There was a time when parents taught their children not to cuss by washing their dirty mouths with a bar of soap.
According to a recent study by the Parents Television Council (PTC), parents should also be concerned with cleaning their kids' ears, as well.
The PTC research study, released in November 2010, reveals a significant increase in both the frequency and harshness of profanity being used on prime-time television. In the past five years alone, TV profanity has increased by almost 70 percent.
Melissa Henson, PTC director of communication and public education, says an increase in foul language was expected, but there was more to digest.
"They (the networks) seemed to be most aggressive in increasing the frequency of the most extreme profanity — some of the more offensive language that parents would be most concerned about," Henson said.
Examining prime-time from 2005 to 2010, the study found this increase occurred despite there being six broadcast networks in 2005 and only five in 2010 (the CW and WB comined).
Other findings in the study include:
The greatest increase in the use of the harshest profanities occurred during the family hour time slot of 7-8 p.m. MST.
Across all networks and prime-time hours, use of the bleeped or muted f-word increased from 11 instances total in 2005 to 276 in 2010 — a 2,409 percent increase.
Use of the bleeped f-word increased from 10 in 2005 to 111 in 2010 — 156 percent increase — across all networks during the family hour of 7-8 p.m.
Use of the bleeped s-word between 7 and 8 p.m. increased from 11 uses in 2005 to 42 in 2010 across all networks — a 281 percent jump.
Use of the bleeped or muted s-word increased from 11 in 2005 to 95 instances in 2010 across all networks — an increase of 763 percent. (This does not include CBS using a bleeped s-word in the title of its sitcom "(Bleep) My Dad Says," or NBC's use of a scripted, unbleeped s-word on the Sept. 23 episode of "30 Rock.")
There were increases in the use of anatomical and sexual references, and use of the words in reference to parts of the female anatomy increased 90 percent.
The Fox broadcast network had an increase of almost 270 percent during prime-time hours over the five-year span. Among the shows displaying more dirty language are Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," "The Cleveland Show," "Family Guy" and "American Dad," and CBS's "(Bleep) My Dad Says."
One of the PTC's objectives is to monitor excessive violence, foul language and sexual content from a concerned parent's point of view. This profanity study in particular was prompted by a ruling in the ongoing case of Fox vs. FCC in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit sought to strip the Federal Communications Commission of authority to enforce broadcast decency laws, specifically those restricting the use of profanity on the public airwaves.
The Second Circuit's three-judge panel denied the FCC's attempt to limit the broadcast of so-called "fleeting expletives" to the late-night "safe harbor" hours, thereby nullifying the FCC's enforcement powers outright. The ruling was passed down in July 2010.
Since the PTC's study was released, there has been no reaction from the networks, but the feedback from parents and supporters has been "outrage," Henson said.
"They are pretty shocked that the broadcast networks on the one hand would say, 'We are not in the business to offend people. Just because of this court ruling we are automatically going to go out and start inserting more obscene language on television,' when in fact that is what they are doing," Henson said.
The PTC's primary goal, Henson said, is to inform parents of the trends. It hopes this will motivate parents to put pressure on the FCC to appeal the Second Circuit Court's ruling.
"This is evidence that the networks are trying to push the content with respect to foul language because they now feel they have been licensed to do so," Henson said.
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