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March 02, 2005

Art « GWOM »

As a musician, one thing I understood a long time ago is that Art occurs through creativity within limits.

The best music often had the most restrictive limitations. The worst has almost none.

Free-form jazz is nearly unbearable to all but the most-sophisticated jazz aficiandos, because the limits are so fluid that most people can't even see them. When any note is just as good as any other, where's the beauty of finding the right one?

When anything is permissible, where is creativity in trying to find ways to imply?

The most horrible and moving thing I've ever seen was something I never saw. Remember the movie The Hitcher. At one point, Tommy Howell is eating French Fries and bites into a finger. Gross, but not all that bad, because you saw it.

No, the worst was when Tommy's love interest was chained between a diesel tractor and its trailer. And Tommy has the chance to shoot Rutger Hauer...if he does, she dies; but if he doesn't, Rutger lets go the clutch and she dies. He freezes, and they show Rutger letting go the clutch...

That scene was riveting and moving and disturbing and only possible because of the limitations and standards placed on movies at that time. Nowadays, they would probably show her getting pulled apart (Computer-Generated Images, dontchaknow?) and the movie would be the worse for it.

Can anyone honestly say that the story and impact of Starship Troopers was enhanced by nude shower scenes?

Something I pointed out to my friends, although they didn't seem to get play a video game that has a fake-looking sexy girl in it. You want to see her naked. Why? There's a trillion pictures of naked boobies on the web, why would you want to see this one? Because you care about the character, and because you can't see 'em. Anyone who understands that it is far more sexy to conceal than reveal understands what I'm saying.

You don't have to eliminate sexuality and sexiness by not allowing excessive skin. In fact, you enhance it. But by doing so, by concealing overt sexuality, you put it into a context that adults can understand and appreciate but will go right over kids' heads without affecting them in the slightest.


I know I'm not, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only one fighting the battle for quality against smut. Because, yes, I do believe the two are mutually exclusive.

If you don't understand that, you don't. No amount of trying to point out examples is going to get through. And maybe I'm wrong...but I really don't think so.

Just thinking aloud on this part:
I really want one person to explain why a$$ and f--- are okay on cable TV during primetime, but not on broadcast TV at all...without resorting to "that's the way it is", or "that's what I like". I want a logical explanation that is internally consistent on why it is better for society to have this (i.e. the current standard) rather than Sen. Stevens' or "All Porn, All The Time!" as the allowable standard. I don't think it can be done.

But you know what? Don't even try. Your thought process will satisfy you, but not me, and we'll get in an argument and both of us will get mad and nothing will get resolved.

But if you drop an F-bomb in front of my kids out in public, you have no right to complain or sue when I punch you in the nose. If you say I have the right and responsibility to control what my kids see and hear in an adult-default environment, you have no right to complain about how I do it. Deal?

Posted by Nathan at 08:30 AM | Comments (6)


I've often thought about this same thing... you and I are on the same wavelength, I think.

Posted by: Kris at March 2, 2005 08:45 AM

I'll answer, since we are largely in agreement on most things but not, apparently, on this:

The long and the short of it is, broadcast networks air on "publically owned" spectrum to all viewers with machines capable of receiving and displaying the signal. Satellite and cable do not and are only accessible to those who expressly choose to get extra equipment and pay for the service.

That being the case, the two methods of content distribution, while they result in output that can be displayed on the same equipment, are not perfectly comparable products. Rather than treating them as two types of apples, they ought to be looked at as apples and pears. It's the same as the difference between what can or should be allowed to be on a billboard v. what can or should be allowed in a novel.

Lileks has had some very, very good remarks on this topic lately, also, which I would commend to your attention.

Posted by: Dodd at March 2, 2005 08:57 AM

Yes, the sexiness of the lure versus the full exposure is definitely where it is at. Another current example is a comparison between the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue and anyone's favorite nudie magazine.

Nice post!

Posted by: Steve S at March 2, 2005 09:44 AM

Okay, you surprised me with a good argument.

I still feel irritated with this whole mess. This series of rants is my (now) knee-jerk reaction to other people's knee-jerk reaction to discussions and legislation regarding "standards".

Posted by: Nathan at March 2, 2005 10:03 AM

Also, I can't check out Lileks at work. He's blocked (like your site was about 2 months ago, too...ARGH!), so I'll have to wait until I get home to check it out.

The thing is, this is our country, not the US Constitution's. It exists to serve us, not the other way around.

So if enough people want something, it will happen. It will happen through laws, or through judicial activism attempting to enforce accepted public standards, or through a movement to change the amendment.

So, yes, there is a real legal difference between cable and broadcast TV. There is an increasingly small difference in effect, when basic cable is considered the default minimum for more people than just broadcast stations, particularly when there are a huge number of places where you cannot even get the local stations without cable! There is always a move toward pushing the envelope, and the envelope pushes back. I'm part of the pushing back part.

If we get enough people on our side, standards will be tightened and enforced through some mechanism or another.

What is the argument that keeping people from saying f-bombs on primetime broadcast is okay, but keeping people from saying the same f-bomb during primetime cable is somehow the imposition of a fundementalist theocracy?

It's not the number of under-age viewers... It's not the voluntary aspect of cable purchase, because that same arguement could be made for having to purchase a TV to get broadcast programs....

What is the compelling logic behind saying "my standard (which still prohibits snuff films and XXX porn) is the essence of freedom and liberty, but your standard is prudish and hopelessly outdated" ?

I'm not saying the compelling logic doesn't exist. I'd even be willing to admit that I might not be able to accept the compelling logic when I see it. I'm pretty certain someone out there is making the argument on a blog I can't access or haven't yet stumbled across.

But I still haven't seen it yet. I still don't see anyone making the first steps to explaining that logic...everyone would apparently rather just spout cute phrases instead.

Posted by: Nathan at March 2, 2005 10:22 AM

Another difference between broadcast and cable/sat that you should consider. With satellite, you can block certain channels. I used to take calls for DirecTV and got a large number of calls from parents concerned about this or that. DTV even has a (free) feature where shows are "rated" and you can block anything and everything above a certain rating. So by taking ten minutes aside, you can make cable "clean" to whatever your definition of clean is. Broadcast television, to my knowledge, can't do that. Not sure about cable, but the price difference between cable and satellite is marginal (and often beneficial to satellite). There are places where satellite does not offer local channels, but between DirecTV and Dish Network, those places are fewer and fewer every year.

On the general subject I agree with the points you make about "censorship" (and I very much support it for broadcast television) and I more than share your agitation with the senselessness of much of the sex and violence. But I simply can't get on board on government setting standards for optional entertainment, even if it starts with things that I would much rather not be on television.

Posted by: R. Alex at March 2, 2005 11:52 AM
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