Sunday, October 7, 2007
Howl vs the FCC
Fear of the FCC (who issued fines of half a million dollar for Janet Jackson's nipple but refused to investigate the involvement of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon in the NSA Wiretapping scandal) has led to the cancellation of a planned broadcast of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl". On the fiftieth anniversary of it's publication (and the tenth anniversary of the author's death) the NYC listener-supported radio station WBAI Pacifica has opted against broadcasting a reading of the classic beat poem. Ironically, the station had previously fought all the way to the Supreme Court for it's right to air George Carlin's "Filthy Words" routine: they played it in '73 and the 1978 judgement ruled against them, giving the FCC broad powers to determine what constituted indecency in different contexts.
Like many other current government agencies, the Federal Communications Commission is under fire for allegedly politicizing their actions. The majority of its current commissioners were appointed by the current president and several FCC reports about the concentration of ownership of television and radio stations (following the rewrite of telecommunications laws) have been ordered buried or destroyed.
Ginsberg's "Howl" was the subject of a 1957 lawsuit against poet and City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore and was the poem's domestic publisher. The American Civil Liberties Union and nine literary experts testified for the defense and Ferlinghetti won the case. Presiding Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance".
WBAI worried that FCC fines for airing the poem, which could have been in the millions, would sink the station, which has been in operation since 1941.