George Carlin famously explained which “Seven Words You Never Say on Television” in a 1972 monologue. Of course I won’t list them here because they’re the really dirty ones, but a few hours of watching HBO will probably treat you to at least 4 or 5 of each of them if you’re at all confused.

Today, the Supreme Court is revisiting a 1975 decision that allows the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to punish broadcasters for using sexual and excretory expletives during prime time hours before 10 PM. This law has been unevenly applied and subject to many exceptions, so for the second time in three years the Court is hearing arguments regarding Cher’s “indecent” use of the f-word during a FOX broadcast. FOX is arguing that fining the network hinders free speech, amounts to discrimination, and makes very little sense in a world where cable television and the Internet both remain unregulated. But does this hold up to common sense?

The last time I visited my parents house my mother and I engaged in our usual tradition of watching all of the People’s Court and Judge Mathis that daytime television would allow (don’t hate). A commercial came on for How I Met Your Mother that referenced women on their knees — I don’t remember the exact words used but the hint at oral sex was enough to embarass us both. In my younger days I would have blushed and kept quiet, but the moment turned into a conversation between mother and daughter, now two grown-ups, about how out of hand television content has become, and this is without a single swear word. Does it make sense that dirty words are off-limits but references to those dirty words are just fine? If these rules are really about protecting the tender sensibilities of children, why aren’t displays of violence also regulated? Is the regulation of television content at all an interference with free speech or is it what’s best for everyone?

Read more at NPR.

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