I didn’t have to cover the Golden Globes live, either backstage or from my desk. It was a relief to be able to watch the show leisurely, without having to tally in my mind how many people thanked God and HBO, or how many reporters were asking insensitive and irrelevant questions about the death of John Travolta’s son (thankfully, none of them). Plus, even though it’s still a mystery why anyone takes seriously an award given out by a handful of ragtag reporters of dubious credentials, I generally agreed with the selections this year. (Quibbles: Would have been nice to see some love for Milk, and while any victory for True Blood is a headscratcher, Anna Paquin really is the best thing on that show.) Still, what really piqued my interest was the presentation of the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement to Steven Spielberg, since the recipient of the award has outstripped its namesake by every conceivable measure.
Spielberg’s anecdote about being inspired to become a filmmaker by the train crash in DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth was a generous nod to history, but let’s face it, most well-informed film critics will tell you that Greatest Show is the weakest movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar. It’s a silly circus soap opera, with Betty Hutton trying to outmug everyone and Jimmy Stewart giving what is thankfully the most unrecognizable performance of his career (he’s never shown without his whiteface makeup on) as a Clown With a Dark Secret. The train wreck is certainly the best thing in the movie, although, spectacular as it is, it looks rinky-dink today, thanks to Spielberg and his colleagues having raised the bar on special effects.
DeMille deserves credit as a Hollywood pioneer, for creating some of the visual language of movies with his early epics, and for remaining a top Hollywood player for 40 years. But he was also a red-baiting tyrant, quick to denounce other filmmakers during the blacklist era (particularly foreign-born ones). And how many of his movies are still remembered today? Pretty much just Greatest Show and a few biblical epics, which maintain a reputation for piety and accuracy that they do not deserve. I’m not sure how any adult can watch Samson and Delilah or the 1956 Ten Commandments with a straight face. Both are campy pageants of kink — rape fantasies, heaving bosoms, lascivious dancing, bondage fetishism — parades of vice pretending to be virtue. Continue reading