In news that may only be interesting to those of us married to First Amendment attorneys — but which should be interesting to anyone who cares about TV and civil liberties — the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the FCC's 2004 declaration that "fleeting expletives" should be subject to a hefty fine is "arbitrary and capricious." What does this mean? It means that, let's hope, the next time someone happens to swear on live network TV, as Bono did when he declared U2's Golden Globe win in 2003 "fucking brilliant," the network will not be liable for thousands and thousands of dollars of fines. (Not Bono, of course, nor Nicole Richie or Cher or whoever else actually swears on the air! Just the networks, and their local affiliates.)
The FCC's crazy position was that a single, isolated, nonsexual use of the word "fuck" is by its very nature sexually obscene:
Given the core meaning of the ‘F-Word,’ any use of that word or a variation, in any context, inherently has a sexual connotation … The ‘F-Word’ is one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language. Its use invariably invokes a coarse sexual image.
So, for example, if we called the FCC "a bunch of fucking idiots," you would immediately — no matter what — envision a group of dolts in suits having hot obscene sex with each other, right? Right?
The rule has not been entirely struck down; instead, the court instructed the FCC to go back to the drawing board. Let's hope that the next ruling from the commission isn't so fucking lame.