Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick drives me crazy on a regular basis, but she hit a home run with her tongue-in-cheek account of the oral argument before the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy, which has broadcast networks shivering in their boots over the possibility of another “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl or another trash-mouth star saying “fuck” as she picks up an Academy Award. The particular topic before SCOTUS was momentary nudity in TV drama, such as walrus-like actor Dennis Franz’s mega-butt flashing by our horrified eyes on “NYPD Blue.” In an Ethics Hero-worthy moment, attorney Seth Waxman, representing ABC, showed the Court how absurd and arbitrary it is to try to regulate taste and decorum in art. Lithwick writes:
“Waxman patiently explains to the rapt justices that ABC was never sanctioned for over a dozen NYPD Blue episodes over nine seasons that included bare buttocks. Not until the last one. Arbitrary, bad FCC. Then, he raises his arms, Moses-like, to the glorious friezes that surround the interior of the ceremonial courtroom. And then Waxman points to one sculpted classical stone lawgiver after another as he guides the justices through the fleeting bottoms that pervade their lofty spaces: “There’s a bare buttock there, and there’s a bare buttock here,” he marvels. “And there may be more that I hadn’t seen. But frankly, I had never focused on it before.” To which Justice Antonin Scalia grits out, “Me neither,” while all of the justices gape up at the walls above them, like bemused Muppets on Veterinarian Hospital.”
Law steps in where ethics fails, but sometimes only ethics can do the job. Standards of civility, decency, modesty and respect for others cannot be legislated, much less enforced. The crude, the vile, the abusive, the profane, the loud, the disrespectful, the bigoted, the slovenly and the rest of the members of our society who seem dedicated to making life mean, ugly and unpleasant can only be controlled by vigilant public exposure, criticism, disapproval and rejection, not by any laws….particularly when we have a provision in the Bill of Rights that declares that the freedom to express oneself offensively is more important than the harm done by offensive expression.
If we want a civil, genteel, respectful society, it’s up to us, not the government and not law enforcement, to make and keep it that way. If ethics fails, there’s no alternative but the butt of Dennis Franz.
15 thoughts on “Standards of Decency: Where Ethics Belongs, and Law Does Not”
NYBP Blue? I think when BP got in the blue, it all went black.
Nyuk nyuk nuyk.
I have nothing to add, but I feel like this thread could explode, and I must get my updates.
Every worthy law, to one extent or another, is a statement of morality. What law can be MORE worthy than those that protect the bodies and souls of our children? I know this sounds stilted, Jack, but I hold it to be true, nevertheless.
If it was possible to define and enforce decency, I might agree with you. But it just isn’t…not to the precision law requires.
I think it’s more a matter of how liberal judges impose their worldview on legal proceedings, Jack.
You mean conservative judges don’t? Let’s get real here- every legal decision ever made was informed by the judge’s worldview. You’re not offended by them being guided by their beliefs, you’re offended because their beliefs differ from yours.
I’m primarily offended when they insert their personal non-values into law while ruling against the tenets of the very law and Constitution they had sworn to uphold. It’s been my observation that liberal judges, in particular, ignore the Constitution because it gets in their way. Besides, an oath onj the Bible doesn’t mean much to them, either.
That’s a ‘Yes’ in SMP speak.
No, TGT. I meant exactly what I said… as usual. I’m not in the habit of resorting to rhetorical subterfuge. Those judges I was referring to have made a high art of this.
I find that driving on the righthand side of the road is a worthy law. Please explain to me how this is a statement of morality.
It’s defiance of those damn socialist Europeans! /snrk
That’s as good a way of putting it as any, Chase.
Are you saying the Europeans are not driving on the righthand side of the road?
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