This is my third time teaching In-Depth Reporting, a journalism class that focuses on data visualization, along with reporting and understanding research. I tend to focus on data and documents, and acquiring both of these is something I want students to understand. The easiest way to gather these documents is through a public information request. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), individuals are allowed to request documents from the executive branch of the U.S. government, which includes hundreds of departments and agencies.
In order to show them just how insanely easy it is to submit a FOIA (definitely not as easy to submit a Louisiana Public Records Request), for their first assignment they had to submit a FOIA request to the Federal Communications Commission for complaints on a television show (no Netflix original series – sorry Orange is the New Black). All I asked was that they try for a show they enjoy, and that they keep in mind that the FCC probably didn’t want to receive 31 requests for complaints about Game of Thrones ( there was an unexpected side effect of no one asking for GoT complaints).
I’m not an idiot, I realize that the FCC does not regulate cable content (and certainly doesn’t regulate HBO). However, the FCC is one of the few agencies that the citizens might contact – the average person probably isn’t going to contact the Commerce Department, but because of high-profile cases and coordinated attempts to protest unsettling content, the FCC is go-to source for complaints. In other words, people who see something that bothers them on TV know to contact the FCC.
Once the requests started trickling in, I had an absolute blast reading them (apparently, there is a very vocal segment of the population who doesn’t like gay individuals – who knew??). So, I decided to share my favorite seven complaints that were collected, along with the raw complaints for anyone who might be interested. Here we go!
#7: Grey’s Anatomy – Assface
I think I’m drawn to this one because, compared to the other complaints received, it’s pretty tame. To hear other complaints, gay men kissing will be the downfall of the United States. This guy (I assume all complainers are guys) is just concerned about kids saying “assface.”
“We are watching the current episode and hearing an 8 year-old call someone Assface several times on 8PM prime TV. This is unacceptable language! When did this ever become appropriate?” – pg. 8
Probably shortly after they started showing Saving Private Ryan with the swear words edited out.
#6: Big Brother – Fuzzing Out Cleavage
I like this complaint because it seems like this guy (I assume all complainers are guys) seems genuinely perplexed at what he feels is a double-standard.
Why on shows like Big Brother, Survivor, The Voice, and many, many shows a woman’s boobs are not fuzzed out. On Survivor a person will have I” of butt crack showing and it will be fuzzed out but a girl can have almost all her boobs hanging out for all to see. I would like to see boob cleavage fuzzed out. At least I would like to know why it is allowed. – pg. 34
I think the next logical step is fuzzing out women’s bodies completely. It will help avoid temptation!!
#5: How to Get Away With Murder – Gay Rating
As I alluded to earlier, it would appear that network television viewers have some issues with LGBTQ individuals. The complaints about gay men kissing were common, but this one stood about because he was so upset:
Obscene gay sexual scene surprised & shocked me 2/3 into program. I demand a rating of gay sexual acts just like the other ratings so I can avoid those programs. I broke out in tears I was so angry!!! It’s sad enough that every tv show now has outright gay characters this year!!! – p. 2
The gay rating (or “gayting,” as it will be known) will revolutionize the TV rating system!
So I’m curious: Who gets that upset about something like this? Like, not just upset, but “burst into tears” upset. Who has the time and the emotional energy? Weird.
#4: Modern Family – Ninety Shades of Grey
One of my favorite parts about these complaints is when people unload on something that doesn’t really have anything to do with the show they’re inquiring about. Like individuals have a lot on their minds, and so since they have the platform, they’re gonna let the FCC know about everything!
On May 21, 2014, “Modern Family” is going to show a same sex wedding ceremony. This show should be cancelled. Also, Hollywood executives continue to make pornographic, disgusting, perverted movies, such as, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Ninety Shades of Grey”. This department should do everything possible to stop the production of”Ninety Shades of Grey.” This is a filthy movie that promotes sex. No wonder there has been an increase in rape and child molestation. – p. 8
I liked the passive-aggressive, “I’m gonna call it by the wrong name to show how much I don’t care!” It’s like Chandler/Chester all over again:
#3: Big Brother – Strategery
I’m not really sure what Point A means, but Point B is especially curious:
During the episode, Big Brother showed two selections for Team America’s next mission. A. “Wear down the competition by convincing everyone to fast for 24 hours while Team America secretly eats.” B. “Wear down the competition by convincing everyone there’s a rodent in the house and keep them up all night trying to catch it.” Choice A is anti-religious because fasting typically occurs for religious purposes. Choice B is deceptive information designed to weaken other houseguests. – p. 41
So…is this fella complaining about the fact that people are using deception as a strategy on reality television? Has he ever seen reality TV before? It’s kind of their thing.
#2: Modern Family – Subliminal Messages
This one took awhile to unpack. At first I thought he was complaining about subliminal messaging perpetrated by the networks, but upon closer examination, I think he’s accusing Alaska hostels, which is…interesting:
I am an random former resident of a hostel by the name of Jason’s. I’d tike to report some unusual activity I witnessed on their television during the short summer of my stay there (year 2014). Just off the top of my head: while watching Modern Family one day, I see the strange image of a hand twirling out of place in a scene; while watching True Blood at another sitting, I hear “That was an accident/That was an accent change” (both stated at the same time). Never mind what I’ve heard at other places I’ve stayed at in the state of Alaska (Bean’s Café, Brother Francis Shelter). They sound like subliminal messaging to me, which I’m pretty sure is illegal. So I’m reporting it to you.
The biggest mystery for me is two-fold: How would Jason’s Hostel even go about adding in subliminal messages to a network television show, and what the hell would their subliminal messages be?
#1: Saturday Night Live – Stolen Material
This one is my favorite, and it wasn’t the only one to accuse those associated with Saturday Night Live of stealing content (p. 37 of the Saturday Night Live document is particularly crazy-sounding – probably fresh off of a layover at Jason’s Hostel). This one, accusing Jimmy Fallon of lifting material, wins out because it’s so specific:
His show consists of things which pertain either, in a past complaint, my fan mail…The commercial with the child in the oversized boots comes from a photo of myself recently sent to my family. He doesnt write his original work, but feeds off of me. I do not know why. I rarely watch, but everytime I do, it is specifically, masked or reworded or at times exactly what I did or saw within my day. Jimmy Fallon and NBC’S SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE need be taken off air. They bring the highest hierarchies of society down to an irreputable level. It’s not coincidence. I asked an apology. I asked him to stop, via email.
Lord, I ain’t a prayin’ man, but if you can have Jimmy Fallon read those emails on the air, that would be amazing.
Here are the rest of the complaints – enjoy!