Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

I Was Hypothetically Highly Offended!

June 15th, 2006 · 3 Comments

Mencken famously described puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy,” and the Internet, which seeks to connect everyone everywhere, seems to have provided the ideal instrument for feeding those fears. The FCC levied a record $3.3 million fine on CBS affiliates for airing a suggestive “teen orgy” scene in the show Without a Trace in late 2004. But it now turns out that every one of the 4,211 complaints the agency got were passed along by the Parents Television Council, the group of professional bluenoses who round up all the most salacious scenes aired on network TV (only so you can see just how bad it is, of course) and who , as Jacob Sullum noted in our March ish, are responsible for the vast majority of complaints the FCC gets. In fact, the agency got no complaints when the episode in question first aired, nor was there any outcry at first when the episode re-aired. It was only almost two weeks later, when PTC mentioned the episode in one of its e-mail alerts, that the complaints started rolling in. In other words, nobody who actually watched the show cared enough to complain (not that we should especially care if they did, mind you): The only people who wrote in were folks who troll around looking for things to get offended at. It must be tough living in a culture so saturated with this unavoidable smut. (Hat tip: Boing Boing.)

Tags: Journalism & the Media



3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Taylor // Jun 16, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Sure, tyranny of the minority … but it’s a business plan that we libertarians might consider emulating. Think of the liberty lynch mob we could form!

  • 2 Pithlord // Jun 19, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    The rhetorical force of your argument depends on the pretty flimsy premise that the justification for censorship is offensiveness. If the justification for censorship is that it will corrupt our youth, then it no longer works.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Jun 19, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    Well, the way the FCC system works, inquiries are initiated only in response to complaints, with the number of complaints presumably playing some significant role in the decision to investigate. Which means whatever the nominal justification, the system is going to track offensiveness pretty closely.