Four years ago, everyone with a television was treated to the curious occasion that was the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show. You may recall the moment when Janet Jackson's foil nipple-covering was removed, plunging the nation into a debated over what should be deemed "obscene."
After all was said and done, a year later, a poll in Time found that 66 percent of Americans felt the Federal Communications Commission overreacted to the incident.
Since then, though the debate has faded to some degree, it has emerged again through the inflammatory comments of Don Imus and Geneseo alumnus Gregg "Opie" Hughes. But in my life, the buzz had subsided until a recent encounter with University Police.
An officer came to my room after my suitemate yelled, "[F-] the UP" from our third story window. The officer wished to discuss the incident, implying its obscenity. No action was taken but the situation still startled me and, I came to the realization that this nation has forgotten about the implications of "obscene" speech.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines obscene as "offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty." This raises the issue of accepted standards of decency, which depend on the situation and context. If someone ran into a kindergarten classroom and yelled "[F-] the police," most would agree that this is obscene.
But on a college campus, where "the f-word" is such a commonly heard word, including in such songs as "[F-] tha Police" by NWA, it is not so clearly an outlandish statement.
We can furthermore apply this to absurd fines that many radio shock jocks receive for "obscene language." Clearly, their audience is one which feels that the jocks' utterances fall into their accepted standards, yet our current administration has been exceptionally harsh toward these acts of expression: The FCC has doled out a record number of fines to radio and television broadcasters. But it's no surprise that the policy was shifted by the Supreme Court in the middle of last year when Dick Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy to "[f-] off" on the Senate Floor.
We, as a college, must never let a definition of obscenity be placed on our campus that does not fit with our accepted norms, especially in an environment more lenient than most. If we allow more conservative individuals to define our standards of speech, we will allow others to tread on our most basic of right, the freedom of speech.
We must always be alert for those who wish to restrict our speech patterns, as the restriction of speech is a very slippery slope.
James Bates is a sophomore biology and chemistry major and he'll curse up a [gee-darn] storm if he gets [cheesed off] enough.