According to NPR, in the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that broadcasters could be punished for airing sexual and excretory expletives during prime time when children are more likely to be watching. But that was then and this is now. Then, a handful of TV networks were the sole purveyors of TV fare, and now there are hundreds of TV channels.
The NPR report did not mention that the case involved George Carlin’s famous “
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Supreme Court’s decision is the appendix to the decision, which includes a
Aruba-du, ruba-tu, ruba-tu. I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can’t say, that you’re not supposed to say all the time, [']cause words or people into words want to hear your words.
Some guys like to record your words and sell them back to you if they can, (laughter) listen in on the telephone, write down what words you say. A guy who used to be in Washington knew that his phone was tapped, used to answer, Fuck Hoover, yes, go ahead. (laughter)
Okay, I was thinking one night about the words you couldn’t say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitely wouldn’t say, ever, [']cause I heard a lady say bitch one night on television, and it was cool like she was talking about, you know, ah, well, the bitch is the first one to notice that in the litter Johnie right (murmur) Right.
And, uh, bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I have to figure out which ones you couldn’t and ever and it came down to seven but the list is open to amendment, and in fact, has been changed, uh, by now, ha, a lot of people pointed things out to me, and I noticed some myself. …
Apparently the Court added the appendix to make the point that the routine was readily available, therefore banning it from the airways during primetime would not unduly limit accessibility:
The Commission’s holding does not prevent willing adults from purchasing Carlin’s record, from attending his performances, or, indeed, from reading the transcript reprinted as an appendix to the Court’s opinion. On its face, it does not prevent respondent Pacifica Foundation from broadcasting the monologue during late evening hours when fewer children are likely to be in the audience, nor from broadcasting discussions of the contemporary use of language at any time during the day. The Commission’s holding, and certainly the Court’s holding today, does not speak to cases involving the isolated use of a potentially offensive word in the course of a radio broadcast, as distinguished from the verbal shock treatment administered by respondent here. In short, I agree that on the facts of this case, the Commission’s order did not violate respondent’s First Amendment rights.