< In Defense of the Bl**p

Transcript

Friday, October 14, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Now, the FCC doesn’t allow cursing on TV before 10 p.m., but if the broadcasters win in their upcoming Supreme Court case, they could. Probably broadcasters wouldn’t go blue right away. Skittish advertisers would likely become de facto regulators. But eventually standards could slip.

OTM producer Chris Neary hopes that one trusty network tool doesn’t get lost in the newer, possibly freer age.

CHRIS NEARY:

You hear it everywhere, from The Daily Show:

[CLIP]:

JON STEWART:

Let the record show –

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

- that our our audience [BLEEP] will cheer anything at times.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

[END CLIP]

CHRIS NEARY:

- to a new show this year called Up All Night, where two new parents lean over the crib of their newborn child.

[CLIP]:

FATHER:

She is so beautiful [BLEEP]

MOTHER:

Beautiful [BLEEPS] Chris, you know what? We should probably cool it on the cussing.

FATHER:

Right.

[END CLIP]

CHRIS NEARY:

Look, I’m not sure how damaging dirty words are to children or how much they course in the culture. These things are hard to measure. What I am sure about is that bleeping obscenities, when done right, is funny. 

Now, quickly, a word about what’s at stake in that Supreme Court case. It’s not exactly about bleeping.

ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN:

The real impact of this case is on smaller stations, is on cutting edge programming, on songs that push the envelope, on experimental programming.

CHRIS NEARY:

That’s Andrew Jay Schwartzman. He’s the senior vice president of the Media Access Project, a nonprofit law firm focused on media policy issues. They plan to file a brief in support of the broadcasters in the Supreme Court case. Smaller stations don’t always have the resources to monitor all of their programming or to pay FCC fines. 

But how might the case affect [BLEEP]-ing?

How about a show that [BLEEP]s really well, like Parks and Recreation?

ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN:

It’s entirely possible that the additional creative freedom that would come with reversing the FCC’s policy would permit the writers of shows like Parks and Recreation to move more comfortably into touchier areas.

CHRIS NEARY:

But the bleep in Parks and Recreation isn’t just about censoring, it’s a full-fledged comic device on its own. For example, in this scene a character named Joan Callamezzo, a small town newscaster host who’s recently divorced and very drunk is at dinner with Tom and Ben, who are trying to steer the conversation away from sex and towards Star Trek.

[CLIP]:

TOM HAVERFORD:

..You like Star Trek. Talk about that for a little bit.

BEN WYATT:

They’re making a sequel. But if JJ Abrams and Company expect us to believe that it’s Spock with the romantic tension with the Uhura and not Kirk, well let’s just say the message boards are going nuts.

JOAN CALLAMEZZO:

[SLURRING WORDS]  I want to take you both home and [BLEEP] bend you over and just [LONG BLEEP] at the same time.

[END CLIP]

MICHAEL SCHUR:

It wouldn’t have been funny if she just said, “I want to” and then we beeped it, and then it was over. It had to really hit home –

CHRIS NEARY:

That’s Michael Schur, the co-creator of Parks and Recreation.

MICHAEL SCHUR:

We, I believe, strung together two takes. We just decided oh, it’ll be way funnier if it’s just like a nine-second beep, which gives you the impression that every single word she’s saying is horrifying.

CHRIS NEARY

With all the cursing you can hear on cable stations and on the Internet, the shock value is almost gone. Bleeping out curses actually reinvigorates them, allowing your mind to fill in the gaps with the vile and the unmentionable.

MICHAEL SCHUR:

If you’re willing to risk offending people by cursing, it means that you really believe what you’re saying at that moment. It’s not funny when it’s kind of casual and kinda like tossin’ off words and throwin’ around F-bombs. It’s about conviction and it’s about really, really believing in what you’re saying.

CHRIS NEARY:

I really, really believe in the comedic importance of bleeping curses. And though sometimes I think it’s really [TWO BLEEPS] that we at public radio can’t selectively,  when the moment calls for it, use a well-chosen expletive, it might be better that way, or at least funnier. I asked Schur if he wanted to curse on public radio.

MICHAEL SCHUR:

I was actually just thinking that I would say when a huge [BLEEP] fan of national public [BLEEP] radio I am. And I just want you know that, you sons of [BLEEP]. [LAUGHING]

CHRIS NEARY:

Now, that’s conviction. For On the Media, I’m Chris Neary.

[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]