Holden Caulfield’s concern about the fact that his younger sister, Phoebe, and her friends might be exposed to the word "fuck" echoes strongly in the FCC’s indecency policy.
"But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, then finally some dirty kid would tell them – all cockeyed, naturally – what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days."
The FCC’s phobic preoccupation with the word "fuck" (and its variants) has been politely but resoundingly rebuffed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Court was not persuaded by the FCC’s claim that children should be protected from the "first blow", i.e., some unexpected exposure to the word "fuck" coming in on the radio or TV. As the Court observed, the FCC’s own implementation of its policy allowed for the use of "fuck" (and its variants) in a number of instances, all of them seemingly contrary to the "first blow" concern. The Court also noted that, contrary to the FCC’s insistence, the "F-word" can be, and often is, used in contexts which no reasonable person could interpret as referring to sexual or excretory organs or activities. Perhaps most damning, the Court found that the FCC has offered no evidence that exposure to a "fleeting expletive" is harmful at all.
And the Court was also critical of the Commission’s view that broadcasting is in some way a unique medium which has a unique impact on the public. The Court commented that today "children likely hear this language far more often from other sources" than they did in the 1970s, when the FCC first waded into the regulation of indecency. Even the dissenting judge acknowledged that the words on the FCC’s verboten list "are much more common in daily discourse today than they were thirty years ago."
"I saw another "Fuck you" on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand. . . . It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. It’s impossible. . . . You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say "Fuck you." I’m positive, in fact."
Holden Caulfield, a confused and troubled teen-ager created in 1945 by J.D. Salinger, grasped the utter futility of trying to eradicate every vestige of societal unpleasantness. Amazingly, six decades later the FCC has not yet attained that level of consciousness. It still views itself as the catcher in the rye, attempting to "catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff", as Holden would say. The Court’s decision will, ideally, force the Commission to a more realistic and practical self-assessment.