The Moral Monopoly

Michael Powell, FCC Chairman, has requested no action be taken against the ABC stations that aired every one of the 20-something u2018F' words and 12-something u2018S' words during Saving Private Ryan, in prime time last month suspiciously near the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. In a rare display of Inside-The-Beltway clarity, Powell bases his conclusion on the simple fact that the profanity was part of an accurate representation of the events depicted, and thus made them acceptable.

Then there is Don Wildmon, Chairman, American Family Association who wrote recently:

"If Powell can get only two other Commissioners to agree with him, then the networks and local broadcasters will be free to show anything. Everything they show, no matter how indecent, could be classified as being an accurate representation.

"We realize it is important for families, especially our children, to recognize the sacrifices made by our loved ones during wartime. However, airing excessively profane language during prime-time television hours is not necessary to convey that sacrifice. . . . The movie could have easily have been edited for TV, but ABC refused. Powell is now defending ABC’s move, making it possible to open Pandora’s box on program content."

Can't we all just get along? Or at least agree on the simplicity of operating the common "On/Off" switch?

Exercising free choice – and the headier acceptance of individual responsibility – has suffered exponential growth in difficulty in recent years so as to rival "solving for X," splitting infinitives and parallel parking.

As we say in broadcasting, if you don't like what you're seeing (or hearing), turn it off. Such a simple solution to a personal problem. So why is this simple operation so difficult for a growing and vocal number of people to master? Even if the O/O switch has too steep a learning curve, there's always The Clapper, which provides the same desired results. Of course, if the debate was just over that simple switch flip, a robust discussion would surely follow – possibly with enlightening results. As French moralist Joseph Joubert once penned: “The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.”

Unfortunately, too many potential solutions to too many perceived problems follow my "Ditch to Ditch" analogy: Due to ignorance, doctrine, indoctrination or worse, a balanced solution (like the switch flip) is impossible to attain. Even a Pyrrhic victory is acceptable to the Indoctrinated Doctrinaire and the only possible conclusion winds up in the Absolute ditch on the left of right side of the Road to Reason. To put this mindset more succinctly: “I'd rather fight than flip."

Millions of people have no interest in reading magazine like Cosmopolitan, Time or even Proctology Today. No protests are launched or boycotts threatened against stores that display their covers. But Playboy, Penthouse and other revealing magazines get some folks' boxers in bunch big time. (What is it about the unfettered female form that some find so upsetting?) Never mind – there must be a Constitutional protection for getting offended that trumps the First Amendment. But rather than make the personal decision to exercise an elementary choice ("Off" over "On") and take appropriate action, they demand Government march in and make crimes and punishments for the non-believers. But don't infidels have the same freedom to exercise their choice? If doing so jeopardizes their APQ (Afterlife Potential Quotient), isn't that uniquely their problem?

According to his bio, Mr. Wildmon is an ordained Methodist minister who founded The American Family Association in 1977. No doubt he is a devoted and sincere "man of the cloth." It would be only logical to conclude his 2,368,373 followers and fellow believers are equally sincere in their belief. Proselytizing is an integral part of the AFA game plan and so be it. Whether going door-to-door, radio broadcasts or TV shows, I suspect we can all respect their belief in the Biblical exhortation to go forth and preach the Word – (2 Timothy 4:2). But is it Christian duty to bring along an FCC bouncer to exorcise "adult" programming lurking in my Tivo while clubbing me with Scripture?

If Mr. Wildmon and his AFA acolytes can successfully bring pressure on the FCC to ban their version of offensive programs, what if ARF (Agnostics for Ribald Features) demanded Michael Powell and his band of regulating rogues ban Mr. Wildmon's "American Family Radio" programs? In today's shallow moral waters, chances are pretty good one could scrape up a couple million degenerates to form People for the Prurient Way and engage in tactics similar to AFA. After all, their programs are being carried over the same public air waves Howard Stern uses and he has been be fined mightily for government-defined "obscenity" by a government agency recently "very concerned about the increasing coarseness" in today's radio/TV program content. Could not the argument be made that committing Christianity on the public airwaves, overseen and approved by a Federal agency, is the same "Christian advocacy" – an egregious a violation of the Establishment Clause – as the manger scene down at city hall? Probably not – or the brighter lights at the ACLU surely would have thought of it by now.

But just for the sake of argument in the Joseph Joubert vein, can't Mr. Wildmon & Co. go to their church while others exercise their freedom and individual responsibility to sit with or without their children and watch "The Saving of Private Ryan" or "Debbie Does Private Ryan" without worrying that the new AFA-inspired Morality Division of the FCC Police will come crashing through the door and seize the remote? After all, if God is watching us with severe disapproval for our choices, isn't He the one to administer punishment? Since we are all free moral agents, “made in God's image” (Gen. 1:27), why does Mr. Wildmon and his legions encourage government force against the rest of us – through government regulation no less – to bend to AFA's interpretation of His Will and be forcibly denied entertainment that contains naughty words? After all, God could have made us all robots, right? Then voluntary obedience to his Word wouldn’t be a factor. Everyone would belong to the AFA, unsavory movie dialogue wouldn’t be an issue and we'd all be experts at Pac Man. Or are we to accept that the FCC has morphed into an agency of theocracy?

December 27, 2004