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Skirt TV Censorship Rules

Buck the FCC
  [vote for,

We sure do sleep easy at night here in the US of A, secure in the knowledge that the ever vigilant Federal Communications Commission keeps evil words like "fuck" and "tits" from intruding into our homes via our television sets (unless you have basic cable). Yes, we may have the right to free speech here, but even that has its limits — you can't threaten to kill someone with impunity, you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater, and you certainly can't use radio waves to broadcast the word "shit" (excepting satellite communications, naturally). Standard operating procedure is to replace any profanity occurring in films that are broadcast on TV with less harsh profanity, or even — in extreme cases — utter nonsense. It's for this reason that we get to enjoy, for example, watching John Goodman demonstrate to a nonplussed high school student exactly what happens when you "find a stranger in the Alps".

However, due to a quirk in the language processing center of the human brain, what we hear is not always exactly what was said. It turns out that if you play a spoken "b" sound over a silent movie of someone making an "f" sound, the brain will usually interpret the sound as an "f" (surprisingly, this works even if you're aware what's happening). This phenomenon is known as the McGurk effect, and it applies to all sorts of phonemes, not just those two sounds. The idea, then, would be to record a perfectly innocent line of dialogue, such as "Buck, you!" and then play it over a closeup of an actor saying, well, something else.

Since the line itself isn't obscene, there's no need to dub over it for the TV version. And played back without picture, nobody could argue that any profanity was used at all. It'd be a sneaky way to get one over on those dowdlerizing dastards.

ytk, May 19 2011

Demonstration of the McGurk effect http://www.youtube....watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0
Jump to about 30 seconds in for the demonstration [ytk, May 19 2011, last modified Jun 16 2012]

Inattentional blindness - the "Invisible Gorilla" http://en.wikipedia...tentional_blindness
[hippo, May 19 2011]

Why predictive texting won't let you swear http://www.youtube....watch?v=6hcoT6yxFoU
[hippo, May 20 2011]


       The McGurk effect is very weird indeed. I saw it on some TV programme last year and couldn't quite believe it.
hippo, May 19 2011

       But what about lip-readers? They'd be irreversably corrupted.
Loris, May 19 2011

       So, nothing to do with hemlines.
spidermother, May 19 2011

       Oh my goodness! I had heard of the McGurk effect but not actually seen it. The linked video is quite freaky.   

       [+] not only for a cunning idea, but also for introducing me properly to this extremely weird phenomenon.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 19 2011

       (re. linked video) I don't hear a 'f' sound at all; instead, when the mouth is making a 'fa' shape, the beginning of the word is simply less percussive. It's a surprisingly powerful effect, nonetheless.
spidermother, May 19 2011

       It does make you question what the split is between stuff your senses tell you which reflects reality and stuff your brain is just making up to fill in what it reckons is a gap or an inconsistency.
hippo, May 19 2011

       The brain makes up almost everything, at least for vision. I once saw a video that had been processed to look like what researchers believed the "raw" photoreceptor output would be (ie, something approaching the raw data your brain gets from your eyes). It was a diabolically poor image!   

       The brain also filters stuff it doesn't need. In "Animals in Translation", there's a description of a test some researchers did on professional airline pilots. They put them in a simulator and asked them to land the plane, but they put a (simulated) aircraft parked on the runway. Apparently, 25% of the pilots didn't see the plane and landed on top of it, because they have such an ingrained concept of what things normally look like, and they never expect to see a plane parked on the runway when they're cleared for landing.   

       Sorry, bit of a digression there.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 19 2011

       That reminds me of the "Invisible Gorilla" (see link) - in which you show people a video which includes a very obvious man in a gorilla suit. Typically the viewers of the video don't see the man in the gorilla suit because they've been specifically told to look for something else in the video. Just weird.
hippo, May 19 2011

       Love the link [ytk]- it's so fizzare!! [+]
xandram, May 19 2011

       While I like the idea (bun) I suspect that the reaction of legislators would be to move to subjective censorship and just ban anything they don't like.
Twizz, May 19 2011

       I like the idea, but to be honest a part of me would miss those cursing stand-in phrases. Some are so bad they are genius. The "find a stranger in the Alps" example is almost as good as the "monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane".
tatterdemalion, May 19 2011

       I was expecting an idea involving the censorship of outerwear for women.
Voice, May 19 2011

       Except that FCC enforcement is punitive in nature rather than preemptive. So they can't do anything about it until the program in question has already been broadcast, at which point they might fine the broadcaster for obscenity. But since it's the widely accepted industry practice to replace actual prohibited words with similar sounding words, the broadcaster could raise the affirmative defense that the enforcement of the rule is, in legal terms, arbitrary and capricious.
ytk, May 20 2011

       [21Q] That reminds me of why predictive texting on mobile phones won't let you swear (see link).
hippo, May 20 2011

       "How much money is a very brief moment of very petty satisfaction worth to you?"   

       When it involves subversion of authority, quite a lot.
Twizz, May 20 2011

       Cracks me up that the US is so touchy about profanity. Violence and fresh blood by the bucket but no-one can so much as mutter "fuck" while they die on screen.
infidel, May 20 2011

       This idea serves to illustrate the absurdity of the situation. The solution is to allow any language to be broadcast after a watershed time, a system that virtually the rest of the planet uses.
tatterdemalion, May 20 2011

       Yep. 8:30 pm is bedtime for kiddies.
infidel, May 20 2011


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