in the struggle that art emerges
does the buck stop?
but this letter from AFTRA, the American Federation of Television
and Radio Artists, provoked me. Can we look with a critical eye
at this notice that Im sure a lot of performers got in their
Increased Indecency Fines Against Individual Performers, Announcers
and Broadcast Journalists
TAKE ACTION to ensure that members of the House and Senate
do not include individual fines in pending Indecency Legislation.
the legislative year winds down, Congress has renewed its
effort to increase fines on individual performers, announcers
and broadcast journalists for the broadcast of material deemed
indecent. The current Senate version attached to the
Department of Defense Authorization bill does not increase
performer fines. That bill is in conference, where there has
been a push to include fines of up to $500,000 against individuals.
last-minute push to hold individual performers, announcers
and broadcast journalists accountable for the programming
decisions of corporate licensees represents a clear threat
to the First Amendment and will have an immediate and significant
chilling effect on artistic freedom. When you take into account
that the definition of indecency is an amorphous, moving target
and that the Federal Communications Commission has never fined
an individual performer, announcer or broadcast journalist,
this legislation represents a striking shift away from the
FCCs long-standing policy that holds that the broadcast
licensee is responsible for programming decisions.
In an age where entire networks have been usurped by huge media
conglomerations for their conservative purposes, yes, we should
be very concerned about issues of what's "decent" when
applied to journalists who are actually trying to get a story out.
We should definitely rally behind truth and freedom of speech as
long as we have breath in our bodies.
But let's not confuse these vital, important issues of real journalism
and freedom of speech with the overused, worn-out, pathetic argument
that careless performers with no regard for societal standards on
the airwaves airwaves that belong to everybody young and
old, not just advertisers should be protected and defended
under the huge umbrella of "artistic freedom."
all we need a bunch of hysterical actors screaming about
their art in what is a complex issue in a much larger political
crisis that goes beyond the First Amendment.
The FCC has made it impossible for all political candidates to
be heard in a crucial election year, and were getting exercised
about the wrong issues.
First of all, no one held a gun to the head of Janet Jackson or
Justin Timberlake. They did it, they knew what they were doing,
nobody forced them into it. So fine them. Make an example of them.
My small sons were watching, and the entire Super Bowl halftime
program made me furious on a day when my entire family should have
been able to relax and watch some TV together.
If we don't fine the individuals who agree to this sort of lewd
behavior, who's to take responsibility? Has accountability become
a completely extinct concept in this society, where unelected leaders
can invade countries at will, let buddies who are corrupt financial
crooks walk free, and run the domestic economy into the ground without
batting an eyelash?
Where does the buck stop anymore?
If youre not mad on a moral level, why not then on an artistic
or even politically correct level? Television consumers are told
to turn off their TVs during sweeps week if they object to being
assaulted by the obligatory strip-bar scenes in every crime drama,
"Oh, it must be sweeps week," we say. "They have
to include these scenes in order to draw ratings that will determine
I'm so glad these shows have "artistic freedom" but,
on an aesthetic level, it's become a tired cliché, a slavery
to what's literal rather than transcendent. In a politically correct
sense, it's degrading, objectifying and dehumanizing not
just to women but to us all. Im sick of it.
And when shows, driven by advertising demands for ratings, are
forced to cater to this lowest common denominator, this is called
Let's not be naïve. And let's not even get into the issues
of ageism and sexism for female actors who are shut out of the mainstream's
insatiable hunger for all that is youthful, body-focused and artificially
thin yeah, Im one of the actors out there who actually
looks like a normal woman. Where's my artistic freedom?
As AFTRA members in Portland, we are asked all the time to turn
down good-paying non-union jobs offered at above-scale daily wages,
yet we are not to be encouraged to turn down jobs requiring us to
shock and disgust viewers in their own homes?
Being able to use our senses of good taste and artistic discrimination
on the few airwaves still left to the public at large is also a
part of "artistic freedom." Actually having the freedom
to choose, being able to make lucrative choices that also benefit
a large spectrum of the society rather than just horny adolescent
males that, too, is "artistic freedom."
Here's a cliché for you: with great freedom comes great
as I grit my teeth to admit it, I do agree with some conservative
Republicans on this one. It's great to have this freedom to make
choices. Let's not abuse it.
Jenna strips for peanut butter and chocolate on "Survivor"
during prime time. Justin and Janet bare a breast while dancers
gyrate to bad disco on a Sunday afternoon in front of millions of
viewers. They know perfectly well that these things are indecent.
That's exactly why they do it. And we call this artistic freedom
when broadcasters make the cynical market-driven decision to run
Too bad that everyone has to pay for a mistake that two performers
made, but as the absurdly restrictive Hays code has shown, setting
strict limits led to an enormous burst of artistic ingenuity and
subtlety often resulting in something far more explosive
Real artists can take on any challenge and limitation and run with
it. The results in lesser talents can be downright silly, but it
can also lead to lean, intelligent works that raise the bar for
others. Plus, a ghost of the Hays code still exists in the voluntary
ratings system we have today and I dont know a single parent
who isn't grateful for it.
Don't get me wrong. Nudity can be a wonderful, beautiful, powerful
artistic tool when used in film or theatre or cable television.
It can also be very funny. Profanity is funny, too. It just is.
It can also be crass and gratuitous even pornographic. Fine,
I have no problem with that. But I've bought a ticket or paid a
fee to view it or hear it and realize that I get what I choose to
pay for (or what I've been forced to pay cable companies for if
I want any viewable reception on my television set at all).
Therefore, when I watch an adult film or program of any kind, I
have hired a sitter, left the house, sent the kids to bed or even,
in rare cases, allowed my children to view a tape of it with me
(after viewing it myself) accompanied by lots and lots of discussion.
I object to having to take these precautions when I watch the halftime
of the Super Bowl, for crying out loud.
So AFTRA, don't blather to me about "artistic freedom"
when artists are called upon to show a decent, reasonable (and minimal,
I might add) amount of restraint on the public airwaves. I object
to the stranglehold big media conglomerates and advertising have
on what should belong to everybody, including my kids. And Im
tired of performers who feel they have to stoop lower and lower
to further their careers and get attention.
In an increasingly privatized world, network television, last time
I checked, literally still belongs to all of American society. While
we quite rightly should be concerned about the vagueness of the
decency requirements for everyone on the airwaves, let's not shoot
ourselves in the foot by refusing to see that parents and others
have a very valid argument for fining individuals who should be
responsible for their own behavior on the networks.
is not an artistic issue and if you think it is, youre
fooling yourself and cheapening the definition of art.
This legislation is a result of a lot of really angry people writing
to the FCC in a mob mentality. People are mad, unreasonable, and
willing to throw the baby (the First Amendment) out with the bathwater.
Could this rage burgeon politically and begin to bleed into censorship
of the theatre and film? Sure it could. In fact, we can see it everywhere
already the pendulum has swung in society. As an attractive
young ingénue in L.A. in the '80s, I was told flatly by major
agents that, unlike actors, actresses had no chance whatsoever to
make it in film if they were not willing to take their clothes off.
As we can see by the recent rash of Hillary Duff, Mandy Moore and
Lindsay Lohan movies, this is no longer the case. Not such a bad
thing, but stay with me here: This recent bit of legislation takes
the cultural shift further and in a much more potentially sinister
way as the country as a whole is struggling against collapse under
the fascistic control of neocon fantasy.
As artists, we must thoughtfully ask ourselves how and why it got
to this point and what balance could be struck with angry conservatives
to draw them back to reason rather than whining about "artistic
Id like to see a serious discussion of the difference between
pornography and art and appropriate venues for each. Since
before the dissolution of the National Endowment for the Arts, we
have angrily defended all artistic choices with the argument that
basically amounts to "we are artists; we therefore owe society
nothing and cannot function properly with restrictions of any kind."
This argument is rubbish.
As anyone who has seriously attempted art of any kind knows in
his heart, art is all about overcoming the restrictions placed upon
it and it is in the struggle that art emerges ultimately
to the betterment of society. Perhaps if we governed ourselves with
a little more thought as to what our actual motives and limitations
of imagination are when we make indecent decisions and call it art,
we, as liberals, wouldnt be in this position.
Furthermore, at the risk of being over-broad (God forbid we should
actually look at the big picture) if were going to get mad
about censorship by the FCC, why don't we as artists demand answers
to harder questions that affect us more seriously in terms of arts
funding in election years such as why so few corporations
are allowed to monopolize so many broadcast venues, facilitating
network takeovers for political propaganda.
was the rule for fair and equal time for various political candidates
abolished and sold to the highest bidder for commercial airtime,
resulting in loss of information critical for making intelligent
This issue that AFTRA is focusing on is just a tree that we cant
see past in the thick of a great big proverbial forest of things
wrong with the FCC.