HOLLYWOOD—In what seems to be a desperate attempt to appear relevant once again to conservative religious groups, the pro-censorship Parents Television Council (PTC) has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the fact that on the debut episode of Fox Broadcasting's The X-Factor—another "reality-based" singing contest show—one of the contestants, while belting out his number onstage, dropped the pants of his baggy silver gym sweats revealing an apparent lack of underwear.
We say "apparent" because all the home audience saw was contestant Geo Godley's legs from mid-thigh down, with his genital area completely covered by a gigantic red X.
But despite that lack of nudity, PTC decided to file a complaint with the FCC nonetheless.
"As the broadcast decency law comes before the United States Supreme Court in the coming term, Fox has offered a compelling demonstration as to why that law needs to be upheld," claimed PTC president Tim Winter. "If Godley performed his act in public, he would have been arrested. But if he performs it in front of a Fox camera, his act is beamed via the public airwaves into every home in the nation."
Actually, if Godley "performed his act in public" pantsless but with a big red X over his genital area, all that would likely happen to him would be myriad snickers from passersby.
But nevermind; what really matters is Fox's intent in allowing the footage on the air.
"The prolonged, previously videotaped footage of a contestant dancing nude on the X-Factor stage represents a conscious decision by the producers—with the approval of the network's broadcast standards department—to intentionally air this content in front of millions of families during hours when they knew full well that children would be watching," Winter continued. "Families were led to believe the X-Factor would be family-friendly programming and instead were assaulted by graphic nudity."
Yeah; about as much "graphic nudity" as if Godley had appeared on stage wearing short pants.
But for the PTC, the key word was "indecent"—as if anyone actually knows what that word means in any legal sense—or possibly even "obscene."
"X-Factor judge L.A. Reid described the performance of contestant Geo Godley as 'offensive, disgusting, distasteful and upsetting," Winter said. "And based upon contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, the PTC adds to Reid's description the title 'indecent.' ... And while we understand the entertainment hook that comes from the occasional train wreck, something so inherently and patently offensive as this obscene performance is more than a sucker punch; it is a violation of Fox station's broadcast licenses." [Emphasis added]
Ah, "obscene"—now there's a word for which there's at least an attempt at a legal definition. It's a three-"prong" test devised by a U.S. Supreme Court majority as set forth in Chief Justice Warren Burger's opinion in Miller v. California: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Now, whether anyone would find that big red X sufficient to inspire a "morbid or unwholesome interest in sex or excretion"—the usual definition of "prurient"—is doubtful (though perhaps not so much for PTC supporters) and for the performance to "depict... in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct," one would have to be wearing some very unusual visual aids—specifically, ones that could see through the video masking Fox put on top of the (possible) nudity. And as much as one may think all of these "reality" talent shows are crap, one would still not be likely to draw the conclusion that the material, "taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." In other words, there were probably some people presented during the two-hour show who actually could sing well.
Of course, if one were a cynic, one might entertain the possibility that PTC filed this complaint simply to bolster the FCC's case against Fox which will be argued for the second time before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall—and for which PTC filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC's position that "fleeting expletives" are enough reason for the FCC to levy $325,000 fines on TV stations which broadcast the "bad words."
Yeah; if one were cynical...