It’s official, we’ve become a nation of children. And like children, we can’t be trusted to hear nasty swear words—even while watching violent, televised images from a war zone.
Got that? Violence, OK. Bad language, verboten!
On September 23, PBS begins airing Ken Burns’ fourteen-hour World War II documentary “The War,” and in interviews with former soldiers, a few of them swore, a not-uncommon thing when discussing the horrors of combat.
But some PBS stations, spooked by the FCC’s prudish fine policy that levies a $325,000 indecency fine if the offensive language is broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., are bleeping the words out. If that’s not silly enough, it looks like the inability to use language is just as bad in some newspapers covering the story. In the Washington Post’s write-up of the story this morning, reporter Paul Farhi gets around it by writing, “In two instances, the words are spoken by former American soldiers as they describe the meaning of the common military euphemisms “snafu” and “fubar,” as well as some combat experiences. The other two words refer to a body part and excrement. In the edited version, the soundtrack briefly goes silent when the profanities are uttered.”
Have we become too timid? Let’s not forget that in 2002, ABC ran “Saving Private Ryan” unbleeped, and the FCC left it alone, finding that the speech was neither “pandering, titillating or vulgar.” I would imagine that the same would be the case in the Burns documentary.
One would hope that something like this would provoke a discussion over which is more offensive: violence, or off-color language that brings a more human perspective to what war actually is and how a person reacts to it. One would hope, but I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s easier to pretend that censoring bad words, while broadcasting footage of what gave rise to those words, will somehow save us from ourselves.