I’m listening to The Bird and the Bee right now. Every single track on the album is labeled as [Explicit] because of the song called “F——ing Boyfriend,” even though that’s the only song that actually has any explicit lyrics.

Both iTunes and Amazon have two versions of the album. One is marked explicit on every single track. The other has edited the one song, and isn’t marked.

I suppose that might have made sense in the old days when an album was only ever sold as a complete unit (with maybe a single or two)…but in today’s digital market, the base unit isn’t the album. It’s the song. If the song itself isn’t explicit, it shouldn’t be labeled as such. That would be like giving Spider-Man an R rating because Sam Raimi also directed Evil Dead.

Some consequences:

  • On my playlist, 9 out of 10 songs from this album are labeled [Explicit], but aren’t. They’re perfectly suitable to play around children and people with sensitive ears, but are labeled as if they’re offensive.
  • Anyone searching iTunes or Apple for an individual song will see at least two versions, one of which says it’s explicit (but isn’t) and one of which doesn’t — even though they’re the exact same recording. Confusing your customer is bad for business.

This morning’s Los Angeles Times article, “A %$#@ slippery slope on raw talk?”, discusses the recent court ruling that relaxed FCC restrictions on inadvertent swearing. On one side, watchdog groups (and the FCC) are complaining that this could lead to swearing and nudity throughout prime time. (Won’t someone think of the children?) On the other side, the networks point out that it’s not likely to open the floodgates of indecency:

Broadcasters could air expletives after 10 o’clock “every night of the week,” one executive said. “We don’t for a reason, because we don’t think our audiences want to hear it.”

My take: this is a much-needed relaxation of rules that, frankly, have gotten overly uptight in the last few years. If an adult screws up and accidentally lets loose with stronger language than is acceptable on TV, and the guy with his finger on the *bleep* button misses it, chances are they both already know they messed up. Give ’em a slap on the wrist. The ton of bricks approach is unnecessary, and ultimately counter-productive.

It takes a spectacularly skewed worldview to think that the occasional slip-up in the heat of the moment is equivalent in naughty content to, say, a scripted scene from The Sopranos. Once a year vs. 10 times in every scene? Big deal. We’re not talking about murder, we’re talking about words—words that everyone (yes, including your kids) has heard plenty of times.

On a related note, the article brings up the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, since it spurred the “war on obscenity” into action. Personally, I think the most disturbing thing about the incident is the fact that all the blame is placed on Jackson herself. No one seems to remember that it was Justin Timberlake who ripped off part of her wardrobe.

KCRW ran a story on the indecency wars this morning, and quoted someone who was concerned that kids are picking up bad language from broadcast media.

Yeah, right. Broadcast media is so locked down they can’t find that kind of language there.

When I was in middle school, I spent a week working at a cub scout day camp. I think I was around 12 or 13 at the time. The adults warned us that we had to watch our language around the cubs (who were probably around 8 or 9), because they didn’t want the kids picking up any bad words from us. They needn’t have bothered. The kids were far more foul-mouthed around us than we were amongst ourselves, and actually managed to shock us. This was in the late 1980s.

Kids don’t need TV or movies to learn bad words. They learn them from their friends at school, or they learn them from parents, or from neighbor kids.

There was a B.C. comic strip a few years ago that I thought illustrated this point well: Two kids (well, ants) walk into the room, one crying, “Mom, he said the Z-word!” The parents send the kid to his room, then have this brief conversation: “Where’d the little %@#&! learn the Z-word?” “Beats the #@*$ out of me.”

It looks like the FCC isn’t completely insane. After four months, they concluded that the now-infamous Desperate Housewives locker room promo isn’t indecent after all. “Although the scene apparently is intended to be titillating, it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under our standard.”

I saw the spot—or at least something that matched the description exactly—and it was no more explicit than typical prime-time fare. I thought it was cheesy, but I honestly didn’t think any more about it, so when the controversy hit, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.

But it took them four months to figure this out?

Ah, well, I suppose it’s fast for the FCC. I mean, it took them more than a year to clear a complaint against Angel, by which time the series had been off the air for nine months.

(Incidentally, I’ve never seen a single episode of Desperate Housewives. It just doesn’t look like my kind of show.)