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The FCC Saved Private Ryan.

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“The horror of war and the enormous personal sacrifice it draws on cannot be painted in airy pastels. The true colors are muddy brown and fire red, and any accurate depiction of this significant, historical tale could not be told properly without bringing that sense to the screen,”
FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell

The Federal Communications Commission acknowledged that the ABC affiliates that aired Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day did not violate the government’s decency standards because the language used in the film is not indecent, given the context in which it was presented. Gee guys, you didn’t have to rush. I think that you would have come to the same conclusion if on Veterans Day if you gave an intern a DVD of the movie and locked her in a room for two hours.

Upon receiving this news, I was instantly transported back to a surreal time.

“Sherman set the Wayback Machine to November 2004”.

On Election Day, November 2nd, the exit polls were optimistic. We invited some friends over to watch the returns. I bought a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Depending on who won the election, one of those bottles would be opened. Every time Ohio was mentioned on the news, everyone in the room gave my wife Donna (Cincinnati Girl) a dirty look. I should have started a drinking game where every time a commentator said Ohio, Battleground State or too close to call, we would have to take a shot.

The next day we were off to Ohio to visit my wife’s family. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We’d leave the day after Election Day. How complicated could it be? A few days after I booked the flight on Orbits, we started hearing things like “Ohio is gonna be the next Florida”. When we arrived in Ohio, I called my mom in California who was devastated by the election results. She wanted to know if we were participating in the recount protests at the Cincinnati Board of Elections. This was the first we’d heard of any such protest. The local media (TV and print) had not mentioned anything about them. The newscasters sounded like they were in that Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”. It’s very good that you made Bush win Anthony. Now wish the Democrats into the cornfield. (The story takes place in Peaksville, Ohio)

A few days later on Veteran’s Day we were going to watch Saving Private Ryan, but the Cincinnati ABC affiliate refused to air the movie because the “F” word was used twice. The same channel whose newscasters presented the Bush victory as a great thing was now afraid to air Saving Private Ryan for fear of what the Bush appointed FCC chairman might do. This is crazy. If someone from my Blue State of California said something critical of the current war, someone from the Red State of Ohio would say, “YOU DON’T SUPPORT THE TROOPS!!!” But I think you insult our troops by not showing a great film that honors everyone who has ever served our country because the “F” word is used and our kids might hear it. This ABC affiliate seems to be okay with our kids seeing all the blood and guts though. So instead we went to see Lewis Black in concert. It was like every freethinking liberal in Ohio was there. If you ever get to see Lewis Black Live in concert, go. He opened the show responding to the Cincinnati ABC affiliate not showing Saving Private Ryan with something like, “YOU PEOPLE ARE F***ING NUTS!!!” Or was he responding to the way people in Cincinnati put chili on spaghetti? No one in the audience thought his language was indecent, given the context in which it was presented. We are entering very dangerous territory when we look at a great piece of filmmaking like “Saving Private Ryan”, or a brilliant comedian like Lewis Black and just take inventory of the words and not pay attention to the context.

In defense of my wife’s hometown and home state, there are many kind generous people there. Many wondered how Bush had carried Ohio. Something for us to remember. There are a lot of people in the red states who think like people in the blue states. In the airport gift shop, I saw a little stuffed winged pig with the motto, “Ohio… Where pigs fly.” After gathering our luggage at LAX, we stepped outside to find a cab. I took a deep breath, and gagged. It was great to be home.

To quote Lewis Black on the ABC affiliates choosing not to air “Saving Private Ryan” because of foul language: “What do you think they said when they hit the beach, ‘Oh, pussyfeathers?!’ ”

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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  • Eric Olsen

    Powel seems to have come to his senses since announcing his retirement from the FCC, very nice story, thanks

  • Context is everything, it seems.

  • The episode “It’s a Good Life” was not set in Peaksville, Ohio, regardless of what the town limits signs said. As Rod Serling told us each week, every episode is set in that surreal country, the Twilight Zone.

    In the original Jerome Bixby story, Anthony’s neighbors do not know if the rest of the world has been “sent to the cornfield,” or if the unnatural child has simply removed their town from the real world.

    Either way, this is a whole town that never got their 2004 ballots counted…

  • Thanks, Tony.

  • alienboy

    EO: why did Powell come to his senses after leaving the FCC? Is there something in the water there? lol. I’m sure it can’t have been because he was carrying out his orders whilst in office…

    talk about bolting the stable after the horse has gone. another story of failded public service.

  • Eric Olsen

    AB, people often seem to do their best work on the way out when the pressure is off (smile)

    Regarding his reign, ultimately it was a failure because he was so inconsistent: deregulate ownership rules in favor of the huge media corps, yet go crazy with the regulating of “decency” once Nipplegate hit. Ironically, prior to that, the complaint was that the FCC had been too lax with decency standards. He wasn’t all bad, but he didn’t handle pressure very well at all.