Bad news for rabid reactionary American parent groups, prudes, fuddy-duddies, old maids and not a few goody-two-shoeses: the FCC has just ruled that the American TV affiliates who broadcast the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ on Veteran’s Day last year, did not violate indecency regulations.
The red state Bushies are at it again. Buoyed by ‘Four More Years’ for the right wing administration, the various groups that make up the Fundamentalist Christian coalition continue to pump up the volume on issues once thought to be the purview of one’s conscience or one’s confessor: what one looks at, what one says and what one thinks. The morality police are here with a vengeance, and their loss on the swings of the bathed in blood ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is sure to be made up by the roundabouts of televised sex, profanity and whatever other salacious tidbits the arbiters of all that is bad have identified.
But in the ‘Private Ryan’ case, the un-fined affiliates clearly won a squeaker, though they had done their best to pepper the broadcasts with warnings and advisories (and probably a few ‘Danger Will Robinson’s) during the course of the film in an effort to save the tender sensibilities of the sensorily overloaded Americans who seem to have lost the map and directions to their ‘OFF’ switches along with their minds and their morals.
The battle for America’s values was begun long ago, going through a variety of incarnations over the past couple of decades or so as it battled everything from The Smothers Brothers anti-war folk songs to Lenny Bruce’s profanity-laced comedic stylings, to Howard Stern’s enjoyment in spanking bikini clad women with dead fish (it’s the stupidity of that I find offensive); but it was when Janet Jackson’s right nipple (the one nearly obscured by the gigantic piece of nipple obscuring jewelry firmly affixed to the disgusting body part) made its shocking and unscheduled appearance at Superbowl 2004 that the keepers of the public faith really got down, got busy and made some noise.
Coming down hard on ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was simply one of the next logical steps.
By chance I happened to watch ‘Saving Private Ryan’ this past weekend, marveling as I had the first time I saw it how deeply meaningful are the shocking first 20 minutes of the film; what a chilling and horrifying indictment of war – and what a sobering reminder it is of the reality of what happens when young men are issued weapons and ordered by old men to do everything in their power to kill and maim other young men they’ve never actually met.
I know it’s a naive and unoriginal thought, but I challenge anyone to watch it and not imagine how much differently wars might turn out if instead of the wave after wave of achingly young, hopelessly anonymous soldiers being ripped to shreds and battered to pieces, it was political leaders and the military men who order them around hitting the mine-peppered beach and dodging the rain of bullets and bombs being flung at them indiscriminately.
Every time I see that soldier pick up the arm that had seconds before been attached to his body and turn and run hesitantly as if to his mother to place it in her lap and ask her to sew it on as she must have sewed buttons on his pants through the years, time without number, I think how important the film is.
Violence and profanity? How about horror and reality – the real definition of shock and awe.
And as for nipples – the revolting, disgusting, corrupting body part that raised the chatter to a clarion call – well, what can one possibly say about nipples? Speaking of mine, since I lived for a time in the South of France, my own personal nipples spent many a month on public view, there to see for anyone who cared to take a gander. Both of them. Without any nipple obscuring jewelry to thwart the view. And the truth is, nobody raised so much as an eyebrow, let alone another body part.
Topless beaches being somewhat ubiquitous in that part of the world, the phenomenon is strange and erotic and creepy only to newly arrived Americans who bug-eyed and drool-stained are the only ones to give any given pair anything more than the passing look you’d give any other person’s any other body part.
It’s liberating – really, it is – and the ridiculousness of the reaction to the Jackson nipple exposure (and the bizarre acceptance of bodice-ripper Justin Timberlake’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ explanation, in effect placing all blame on the hussy who had no actual ‘hand’ in revealing her bosom) would make fools of those who complained and threatened, if the hatred of body and flesh and women implied by the fervor of the complaint weren’t so insidious and demeaning.
But maybe the decision for ‘Ryan’ and against the puerile puritans indicates a swing back to reality? A reality where people have bodies (complete with parts – private and otherwise) and war causes people to explode in blood and pain, and even shout ‘fuck’ or ‘bugger’ when provoked. A reality where a nipple really is just a nipple and children can see them post-nursing and pre-puberty, and men and boys can see them naked and exposed without falling down dead with shock or bestial awe.
Or maybe not. Maybe we’re just a few exposed cleavages or snug miniskirts away from bringing back the draping of piano legs and the shrouding of bedroom mirrors for fear of the outbreak of unauthorized erotic musings.
It’s March. It's cold. And the Ides of Texas are upon us.
Better put on a burkha.