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Posted at 02:48 PM ET, 06/21/2012

Is it time for a new era of decency?


A journalist checks out the Web site Indiegogo.com where users are raising money for Karen Klein, a school bus monitor in Greece, N.Y. (Karen Bleier - AFP/Getty Images)

The video is terrifying.

An elderly bus monitor, Karen Klein sits quietly as she is mercilessly mocked by teenagers using language and epithets that ultimately bring her to tears.

The video was released on YouTube, uncensored, and has been viewed well over a million times, sparking worldwide outrage.

Klein’s ordeal has been touring the Internet, accelerating on Reddit and eventually making its way across the media landscape. An online fund was launched to raise money for Klein to take a vacation.

The fund has raised over $200,000.

The episode has sparked a conversation about youth behavior and a general decline in decency. Then, on Thursday the Supreme Court threw out fines imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for “fleeting expletives and momentary nudity,” ruling that the fines were imposed unfairly. The Justices refrained, however, from ruling on the FCC’s overall decency policy, leaving it up to the commission to make changes.


The Supreme Court ruled Thursday to throw out fines imposed against broadcasters by the FCC. (Karen Bleier - AFP/Getty Images)
But, in an era when all that stands between a minor and adult content is a drop-down menu (if that); the most popular account on YouTube is one that frequently has less than family-friendly language and 4chan is open to all comers, the High Court’s decision may fall flat with the general public.

As Washington Post commenter “jonesxx” writes, “Most people in the US are not watching broadcast programs, but they are watching their shows over cable or the internet. It is time to rethink the decades old broadcast rules.”

And the question of decency is not merely one for the digital world, but for the analog one as well.

A study conducted by Brigham Young University professor Sarah Coyne found that teen fiction — yes, as in books — contains a robust bouquet of expletives said more often than not by characters who are wealthier, more attractive and more socially influential.

If you’re looking for a parental advisory label on these books, stop. You won’t find one.

So, if the FCC isn’t blurring out the bad words in teen lit and those same teens can find just about every possible swearing variation possible online — in a video watching their peers abuse an elderly woman, no less — is it time for a new era of decency?

This is not to suggest that television should devolve into a cesspool of even lower-brow content than it already has, or that the FCC should be given free-reign to censor books and the Internet. But what we consider ”decent” and how society preserves that “decency” is changing as we find new ways to distribute information. The question is whether, or even if, the FCC and the Supreme Court can keep up.

Is it time for a new era of ‘decency,’ if so, what does it look like and what role, if any, does an entity like the FCC stand to play? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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By  |  02:48 PM ET, 06/21/2012

Categories:  Technology, Business

 
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