The Government Declares War on Buttocks
The FCC seeks to inflict a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC television stations because they showed naked buttocks in a “NYPD Blue” show in 2003
January 1, 2008
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

The federal government has been waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a war on terror, a war on drugs, and a war on poverty. Now the Bush administration has opened a new war front: a war on buttocks.

The human rear end, the buttocks, is unique among the world’s living beings. No other animal has anything like it. The rounded butt muscles enable human beings to stand proudly upright and walk on two legs instead of creeping, crawling, slithering, and trotting on the ground like lowly four-legged creatures. Without buttocks, humans too would amble on all fours, and not have their arms and fingers handy to make tools with and build a civilization.

Human beings also have no tail, so the buttocks are not covered and hidden by a spinal extension as are the rears of other creatures. However, instead of being proud of this unique feature, human beings around the world have come to be ashamed of their own rears. A bare ass is embarrassing. Dwellers in tropical areas who used to leave their behinds uncovered were pressured and forced to cover up by missionaries and government officials, who saw bare bums as primitive, savage, and immoral.

Unlike the other covered human parts, there is no sexual distinction in the human buttocks, as those of males and females are quite the same. So, buttock shame is not so much sexual as it is animalistic. Modern human cultures envision human beings as god-like rather than as the fleshy animals we are, and so people think that those body parts that are too animalistic need to be hidden. People don’t want to be reminded of the animal function associated with the butt.

At the same time, for some odd reason, the butt is considered to be funny. It is the butt of jokes, and, I don’t know why, but the small amount of crack exposed by plumbers who bend down to fix a leaking pipe usually causes a giggle. Buttocks also seem to symbolize the basics of an inferior person, as people say things such as “get your butt down here!”

While in many places it is illegal to have bare butts in public, nudity including buttocks have been common in art, including life-like sculptures, in European civilization. But nudity has been considered too lifelike when it appears in films and television, so bare buttocks are often banned, especially on television.

Now the full fury of the federal government has come down on bare butts. The Federal Communications Commission seeks to inflict a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC television stations because they showed naked buttocks in a “NYPD Blue” show in 2003. In that episode, a boy surprised a woman as she was about to take a shower, and the boy as well as the viewer saw the woman's "nude buttocks."

The ABC network is owned by the Walt Disney Company, and the fines were imposed on the stations owned by or affiliated with ABC. The FCC claims that this depiction of a bare buttocks was indecent, as it depicted “excretory activities,” even though the woman was not using a toilet but preparing to take a shower. According to the FCC, the mere depiction of “excretory organs” is indecent. This, even though such organ is not really the visible buttocks cheeks!

A story on January 25, 2008, by The Hollywood Reporter stated that this federal action could be a sign that the federal airwaves police could “ratchet up their campaign” on allegedly indecent depictions. Indeed, a commissioner stated that the FCC would enforce the indecency laws “vigilantly.” The War on Buttocks was launched in 2005 when Congress enacted the Broadcast Decency Act, which escalated the maximum fines ten-fold, but now with this $1.4 million fine, the war is getting into high gear. Vigilantly.

ABC had an inadequate argument against this fine. The company argued that the show had parental warnings, and that buttocks are not a sexual organ. A fuller argument would be that the visible buttock cheeks are also not an excretory organ.

A deeper argument would be that the ban on “indecency” is arbitrary and violates the First Amendment rights on free speech. Truly free speech implies that expression be unrestricted even if it offends others. Unfortunately the US Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment is null and void when trumped by religion and tradition, which also voids religious liberty. The true Constitution of the USA is the subjective views of the members of the Supreme Court rather than the text of the Constitution.

In the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, the character Mr. Bumble exclaims that “the law is a ass” when it violates common sense. The government’s War on Buttocks is an example of policy that is ass backwards: government should be protecting rather than violating liberty. Today, with bare bums visible in the Internet as well as in beaches and in print, the governments’s War on Buttocks will be just as futile as its War on Drugs. The government will be the butt of jokes as it pursuits it asinine policy of spanking bare bums.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.