Local ABC affiliates in at least eight states chose not to air the network broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan” during Veterans Day week.
Interestingly enough, the concern over “Saving Private Ryan” was not about nudity or gratuitous sex. Instead it’s all about the use of a certain word. The film is laced with a particular four-letter profanity which has up to now been absolutely forbidden on network television.
In a long-standing practice, the FCC refused to rule in advance whether or not the airing of the film would constitute a violation. To do so, they argue, would be a form of censorship. The FCC instead acts on complaints after a particular program is shown. Since ABC planned to air the film uncut and uncensored affiliates feared the frequent use of the “F” word might provoke audience complaints and bring down the wrath of the FCC.
Curiously, one watchdog group that closely monitors network television for profanity and graphic sex actually gave their stamp of approval to the airing of the film. According to a story on CNN/Money, the Parents Television Council said in a statement that “context is everything.” The statement continues, “We agreed with the FCC on its ruling that the airing of ‘Schindler’s List’ on television was not indecent and we feel that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is in the same category. In both films, the content is not meant to shock, nor is it gratuitous.” So, if the offensive word is in a proper context it’s OK?
What is amazing in all this is the total lack of concern about the violence depicted in “Saving Private Ryan.” Director Stephen Spielberg achieved amazing levels of realism in the film’s battle scenes. Why wasn’t anyone concerned about that? The Parents Television Council has expressed concern in the past about the impact of violence in video games, why aren’t they concerned about the graphic violence in “Saving Private Ryan?” Apparently make-believe violence in video games is dangerous, but make-believe violence about real events is not.
Why did Private Ryan get a pass on this issue? I suppose the answer is found in their statement—context is everything.
Our culture has a very strange relationship with violence. We believe in violence—the way some folks believe in God. We believe that when used appropriately violence can defeat evil and establish the good. It is only when violence is used in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, that it becomes a destructive force.
If a youngster takes a gun and shoots up a playground, we are horrified. However, if that same youngster took Dad’s gun and shot up a local crack house, public reaction would be very different. Both are violent acts. How can one be horrible and the other excusable? Does context really change the character of violence?
I am not opposed to the airing of “Saving Private Ryan” uncut and uncensored. The film is a powerful portrayal of the destructive impact of war. I hope parents will sit down with their children and watch it carefully and thoughtfully. And at the end of the film turn to their children and say, “This is why God hopes that one day we will learn war no more.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.