March 09, 2004

I had never listened to her program while it was still on KCRW, and I am coming rather late to this controversy, but the firing last week of humorist Sandra Tsing-Loh from her gig on public radio has pissed me off no end. One can talk about censorship, free speech, the creativity of an artist, or whatever, but what it really signals is that the SoCal area has a public radio station run by a timid programmer. And for me, that's everything.

Public radio is something that I wished I listened to more often. Usually, it's just for the news and political coverage, and "Which Way L.A." with Warren Olney, and even then infrequently, but I'm glad that there is someplace on (as Al Smith would put it) the raddio where the programming isn't entirely dominated by market considerations and safe, centrist political views. It's good to know that it's there, and that it's relatively uncensored.

To put it another way, it's radio for adults. And adults, every once in awhile, swear. There is a time and place for four-letter words: in casual conversations with friends, or in heated arguments, they're part of the vernacular; in church, at an elementary school, or with one's grandmother, some discretion should be used. I try to steer clear of such language on this blog, partly because it limits the audience that can access this site (web-blockers already make some blogsites difficult to access at government offices and high schools), but also because this site is a creative outlet for me, and I would prefer to articulate the same sentiments with less vulgar language, if possible. But it's not always possible.

Not having heard the program in question, I'm not going to venture whether Ms. Loh's use of the f-word was appropriate in the context of her piece, or whether the piece itself was funny, because frankly, I don't care. The issue is not whether her rights have been violated; it is, instead, my desire as a consumer to hear and experience the work of creative people in an unedited manner, when I choose. It is from that desire that the right of free speech is based. The decision about whether she could use the word in question was resolved when she was hired to do the program (or at least, when the station agreed to air the pre-taped piece twice the same morning). Public radio's mandate is different from the mandate of, let's say, NBC or Nickelodeon; it's not like SpongeBob SquarePants was using the word at 8:00 p.m. I don't want to believe that the battles posthumously won forty years ago by Lenny Bruce are going to have to be refought everytime a woman's breast is exposed, or a rock star extemporaneously exults at winning an award.

As with Howard Stern, there is a fair amount of hypocrisy involved here on behalf of the programmers. Clear Channel knew that Stern's radio show was vulgar and sick; that was the whole point, and those that listened, and those that refused to listen, knew what they were getting. They didn't act until the government began another one of its three-times-a-decade rampages on morality in popular culture. With Loh, I haven't seen any evidence that she made a habit of skirting the boundaries of good taste, but that doesn't matter. If she had been little more than a female version of Andrew Dice Clay, then KCRW is hypocritical for pulling the plug now after all this time. On the other hand, if this was just a one-time occurrence, then nothing will create a climate of fear with the rest of the talent more than firing a long-time employee for an innocent mistake.

There is currently a boycott right now of KCRW, but I can't honor it, for the same reason I couldn't honor a boycott of Rush Limbaugh's show, or the 700 Club. You can't "boycott" something you have no intention of patronizing in the first place. A public radio station that places draconian content restrictions on its programming isn't much better than the 24-7 news on KNX, so why would I listen? Just to listen to the pledge drives? It would be like if I decided to "boycott" peas, and that's just fucking crazy.

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