“The government has no control over what’s released in movie theaters oron DVD, what arrives in books or on CDs, or what’s piped into homes orphones via iTunes or YouTube or MySpace,” Mark Harris recently noted in an excellent EW column. “Perhaps it’s time to ask why TVshould be treated any differently — why, in fact, the government has any business regulating it at all.” Yep. Long past time, actually. But that’s not the question that the censors at the Federal Communications Commission are asking themselves this week. No, they’re wondering how they can extend their control over American pop culture even further: FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is reportedly proposing that his agency start regulating cable TV in addition to network broadcasts. In the past, cable’s been safely outside of the FCC’s reach, but Martin has discovered a loophole based on a long-forgotten law passed in 1984. (Appropriate year!)
Right now, it’s not clear whether Martin’s proposed policy change would affect cable-TV content, or just various business practices. But that’s no excuse; history has shown that Martin is all too eager to punish American citizens for saying things that he deems objectionable, and there’s no reason to think he’d act any differently in this case. That’s something that ought to make pop-culture fans seriously wary. Just look at how HBO and Showtime have flourished while network TV has struggled to catch up creatively over the past decade. Free, unpoliced expression hasn’t just let the pay channels show more nudity or include more foul language; it’s allowed them to create more compelling works of art.
Martin has made it clear that he doesn’t care about any of that (or about the fact that government censorship is pretty unambiguously prohibited by the Constitution). Do you? I can’t imagine any real TV fan wishes that the FCC would start vetting Curb Your Enthusiasm (pictured) or Weeds, but if you have a compelling defense of Martin’s position, let’s hear it.