Back in 2003, the band U2 won a Golden Globe for their song "The Hands
That Built America". And lead singer Bono began his acceptance speech on
NBC like this:Of course, he didn't begin it exactly like that. He
didn't emit a beeping sound, but rather an expletive beginning with the
letter "F". As you can imagine, this caused an immediate stir, and much
controversy. I mean, was the "F" word, in this context -- modifying
"brilliant" -- an adjective, or an adverb? The debate caused a schism
between linguists that has not healed to this day.
the American Federal Communications Commission got involved in the
linguistic argument. At first, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau decided that
Bono's cuss was "fleeting" and not uttered "in a sexual context".
Therefore, it would not fine NBC or its affiliates for airing the swearing.
Then, FCC overlords overruled the Bureau -- saying U2's singer had been
"indecent", and establishing that even "fleeting epithets" would result
in fines of up to three-hundred-and-twenty-five thousand bucks per
In the privacy of their
offices, American radio and TV executives greeted this decision with
language that could have cost them billions in fines. And then Fox
Television, CBS Broadcasting, and ABC went to court. The networks said
the FCC's policy was unconstitutional. And yesterday, a federal appeals
decision, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit wrote, "the FCC's
policy violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally
vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting
expletives at issue here."
By the way, if you're a garage band searching for a name, the Fleeting Expletives would be f...really brilliant.
FCC is displeased. In fact, Commissioner Michael Copps described the
Court's decision as "anti-family". And he swore -- I mean, he promised
-- that the FCC would review its policy.
doesn't mean that "Dora the Explorer" is going to start spitting
obscenities at Swiper the Fox, or that Bill O'Reilly is going to have
some sort of profane blow-up on the air. It just means that, if a
"fleeting expletive" happens to escape the lips of an overexcited
celebrity with a limited vocabulary, it may not cost anyone a shipload
I said "shipload".
Because we here at As It Happens do not intend to start swearing all of
a sudden. Even though, as Mark Twain once wrote, "In certain
circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer."
He was goshdarn right -- as Gladys Knight's dad could have told you.