A giant step backward

The issue of media awareness and activism is analogous to what I call an eternal dance. Those of us involved in efforts to engage the culture must learn the routine. We have to know what steps to follow, meaning we need to learn what is available regarding laws on the books or pending legislation that might make a difference. It’s also crucial for us to become familiar with the resources and organizations that may already be involved in effective efforts or campaigns, so we are all in sync. 

Recently, for example, several concerned coalitions, including the Parents TV Council and Morality in Media, came together in an attempt to cancel NBC’s latest attempt to mainstream pornography, making phone calls and sending emails to TV and advertising executives. The groups had good reason to cheer when “The Playboy Club,” one of the new shows in the network’s fall lineup, was pulled from the airwaves after only three episodes. No pun intended, but this was cause for dancing in the streets.  

However, just as the “Cancel the Club” victory party began, the culture war took a giant leap backward thanks to some fancy — or should I say ugly? — footwork of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. 

On Nov. 2, the panel decided the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” that occurred during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show should not have resulted in a $550,000 fine against CBS. The judges claimed the Federal Communications Commission acted arbitrarily because it didn’t first tell poor CBS that it had changed its policy on “fleeting material.”  

The “fleeting material” refers to the actual length of the breast-baring incident, which was nine-sixteenths of a second. The tearing off of Jackson’s bustier on live television, as quick as it may have been, caused a national uproar and resulted in the most FCC complaints in the agency’s history, but, according to the court, because the FCC failed to inform CBS that the broadcast decency law also applied to ever-so-brief glimpses of nudity on prime-time television, then the network should have been left alone.  

Never mind that the entire half-time show looked like the scene from a local strip club. You may recall that Jackson and pop star Justin Timberlake led into the striptease portion of their half-time performance by gyrating to Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body.” Not exactly what you would call family friendly entertainment.  

Parents TV Council President Tim Winter is among the many community leaders outraged by the court’s ruling, very appropriately calling it “judicial stupidity.” He also points out how this is a “sucker-punch to families everywhere.” 

“How can nudity and a striptease in front of 90 million unsuspecting TV viewers not qualify as indecency? We’re not talking about content that aired after 10 p.m. in front of 90 million adults. Each and every year the Super Bowl broadcast draws the highest viewership ratings of the year, including tens of millions of children and families,” Winter said

Winter also claims the court is ignoring “the law, the facts, Supreme Court precedent, the intent of Congress, and the will of the American people.” PTC is urging the FCC and the U.S. Supreme Court to include this latest opinion in the high court’s current review of the broadcast decency law.  

In other words, don’t take off those dancing shoes just yet. There are apparently quite a few new numbers we need to learn. The eternal media awareness dance continues. I am not about to give up center stage on this one. But I will admit that my feet are really tired. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.