On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it had rejected 36 complaints of indecency brought by the right-wing Parents Television Council against TV shows like "Friends," "The Simpsons," "Scrubs" and "The Gilmore Girls."
This may seem like an encouraging development, depending on how you felt about the FCC's recent fining of TV and radio networks thanks to Janet Jackson and Howard Stern, or its prolonged deliberation over whether Bono's uttering of the F-word -- in joy, as an intensifier -- at the 2003 Golden Globes deserved sanction, or how its "indecency" crusade was used to frighten TV stations away from airing "Saving Private Ryan" (also found by the FCC this week to be A-OK).
But don't relax just yet (yes, we're talking about you, SpongeBob and Buster) -- because a review of the 36 complaints by the Parents Television Council causes two distinct reactions, neither of them relief: 1) Are five, well-compensated, publicly paid adults at a government agency really sitting around discussing whether or not Austin Powers can say "testicles" on prime time? And 2) Who are these PTC "monitors" who spend all their time watching TV and getting overheated when someone on "Scrubs" says "nipples"? (Are they well-compensated? And if so, are there any openings?)
PTC's complaints -- as summarized by the FCC in its findings -- are reprinted here:
1. "Everwood," September 16, 2002, 9 p.m. EST: a character remarks to another: "I got this black eye because of you, dick."
2. "Fastlane," September 18, 2002, 9 p.m. EST: one character threatens another by stating: "...in my next life I'm coming back as a pair of pliers and pull off your nutsack."
3.. "Girls Club," October 21, 2002, 9 p.m. EST: a young female attorney says to an older male attorney: ". . . those power dicks are going to start giving me trials." The attorney responds: "Is that what you call us? Power dicks?"
4. "Girls Club," October 28, 2002, 9 p.m. EST: a female character remarks: "I'm not feeling too sexual these days . . . . Especially here, I'm having a little trouble with one of the power dicks."
5. "Dawson's Creek," October 30, 2002, 8 p.m. EST: one character remarks to another: "Listen, I know that you're pissed at your dad for flaking on you. It doesn't mean he's a bad dad, and it doesn't mean he doesn't love you. Another character responds: "No, it just means he's a dick."
6. "Dawson's Creek," December 11, 2002, 8 p.m. EST: one character tells another: ". . . you're being a dick."
7. "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," January 8, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: musical number during which the title character's naked torso and genital area are blocked by objects, furniture, and, in one instance, by his hands. Later scenes include the use of the phrase "fat bastard," and the word "testicles." In another scene from this film, a male and a female character are in bed together, but no sexual or excretory organs or activities are depicted or discussed.
8. "NYPD Blue," April 8, 2003, 9 p.m. CST: a character states: "That dickhead in a wheelchair."
9. "Friends," May 1, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: a female character and her husband encounter the husband's former girlfriend at a medical office. After a conversation concerning fertility treatment, the female character says that she has to go because she's got "an invasive vaginal exam to get to."
10. "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer," May 12, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: one scene depicts two female characters and one male character in bed together; all three are under the covers and there are no sexual or excretory organs or activities depicted. Another scene depicts a male character tying a female character to a bed and then applying ice to her abdomen. The female character moans and writhes. A third scene depicts a maid undressing while a male character surreptitiously watches. A portion of the side of the maid's breast is shown, but her nipple is not exposed.
11. "Jamie Kennedy Experiment," October 23, 2003, 8:30 p.m. EST: the title character Jamie pulls a prank on the mother of one of his friends. The mother believes that she is participating in a serious television interview about Jamie. The interviewer, who is in on the prank, mentions that Jamie reported that the "hottest night of his life" occurred when he became "intimate" with the mother, and that Jamie and the woman's son used to play a game called "you show me yours, I'll show you mine." Later, the woman confronts her son and tells him that Jamie said he'd "had sex" with her. She asks her son "you didn't show [Jamie] your penis or something, did you?" When the joke is revealed, the woman calls Jamie a "bastard" and threatens to "kick his ass." In another scene, involving a fake funeral home, Jamie says "it's gonna be my ass."
12. "Run of the House," October 23, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: a female character teases her brother about dating a woman who looks like his mother and, after her brother and his girlfriend have been in the hot tub, tells him "I know what you're doing."
13. "Scrubs," November 13, 2003, 9:30 p.m. EST: in one scene, there is a discussion among a male character, his fiancée, and her brother in which the male character antagonizes the brother by telling the fiancée he wants to "love her up and down and all around," and that they should "go put some more of your footprints on the ceiling." The brother reacts angrily, saying "that's it you son of a bitch." In another scene, a male doctor tells a female resident that he would rather listen to her "go on and on about the joys of dolphin sex."
14. "Gilmore Girls," November 18, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: in one scene, a character's grandfather reminisces about college pranks involving nudity; in another scene, two current college students discuss the night the male student spent nude in a dorm hallway. There is also another scene in which a female character listens to a brief message on her answering machine in which a male caller makes a reference to "growing a pair."
15. "One Tree Hill," November 18, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: in a school hallway, a male character tells a female character, "I've got something for you," and she replies, "I know you do, gorgeous." He then gives her a book, telling her she might want to "check it out," and she replies, "Oh, I definitely want to check it out. I suppose I could read the book, too."
16. "Steve Harvey's Big Time," November 20, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: a fully clothed contortionist appears and manipulates his body, including twisting his upper body around and between his legs, and stepping through a tennis racquet frame such that he reaches between his legs to move the racquet so that he can step out of it. The show's host remarks that the contortionist is a "skinny-ass little dude" and grabs his genital area as the contortionist pushes his body through the tennis racquet frame.
17. "Will & Grace," November 20, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: a male character studying to become a nurse remarks to a male friend that he's taken his own blood pressure many times, to which the friend replies, "yeah, and how many times on your arm?" Later, the nursing student tells his fellow students that "he can name all the bones in the human penis."
18. "Scrubs," November 20, 2003, 9:30 p.m. EST: a male character and a female character is depicted in bed, under the covers. The male character asks the female character if it's "a good time to start talking about a nickname for [his] penis."
19. "Charmed," November 23, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: three female characters are talking, one remarks that she's late because she was "tied up," and another asks "where, at Richard's?" Later, one of the female characters talks about being afraid to "take it to the next level" with her boyfriend, and another character tells her to "relax and let it happen." She replies: "That's easy for you to say, you weren't the one sleeping with an angel for three years."
20. "Gilmore Girls," February 10, 2004, 9 p.m. EST: one character says to another: "you're a dick."
21. "Angel," February 11, 2004, 9 p.m. EST: one character says to another: "you're still a dick."
22. "Boston Public," October 29, 2001, 8 p.m. EST: a student challenges a teacher's assignment, and the teacher says to the student, "Did you know, Mr. Pratt, that you are a big dick? Do we have any other big dicks with us today?" In a subsequent scene, another character asks the teacher whether he wants to get fired, and the teacher responds, "Is this about me calling a student a dick?" The other character admonishes him, "No more dick talk."
23. "AUSA," March 18, 2003, 9:30 p.m. EST: one scene depicts Adam, a lawyer, lying on a hotel bed watching an adult movie on the hotel's video system (no video images are visible). Dialogue from one video, "Here Comes the Judge," is audible: Male voice: "The defense rests." Female voice: "Not tonight. Now hand over those briefs." The next scene shows the lawyer waking up and realizing that the adult channel continued to play while he slept. Remaining scenes contain jokes about his watching adult entertainment all night, to wit: Adam: "What's [my boss] going to say when he finds out I spent nine of my 16 hours here in Arizona watching porn?" Clerk: "You're a sad, lonely man with remarkable stamina." Another scene depicts a woman asking Adam if "he's decent," and he remarks: "I'm buttered from the waist down." Another scene has a character listing the movies Adam paid for: "Jurassic Pork, Laid in Manhattan, Catch Me in the Can."
24. "Night of Too Many Stars," May 31, 2003, 8 p.m. EDT: comedian Dana Carvey, reprising his role as the Saturday Night Live character, "Church Lady," says to the actor Macaulay Culkin: "...then we jumped on the puberty train and got all tingly . . . we want to fornicate, so we thought it would be nifty to get married when we were twelve." Dana Carvey later discusses Michael Jackson and says of him: "Did he ever dangle anything in front of you at the sleepovers? . . . Say, his happy man-loaf? . . . When he moon walked, he didn't moon you as he walked, did he? . . . Did he ever get into Billy's jeans?" Another character asks whether "his [Jackson's] shalonthaz [sic] ever rose up to salute you? You never played hide the toast?"
25. "Friends," October 23, 2003, 8 p.m. EDT: in an apparent mix-up, a bakery inadvertently substitutes a cake shaped like a penis for a child's birthday cake (the cake is not shown). A female character exclaims, "Ahh! They put my baby's face on a penis!" A male character replies, "Uhh, is it okay that I still think it looks delicious?" Another male character says: "I am this close to tugging on my testicles again." When the mix-up is corrected, a male character again comments that the cake "looked more delicious when it was a penis."
26. "The Next Joe Millionaire," October 28, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: the complaint alleges that a character says "fuck off." Based on our review of the tape, however, this description is inaccurate in that no character appears to utter the quoted language.
27. "One Tree Hill," October 28, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: one female character is depicted putting her lips to a hose that had been inserted into a gas tank. Seeing this, another female character quips, "Had a lot of practice? Siphoning gas, what'd you think I meant?"
28. "A Minute with Stan Hooper," October 29, 2003, 8:30 p.m. EST: The title character interviews two men who are married [to each other] and asks how they decided to use one surname over the other. They respond that, since the surname of one of the pair was Cockburn, they thought that it would be an inappropriate married name for two gay men (the man named Cockburn fans his genital area with his apron).
29. "Friends," November 6, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: certain characters use the words "hell," "damn," and the phrase "sons of bitches." There is also a scene in which one character asks a man to guess which person had received a grant, and the man answers, "Well, unless it's the creepy guy with his hand up his kilt, I'm gonna say congratulations." Later, the character is wondering aloud how he can get someone to issue him a grant, and he asks the man, "Is there anything I can do to butter him up?" The man replies, "He does have a pretty serious latex fetish."
30. "Will & Grace," November 6, 2003, 9 p.m. EST: a male character with a very strong attachment to his mother describes the greatest tragedy of his life as "the day they yanked me from the breast of that saint." A female character, Karen, has a grudge against a woman named Lorraine; when Karen locates her, she says "I could do to her what she did to Stan ... have sex with her until she dies. Yep, that's what I'm gonna do." She then knocks on a door and says, "Open up, Lorraine, and put on a condom." There is another scene in which Karen talks about "sex[ing] the life out of" Lorraine. Certain characters say the words "bitch," "bosom," and "whore." The show also contains several scenes in which male characters talk about kissing men and female characters talk about kissing women.
31. "Scrubs," November 6, 2003, 9:30 EST: one character says the word "bastards," and another character describes a woman as having "huge cans." One scene contains the following dialogue: Dan: "I heard there's a bed in the on-call room. You ever get hot and heavy in there?" JD: "No, I usually am there by myself." Dan: "So yes." In another scene, a male character takes a pair of boxer shorts from the freezer, and another male character says "Make sure you're nice and dry down there. Otherwise, you could get a tongue-on-the-flagpole situation." There is another scene in which two female characters discuss whether they've ever had "phone sex" with their boyfriends. One of the character's responds that when her boyfriend, Turk, returned home for Thanksgiving, she called and was surprised by how much "Turk's eleven year-old nephew sounds like him . . . and how worldly he is." In a later scene, one of the women is shown standing alone in a cornfield, at night, talking on the phone with her boyfriend, and she says: "Hi sweetie -- are you naked? OK, um, now imagine me taking off my shirt, kissing down your neck . . . now I am licking your nipples all over. Your nipples." She is then interrupted by a group of boy scouts hiking through the field and ends her conversation abruptly by saying, "I don't care how close you are. I'll call you later."
32. "Friends," November 13, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: certain characters use the words "hell," "crap," "pissed," "bastard," and the phrase "son of a bitch." One character says he "didn't say the F-word." Other characters ponder where a male character may have hidden "porn." A male character states, "You broke my heart. Do you know how many women I had to sleep with to get over you?"
33. "The Simpsons," November 16, 2003, 8 p.m. EST: in this animated program, a scene depicts students carrying picket signs that read "Don't cut off my pianissimo" and "What would Jesus glue?" A male character says "Well, I guess this story has a happy ending after all. Just like my last massage."
34. "Run of the House," November 20, 2003, 9:30 p.m. EST: one character, Kirk, says to a policeman, "Thanks for stopping by, dick." The policeman remarks that he is a patrolman, not a detective, and asks why Kirk called him a "dick." Kirk retorts, "you seem like such a dick to me."
35. "King of the Hill," November 23, 2003, 7:30 p.m. EST: in this animated program, a cartoon boy is shown about to enter a communal shower at his school. An off-screen voice emanating from the shower asks, "Is that a pimple or another nipple?" As the cartoon boy removes his towel and enters the shower, his buttocks are briefly depicted.
36. "Scrubs," December 11, 2003, 9:30 p.m. EST: a female patient emits moans of pleasure while a female doctor gives her a pelvic exam. A male doctor ribs the female doctor by saying, "Don't be embarrassed. You're not the first person to give a patient an orgasm during a pelvic exam." The male doctor fantasizes about the female doctor's examining an attractive woman wearing a lacey bra. Another doctor comments that the other male doctor "never really satisfied a woman," to which the doctor responds, "Well, you might want to double check with your mom."