Listening to Howard Stern during my morning commute has suddenly become very interesting again.
For the past two weeks, the popular social commentator has launched his vocal opposition to both the Federal Communications Commission (a longtime foe) and the Bush administration. Like many Americans frustrated at watching their government transform into a tool of the religious right, Stern's initial support for Bush and the war in Iraq has since evaporated. In fact, Stern is asking anyone who'll listen to vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry during the presidential election.
While this about-face is almost certainly a self-serving rallying cry to protect his controversial show, the adage "better late than never" couldn't be more appropriate at this point in time.
Ever since Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime spectacle, the clear agenda of appointed officials has been to thrust the social and moral compass of the United States back in time 50 years. We're coming up on the golden anniversary of Sen. Joe McCarthy's censure for trying to enforce behavior and decency standards on his constituents. Are we really condemned to repeat this miserable attempt at thought control?
Like Joe McCarthy, the FCC is attempting to spin controversy out of nothing. Tail Gunner Joe had a piece of paper with a bunch of names scribbled on it, a roomful of old ladies, and an explosive charge. FCC Chairman Michael Powell has a five-second video clip of a breast and a few hundred thousand misguided souls who are incapable of deciding for themselves how to think.
The idea is decency. It's not a bad idea in and of itself; the only problem is that decency is not a tangible thing. It varies from person to person and is completely subjective. For example, I find most "reality" programming in poor taste. Others don't. So who am I to tell those who enjoy watching that crap that it's indecent? The same person that would tell others to cram it if I'm enjoying something they find offensive.
Personal tastes and preference are an essential part of the human experience. Why then does the government think it can regulate my entertainment?
The new groupthink up on Capitol Hill recalls the halcyon ideals prevalent in old sitcoms like Father Knows Best. Four dozen members of Congress petitioned to block a reality show tempting Amish youth with seduction in Los Angeles. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) personally wrote Viacom head Mel Karmazin to find out why Howard Stern hadn't been purged from its Infinity-owned stations.
Why should Stern be removed? Granted, the show hasn't been the same since Jackie left, but still...
The "controversy" surrounding Stern's show comes from a listener saying the racial slur "nigger." Not Stern, not any members of his menagerie, a listener. The irony of this is that his show (and many others) self-censor through the magic of tape delay, the very same thing broadcasters are now adding to their live telecasts!
Stern believes he's being set up. Can you blame him? Immediately after last Tuesday's show, radio monolith Clear Channel pulled Stern from their stations, even though he'd committed no infraction. As a longtime listener, I've heard a lot worse than "nigger" on his show; hell, I've heard a lot worse on primetime television. Sure, it's in poor taste, but is it obscene? And if it is, how can Stern be punished when not only is his show sanitized by his corporate backers, but he wasn't even the one who said it?
It makes little difference. Major corporate powers serve the government through their cooperation with outdated and antiquated commissions that change their policy direction every time a new Commander in Chief assumes the position. Do you really think Clear Channel, a major backer of Bush and his War on Terror, will stand on principle for something when the FCC can make it difficult for them to do business? Hell no. For this reason Stern thinks his days are numbered — Infinity Broadcasting, he says, will be browbeaten through fines and business holdups into releasing him from his contract.
The truly sad thing is that the broadcast spectrum is supposed to be a public resource. When a radical agenda, be it government or corporate, controls the freedom of discourse, there is no freedom. What more basic entitlement is there to be heard?
"[Bush] is on a religious crusade to clean up America from God knows what — Janet Jackson's boob? Me? Who?" Stern said during his March 5 broadcast. "This country is so dangerously close to being absolutely no different than Iran."
Even more frightening is the prospect that the FCC may try to broaden its powers so that it can levy fines against cable, a pay service, and satellite radio (30 percent of which is owned by Clear Channel).
"This is the scariest time in our nation's history," say Stern. I won't argue that statement.
Right now, the government is actively working against the interests of its citizens. Every law or regulation passed by unelected federal representatives that takes a piffling little freedom away erodes our national consciousness. Never at any point in this nation's history have its people been more regulated, more constrained, more neutered against the very freedoms promised to us in the Constitution.
The only hope we have is that, at the peak of all this nonsense, someone with clout and a level head will strike back against this idiocy. Like McCarthy's witch hunt, the fight for our right to choose will eventually collapse. And like that bombastic drunk who ruined thousands of lives in the 1950s, we can only hope that this attempt to steer America towards fundamental Christian morality will cause George Bush, another bombastic drunk, to implode politically.
In the meantime, if you have a problem with what you see and hear in the media, turn it off or change the channel.
Canon Fodder is a biweekly analysis of politics and society.
Canon Fodder is a bi-weekly analysis of politics and society.