Living in fear of the FCC

Reverential treatment and reactionary customs are mutually exclusive, especially when absorbing the exploits, experience and handiwork of Armed Forces veterans. War is hell, as they say, but should its portrayal be censored?

On this past Veterans Day, there was a small seizure within the ranks of ABC in relation to the potential airing of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Fearing the FCC’s subsequent penalty, ABC affiliates across the country decided against airing Ryan, citing its ever-present salty language and realistic violence.

According to a Chicago Tribune editorial, ABC stations in Tampa, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Orlando and Phoenix joined in abstention from airing what many view as a powerful film. One would assume that a post-Sept. 11 America would be one of increased patriotism, but here we see the cowardice of those guarding their bottom lines. Indeed, the Tribune notes that, “the FCC and Congress need to back off.”

Even though ABC offered to pay if any of its affiliates were fined, more than 60 of those stations persisted in a figurative muddying of the D-Day legacy — no matter that their network had shown Ryan in 2001 and 2002 — therewith deciding to tip-toe around a Commission most foul. Though there was a single complaint in 2001 that was subsequently thrown out by the FCC, this is still evidence of the aforementioned chilling effect.

Janice Wise, a spokesperson for the FCC’s enforcement bureau, recently told CNN’s Money magazine, “If we get a complaint, we’ll act on it.” Wise had said before that a pre-emptive action on her organization’s part would constitute censorship. Though acting beforehand is out of the question, the higher-ups thought nothing of penalizing CBS $550,000, for the Super Bowl halftime incident involving Janet Jackson, and FOX $1.2 million for portions of its reality show Married by America. With those outsized punitive measures in mind, it seems unfathomable that art’s mere imitation of World War II would incur the FCC’s wrath.

Spielberg, in holding ABC to a pledge that his film not be censored, holds parallel to what should be the intention of all broadcasters: To properly convey the travails, perils, and triumphs of those portrayed in Ryan. Self-censorship is merely a habit of marching to the beat of an ignorant drummer; herein do complainants in this case belie their proposals of making television safer.

Children must witness heritage in order to cogitate its meanings and byways, and shielding them from events such as D-Day amounts to sacrilege. Dishonor has been committed by those 66 ABC affiliates that chose not to air Saving Private Ryan.

Scuttling towards a cleaner, gentler patriotism is neither wise nor earnest. To learn what is to be an American, one must both understand and pay homage to what previous generations have contributed to our country. Selective progressions thereof are disingenuous, overly hygienic leaps of conservatism that do not need to be made, for wartime is generally the context in which a sovereign nation bares its soul.

To that effect, Saving Private Ryan — along with any other record, remembrance or examination of our collective past — should be seen by as many interested individuals as possible.

Contact Adrian Dowe at