November 5, 2008

Is it ever appropriate for the government to take into account that a "particular remark was really hilarious, very, very funny?"

Justice Stevens asked yesterday in the argument about whether the FCC could fine a broadcaster for allowing a "fleeting expletive" to go out over the airwaves. Here's the NYT account of the argument, with the usual details about the issues in the case, if you need to get up to speed. I'm reading the transcript. (PDF.) And, no, nobody said "fuck" in the elite courtroom yesterday. They did say "F-word" many, many times. And they talked about Paris Hilton. Scalia is onto her bullshit:
JUSTICE SCALIA: This Paris Hilton incident was scripted. The use of the indecent word was almost invited, wasn't it?

GENERAL GARRE: Certainly our view is that it was pandering and invited. It could have been expected.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Wasn't there a different word? Wasn't there a euphemism in the script? I thought there was a euphemism in the script.

GENERAL GARRE: The euphemism in the script I think was "freaking", and another euphemism for the S-Word, but they obviously departed from that. And I think the commission --

JUSTICE SCALIA: But it was sort of an invitation. I mean, before she was ntroduced, said, "Now we're on live television, you have to watch your mouth," or something like that.

GENERAL GARRE: That's what Paris Hilton said. I mean, I think the whole thing was set up to be pandering --

JUSTICE SCALIA: It was a setup.
So did these words just slip out or not? Nino knows what you're up to.

Meanwhile, the elderly Justice Stevens wants you to know that he thinks some of these dirty jokes are freaking hilarious:
JUSTICE STEVENS: Maybe I shouldn't ask this, but is there ever appropriate for the Commission to take into consideration at all the question whether the particular remark was really hilarious, very, very funny? Some of these things you can't help but laugh at. Is that -- is that a proper consideration, do you think?
Imagine the law turning on whether a joke is funny! I know it when I hear it.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Oh, it's funny. I mean, bawdy jokes are okay if they are really good.
Justice Scalia would like you to know that he's no prude. That's not the issue. The question is whether the FCC can regulate, not whether dirty jokes make old judges laugh.


rhhardin said...

It's okay if a fat person falls down.

Triangle Man said...

rhhardin said...

It's okay if a fat person falls down.

or Chevy Chase?

Peter Hoh said...

The Atlantic has a language blogger who is following this story.

Terrence Berres said...

"Imagine the law turning on whether a joke is funny!"

Tocqueville in Democracy in America did say something to the effect that The Bench and Bar here takes the place of The Aristocrats.

Anonymous said...

This all reminds me of nothing so much as those two old guys -- Statler and Waldorf -- on the Muppet Show sitting up in the balcony.

Stevens and Scalia as Statler and Waldorf. Bawdy jokes are made, and they sit there and critique them for their humor value in relation to their social unacceptability.

Spread Eagle said...

"Imagine the law turning on whether a joke is funny!"

Kinda like sexual harassment thataway, where the very same behavior magically stops being harassment when the harassee is attracted to the harasser.

Joe said...

How about we stop treating society as infants and tell the FCC to fuck off. If people don't want to hear dirty joke on a specific station CHANGE THE FUCKING STATION.

Even more baffling is that many of these radio shows are highly distasteful without explicit language--the content in its entirety is vulgar. It's more than a bit like watching a slasher film and complaining about a bare breast or someone saying "shit."

Doug Sundseth said...

Humor is a redeeming social value. Thus the first amendment prevents obscenity-based restrictions on humor (and, I would submit, sincere attempts at humor*).

As to whether that applies to the ghetto run by the FCC, only our black-robed masters can say for sure.

* Humor being inherently personal, any other analysis would be too unpredictable for a reasonable person to shape his actions.

blake said...

Hey, I like my slasher flicks clean.


Just kidding.

There should at least be a shower scene. And the women should be running around in their underwear.

Also, if possible, it should take place in a sorority house.