In the throes of any war, you'll find people using ugly four-letter words. That's just the nature of the business. Death and horrible injuries can do that to you.
Few heard this kind of language in any old war films from the 1940s and 1950s. But in 2006, reality is in. And now PBS has a problem. It wants to air a tough-talking Ken Burns' World War II documentary called "The War," in which hard-core veterans offer remembrances of things graphic and foul-mouthed. Four-letter words are required in that setting. That isn't an option when your soldier buddy is getting blown up.
Yet, as adult at this programming will be, the Federal Communications Commission might still levy fines against this thoughtful PBS show--a program conservative-minded viewers, even conservative-minded war-mongering viewers, would agree with in spirit.
Compounding this problem, is that Paula Kerger, the new president and CEO of PBS, isn't sure about the new FCC rules that could lay heavy monetary fines against broadcasters that breach new indecency standards. Like the first 15 minutes of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," the Burns documentary intends to offer up a more realistic and graphic picture of war. When "Ryan" was shown on TV, the FCC deemed that the movie did not violate the nation's indecency laws.
Still, you say this isn't for children to see. Sure, then run it after 10 p.m.--out of the FCC's supposed jurisdiction. This, of course, would limit the documentary's impact and viewership, a PBS concern.
Surely, few teens, kids or even young adults are going to be interested in this subject matter anyway--a war than took place over 60 years ago. The show's demographics probably wouldn't be 18-34, 18-49--and not even 25-54. Men and women who served in WWII are at least in their late 70s.
"The American people need to know this is not about Janet Jackson," Kerger said at the Television Critics Association meeting in Pasadena, Calif., referring to the 2004 Super Bowl halftime breast-baring incident that started up a rush of legislation which resulted in increased fines and penalties for indecency violations.
Kerger's point is exactly the one producers have been talking about when it comes to government intrusion on content. What do you do when TV content discusses serious issues and uses profanity to highlight that intensity --especially against the backdrop of what is going on today with the war in Iraq?
Perhaps some kids--not all--really need to see this. It's just another life lesson --a real one. In that regard, the FCC should give PBS a free pass to show this war--or any war-- with its rough formula of destruction, vulgarity and freedom of speech.
That's the real point.