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Giving Us Pause

April 06, 2004

TV and radio networks and stations are running around these days like chickens with their profits cut off. The perceived predator is the Federal Communications Commission, which had been on break awhile. Now, early in this election year, with a flashed breast as impetus, the FCC has become publicly very worried about decency on the public airwaves, threatening fines and sanctions for crude talk and further wardrobe malfunctions. Parents who perhaps have not quite gotten around to explaining oral sex to school-bound 9-year-olds may appreciate the pressure on drive-time disc jockeys who, like children, sometimes say and imply the darndest things.

In response, many stations have instituted a 7- or 10-second delay on live broadcast chatter and events. This allegedly allows studio producers to bleep offensive words before they spew out on invisible airwaves to the waiting world. Kind of an involuntary TiVo. What you're hearing or seeing on-air may actually have been uttered 10 seconds ago. When the bleep bleeps, of course, it causes listeners to scan a mental vocabulary of crude candidates that, of course, we never say but may have heard uttered somewhere once by someone else.

Having thought about it for 10 seconds though, 10-second delays might be a good thing to try in our private lives. Think about it. First, look at your watch for 10 seconds. ... ... 9, 10. Seems longer than you thought. Now, remember that snotty remark you threw off leaving for work this morning, pre-coffee? With a 10-second delay, you'd have been outside by the time it came out. And there'd be nothing to apologize for tonight. Which, for some, raises the philosophical question: If a crude word is uttered in the woods but no one hears it, is it still crude?

In the sales meeting, when the vice president pointed and you muttered something hasty and maybe not directly relevant, wouldn't an extra 10 seconds' thought have sharpened the response impressively?

Remember, back in sixth grade, the big kid in the leather jacket who sat by the window, failing every subject? He made fun of everything, including your shirts? A 10-second pause right then could have let you design a perfectly constructed, unanswerable riposte, causing the entire class to laugh uproariously and award you their lunch pail desserts for a week. On the other hand, an extra 10 seconds would allow reconsideration of the entire clever put-down, thus avoiding another lunch-hour thrashing.

Maybe, come to think of it, we should start demanding 10-second pauses by campaigning politicians. And 10-second warnings before their TV ads so we can find the mute button.

Or what about a 10-week pause?

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