7 Words You Still Can’t Say

We’ve been discussing radio in class recently and it got me thinking about one of the most notorious cases of censorship on radio, the lawsuit that followed the broadcast of George Carlin’s stand-up bit “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV”.

Long story short, the case was about Carlin’s comedy routine that featured him saying 7 “dirty” words multiple times; piss, shit, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. A recording was played over the radio at an “unsuitable” time and the station, Pacifica Radio, was brought into a lawsuit that went on to involve the FCC. The outcome of the case was that profane content cannot be aired between the times of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be watching. This seems fairly reasonable, but gets a bit insane when you hear the FCC definition of what profane content is.

“Profane Content includes ‘grossly offensive’ language that is considered a public nuisance.”

-FCC Website (fcc.org)


Did the Federal Communications Commission just use quotation marks in a definition? Alright, maybe they use the term in context on the same page. No?The FCC has no other mention or definition of the phrase… and there is no exact definition for those two words being put together. Dictionary.com has several definitions for “gross”, but we’ll go with the two that seem most prevalent;

“4. indelicate, indecent, obscene, or vulgar; 5. lacking in refinement, good manners, education, etc.; unrefined”


 And then the definition for offensive;

“3. repugnant to the moral sense, good taste, or the like; insulting”


Alright, now that we’ve got it separated we can assume the definition that the FCC uses for “grossly offensive” is something like vulgar, and insulting. But vulgar and insulting to WHO? You cannot tell me that every person who has ever put on George Carlin’s “7 Words” was insulted by it. His career would have ended before it had taken off (and the lawsuit definitely took it off).

The rules we have now are outdated. They simply don’t apply to an age where you can readily find videos of pornography or violence without even using your hands in some instances.

So, again, I’m left questioning who has the power to control what I see and what I find offensive. It seems to me that this is something that can’t just be decided, and it needs to be more individualized in our society. There has been a distinct lack of individuality in a lot of our media nowadays, and while that could be because of how much there IS it could also be that a lot of our mainstream media is walking on eggshells to try to reach the widest audiences.


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