You can't show your face if you're a woman in Islamabad. But breasts are huge in France.
In New York, the acronym for Fornication Under the Consent of the King isn't a curse word; it's part of the dialect. But a reader in the Pacific Northwest once accused me of juvenile writing for using words like hell and damn in my columns. (Juvenile writing? Bite me, pal.)
The Bush League is bursting with indignation over a semi-naked Paris Hilton in pumps, pimping for Carl's Jr. But to me, the ad isn't sinful; it's must-see TV. (And by the way, it's getting people hot and bothered outside of God's country, too: I got three breathless requests for comment one day last week from TV shows in Canada, where I didn't even know they had sex.)
My point is, defining what is and isn't appropriate is like trying to make a rope out of water. Even the Supreme Court, which includes that Scalia guy who'd probably bring back the guillotine if he could, can't agree on what's obscene.
So when Mötley Crüe sued NBC last week for blackballing the group, and thus allegedly violating their rights, after Vince Neil used a curse word on The Tonight Show, I was pleased—and not just because I think it's a bad idea for Jeff Zucker to be the conscience of our nation. We need an anti-anti-indecency movement before we're all forced to wear black shoes with belt buckles and big black hats and change our names to Ezekiel and Josiah.
Any band whose hits include "Shout at the Devil" and "Girls Girls Girls" is gonna have trouble on broadcast TV. But this was The Tonight Show, broadcast at, like, midnight, long after the kids have turned off their Vice City videogames, stopped playing doctor with their Ken and Barbie dolls, finished their profanity-laced cell-phone conversations with their friends, and gone to bed. It's not like Vince dropped trou on Sesame Street.
Follow NBC's twisted logic, and Dick Cheney is kicked out of Congress, cable is banned from every household, and the only people who qualify to attend the 4A's management conference are Burtch Drake and maybe a couple guys from Kansas.
What really pisses me off is that none of this is about decency, no matter whose definition you choose.
Congress is shilling for votes. The FCC, which is egging everybody on with its endless fine-raising, is throwing its weight around. NBC is pandering to D.C. Mötley Crüe is selling records. And Canada is getting into Paris' pants to get ratings.
Look, I'm not suggesting we have Debbie Does Dallas after-school specials. I don't have a problem with family hour. I think there are established linguistic norms that should be honored on free TV, at least during the day and in the early evening. I don't mind five-second delays, and it's not like network executives and ad agencies couldn't benefit from a little more self-restraint.
But blacklisting? That's just fucked up.
In fact, this whole indecency crusade is starting to look a whole lot less like a bandwagon and a whole lot more like a tank barreling down on a skinny guy in Tiananmen Square.
The FCC has broadcasters so thoroughly cowed that they go straight to the nuclear option anytime anyone on the air gets a little blue. Off the air, forever.
The crusaders have moved on to cable, which is also getting the willies and chattering about self-policing itself. (Get ready for Tony Soprano exclaiming, "Gosh, it's unfortunate, but we feel compelled to do something irrevocable to your face!" Or Vic Mackey on The Shield chasing a gangbanger and screaming, "Stop, scoundrel!" It's coming, boys and girls.)
They'll tame the Internet, domesticate print (Maxim will become Minium), send men in black with Glocks to every supermarket in America, just to make sure there's no hanky-panky with the hang tags.
That's why we need more self-serving, hypocritical but redeemingly symbolic gestures like Mötley Crüe's. We need bands, actors, misbehaving CEOs and even ad-agency execs to fight back when targeted for decency indoctrination.
Sue the networks. Sue the government. Hold press conferences. Create TV commercials with armies of barely clad cheerleaders, gaseous animals and leering misogynists.
And dammit, leave Paris Hilton alone.