While college students are constantly surrounded by an endless barrage of media, rarely do we look introspectively at the decision-making process behind what we ultimately hear on the air.
When the Federal Communications Commission was created in 1934, it implemented regulations that dictate what kind of material is cut out of radio and TV broadcasts today.
Viewers are well acquainted with these restrictions. Whole words are faded out of our favorite songs, and certain cable television shows will never stretch beyond the occasional “damn” and “hell.”
According to the FCC’s guidelines for obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts, it is a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours of the day.
The FCC’s official definition of profanity describes content that “includ(es) language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”
However, in a changing landscape of language and everyday vernacular, the lines of what is or is not offensive to the general public are becoming blurred.
These changes are integral to the ways we as consumers interpret our news, music and entertainment, though not always in a positive way.
Last week, NPR’s Neda Ulaby wrote a story discussing the nature of this censorship on cable television, particularly in regards to popular network shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
Viewers of these shows are acquainted with the harsh environment and brutal realities faced by characters. It’s jarring when the language employed by characters is fairly tame and decidedly uncharacteristic of what we might expect our reactions to be in real life.
“Seriously, if you were being attacked by zombies, you might yell out the word f–k!” Ulaby said. “But no one does on ‘The Walking Dead.’ When it comes to language in this golden age of basic cable dramas, the rules are idiosyncratic and unclear.”
The article goes on to note that appropriate substitutes have to be used for this strong vernacular, but even blanket phrases such as “Jesus Christ” have to be monitored carefully.
It is important to consider how these small censorship decisions can affect the authenticity of the programming.
Censorship is appropriate in some settings, but I have to wonder what demographic we’re pandering to when a show that depicts as brutal and grueling a world as “Sons of Anarchy” isn’t allowed to utilize the language that the characters would undoubtedly unleash in real life.
Indeed, looking at the staggering success of the controversial, rule-breaking HBO original series such as “Game of Thrones” or “Veep,” it seems that the landscape for what is considered obscene and profane is rapidly changing.
“To think about dirty words on cable is to think about how we use language and how it evolves,” Ulaby said. “All of these amazing cable dramas — and the language they use, or don’t — are themselves a drama about community standards, artistic choices and the values we put into words.”
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @lolonghi