The Veep, the FCC, and #%&!

The problem isn’t Howard Stern, who is so relentlessly and predictably crude and slimy that anyone who tunes in for more than two minutes richly deserves the experience, however unpleasant. The problem isn’t Bono either, though you would think the singer could program himself not to blurt out #%&! on network TV. The problem isn’t even the FCC, which seems to be engaged in one of the most futile barn door closing exercises since the first horse escaped. The problem is too many artists, parents, role models and otherwise respectable adults who have placed such a low value on civility, an ethical value, that the language of bodily functions, sexual intercourse, and just plain coarseness is ubiquitous and unavoidable.

The problem, in other words, is Vice-President Cheney, and those like him, who can’t restrain themselves from spitting vulgarities like a sailor in inappropriate places…like the floor of the US Senate. After telling the admittedly annoying Senator Leahy from Vermont to #%&! himself (an unreasonable request), the Veep didn’t even have the grace to apologize, saying that he felt better for having said it.

That’s nice. It used to be that our elected officials felt good about comporting themselves with dignity and decorum, but now we have a Vice-President joining the parade to the gutter and extolling the feel-good qualities of saying #%&!. Once we have sunk to this point, why bother? The FCC is engaged in a futile effort to purge the Veep’s favorite mantra and other words from the public airwaves, while smirking penile enlargement ads run on prime-time television, sex-obsessed “Friends” re-runs air right after school gets out, unprintable rap lyrics remain the rage and every children’s movie…EVERY children’s movie…has at least one farting sequence. Once the culture has been thoroughly rendered void of gentility, what is the point of the FCC attempting to make the airwaves an oasis of manners in a desert of vulgarity?

As the Ethics Scoreboard has noted before, though “everybody does it” is not a genuine defense of unethical behavior, it can be an accurate measure of ethical battles lost. The FCC can fine Howard, and CBS can condemn Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, and President Bush could order his Vice-President to wash his mouth out with soap, but if the people of America don’t care if manners, consideration and civility vanish from our culture, then we will get the kind of culture we deserve. It will be a culture where dinner guests are routinely asked, in the manner of Howard Stern, how old they were when they had their first #%&!, where teachers frequently scream “#%&!” in frustration over the antics of students, and where a presidential candidate will earn the cheers of his (or her) supporters by telling the opposing candidate to go #%&! himself.

It isn’t an environment I look forward to living in, but that’s just me. If anyone else cares, they better show it, and soon, by not tuning in to Stern, telling Disney to knock off the fart jokes, and make it known to President Bush that we’d prefer a Vice-president who could remember that he’s a high elected official, not a longshoreman. If we don’t make it clear that civility matters, nothing the FCC does is going to preserve it. So make up your mind, America. If you don’t give a #%&!, why should anyone else?

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