Fast-Flying F-Words

The latest rage in reality programming is the rich-fish-out-of-bottled-water plot. MTV's "Rich Girls" follows two spoiled eighteen-year-old super-rich kids, Ally Hilfiger (daughter of fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger) and aspiring singer Jaime Gleicher, as they flutter about shopping malls and fuss about their teenage angst.

Noisier buzz has greeted "The Simple Life," a typically smarmy Fox reality show featuring waifish blonde hotel heiress Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, the adopted daughter of singing star Lionel Richie. They took these two pampered princesses and plopped them smack-dab in the middle of rural America - Altus, Arkansas, to be precise. Watch the culture clashes unfold!

Both of these grasping girls brought scandalous behavioral records for Fox publicists to exploit. Paris had an amateur sex video that was being highlighted on celebrity showcases like "Entertainment Tonight" when people still had no idea who on Earth she was. Nicole had a rap sheet for heroin possession (and began taping fresh out of rehab).

In almost any zip code, these two would be branded as losers. In Hollywood, they're stars. The show is vile, an assault on decency and on the senses. These two idiots - that is how they wish to be seen, no? - laugh as the pie they were taught how to make is devoured by the family dog. They host a kissing booth, and are soon taking money from boys who want to kiss their bare behinds. Last week, they laughed as they stole from the credit card of their boss, as if they needed cash.

Part of their calculated, crass, talent-free march to fame came during their turn as presenters on Fox's "Billboard Music Awards" on December 10. Paris warned Nicole, "This is a live show. Watch the bad language." (See the bad joke coming?) Paris added it was great to be there, to which Nicole responded, "yeah, instead of standing in mud and cow s-t." Fox bleeped that out. But then Nicole added, "Why do they even call it 'The Simple Life'? Have you ever tried to get cow s-t ouf of a Prada purse? It's not so f-ing simple." Fox chose not to bleep those sentences out for the Eastern half of the United States, no matter how many millions of children were hit with it.

In the wake of public outrage, Fox offered perfunctory apologies, but this act is wearing thin. Tape-delay technology to stop these outbursts has existed since the golden days of radio. It is obvious that Fox wants this indecent language on the air as a way of shocking audiences and scoring cheap ratings points. This is the third time in a year that Fox has included the F-word in a network broadcast. In fact, it was the 2002 Fox broadcast of the exact same program that contained Cher's use of the F-word. It is outrageous that Fox is content for children to be victims of this new, repetitive low in network programming.

How can they get away with this assault on decency standards for the public airwaves? See the ridiculous ruling in November from the ill-named "Enforcement Bureau" at the Federal Communicatons Commission. In response to a complaint that NBC refused to bleep rock star Bono using the exclamation "really, really f-ing brilliant" during the Golden Globe Awards, the FCC "enforcers" ruled that the F-word is not indecent for primetime broadcast television - if it is used as an adjective. If it's a noun, that's still wrong, the FCC assured us. I cannot imagine a ruling that could make a bigger mockery of an organization charged with enforcing some shred of decency on the airwaves.

While the Fox swearing outburst was great publicity for Murdoch-land, including the front page of the Washington Post, I'm sure it came as an unhappy surprise to Michael Powell, the chairman of the FCC. He wrote this writer in November to share his concern that "As a husband and father of two boys, I am personally disturbed by the continued proliferation of profanity, violence, and sex in our daily lives." But he explained that the evasive Golden Globes ruling "should in no way be read to condone or endorse profanity. Television licensees are forewarned not to read government acquiescence into our decision." The Fox pattern shows how broadcasters aren't exactly quaking in their boots opver Powell's threat.

For her part, Nicole Richie denies pulling this stunt as a Fox-promoting strategy. She told USA Today she "tweaked" her scripted lines to place herself in a more positive light. "Otherwise, we would have sounded so ditzy and stupid." Ditzy and stupid (and slutty and amoral and profane) is all a part of the act.

Thank you, FCC, for making it all possible. I hope Congress considers your actions when next you come to the taxpayer trough asking for your $278 million annual subsidy.