Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yo, Bleephead, Bleep My Bleeping Bleep

Like all American adults, I am a fragile and delicate flower who will surely wilt if ever exposed to the harsh scary world beyond the hothouse in which I reside. At least that's what the FCC believes, which is why, even when my night-owl self watches television during the wee small hours of the night when all the wee small impressionable young people are in bed, I still hear BLEEEEEEP whenever an actor says anything capable of wilting the petals off his hothouse flower audience. (There's nothing wrong with watching mobsters murder their business rivals in cold blood, but hearing mobsters say bad words while they do it will psychologically scar you.)

Relevant childhood anecdote: as a kid in Virginia I'd often watch after-school cartoons on local indie channel 27, which was owned by Pat Robertson and eventually went on to become the Christian Broadcasting Network. That channel aired The 700 Club, but the majority of its programming was identical to that of every other indie channel: cartoons older than my parents, ancient movies, syndicated sitcom reruns ... anything for which the broadcasting rights could be had cheap.

Channel 27 also aired old episodes of The Jeffersons, while new episodes still aired in primetime on the Whatever network. I liked the show, so I'd watch it in primetime and on 27 too. And one trait the George Jefferson character had was this: sometimes, when he was very mad or annoyed, he'd sort of scrunch himself up, and then explosively say "Damn!" This was considered funny, and the audience or laugh track always went wild.

But channel 27 didn't like the word "damn." They lacked the cutting-edge bleeping technology available to modern broadcasters, though, so what they'd do instead was turn the sound off for the fraction of a second George needed to pronounce the word. ALL of the sound. So you're watching the show and hearing all sorts of background noise -- laughter in the audience, Florence saying one thing, Weezy saying another -- and then, suddenly, a moment of dead silence before all the noise started up again. I always found it very jarring, same way it jarred me when I'd be reading in a quiet room, and didn't realize the refrigerator or heat pump was running until it shut off. The resulting silence always seemed a lot louder than the previous sound-I-hadn't-noticed.

Even as a kid I figured out: "When I watch The Jeffersons at night, I hardly notice when George says 'damn,' but after an episode on channel 27 in the afternoon I can tell you exactly how many times he said it and exactly what he was doing each time." In trying to hide George Jefferson's presumably scandalous language, all channel 27's sound engineers did was call more attention to it.

America would be a marginally less stupid place if only the middle-aged bleephead bureaucrats at the FCC were capable of the same insight into human nature I had as an eight-year-old.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Like all American adults, I am a fragile and delicate flower who will surely wilt if ever exposed to the harsh scary world beyond the hothouse in which I reside"-It has been far too long since I have read your writings, my friend. Life has gotten in the way. With that qualification firmly in place, I would hope you would grant me no small measure of latitude for laughing outright upon reading this.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

And in that process of laughing outright, I forgot my manners and your cryptic sign in and left no way for you to determine who might be commenting other than my outstanding linguistic style. I have remedied that error here.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Glad to hear from you again, Moose! And sorry you still have to type in that damn security code before you comment; I tried suspending it and the damn spambots slammed me.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Ah, but I am a veteran of the Great Googlebot Scare of 2006-2007, so I have been well trained. I just forgot myself with visions of Mussolini jumping back through my head.


Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

I will ask how you have been, but in doing so realize I have not read far back into your recent history so it's a completely innocent question on my behalf. Just in case, you know.

12:14 PM  

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