Suppose, instead of taking the Supreme Court's hint that it clarify just what it means when it says that vulgar language and naked bodies are banned from broadcast TV during certain hours, the Federal Communications Commission just threw in the towel and said, like Cole Porter, "Anything goes."
But anyone with a remote control doesn't have to suppose. All they have to do is flip through the channels a few times. Or stay up past 10 p.m., when the FCC's strictest safe haven rules don't apply even to over-the-air TV signals. That's where we will find an almost unimaginable number of offerings that, while often crude and unparalleled in the annals of time-wasting, expose our ears and eyes to very little in the way of obscene language or nudity.
On basic cable, particularly, the market rules. And the market, hyper-competitive as it is to draw a limited number of eyeballs to one of a growing number of entertainment options, has decided that the kind of things that the FCC tried to fine the FOX and ABC TV networks millions of dollars for are bad for business.
In a rare example of unanimity recently, perhaps to relieve the tension left by their 5-4 immigration and health care rulings, the justices came down 8-0 (with one abstention) in favor of Justice Anthony Kennedy's view that the FCC's rules about what would and would not be allowed on the air were too vague to allow the networks to know what they were supposed to ban.
So, said the court, the networks and their affiliate stations had no way to know that the odd "fleeting expletive (on live awards shows) or a brief shot of nudity (on 'NYPD Blue') could be actionably indecent."
The court sent the FCC back to the drawing board with implicit instructions to come up with explicit rules clear enough that the networks and local stations will know what they have to edit out of scripts or bleep out of live broadcasts. And, of course, every body that makes laws, rules and regulations should be pushed to make those edicts clear and easy to follow.
But there is no point in the FCC pursuing any crusade against anything as trivial as the examples that were recently before the Supreme Court. In a free market/free society like ours, broadcasters should be out to please their audience and their advertisers, not the government.
Given the market in which broadcasters compete, there is little reason to fear a flood of full frontal nudity or streams of obscenities. Unless that is the only thing that we want to buy.
But, then, that would be our fault. Not theirs.