The all-time weirdest words ever censored on TV
In the almost 80 years that television has been around, a number of questionable things have been broadcast to the public. A hoax involving a small boy hiding out in a runaway hot air balloon. Strangers marrying each other for money. Finding Bigfoot, a reality show about hunting down an imaginary beast-man. The longer TV runs and the more outlandish its programming gets, the more I start to understand the FCC’s attempts to censor certain elements to spare the minds of the nation’s children. But while the FCC and television networks have made some logical decisions regarding censorship over the years, they’ve also made quite a few illogical ones.
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze struck England in the 1980s, hundreds of parents and political authorities took to the streets to protest the rise of these anarchist house pets. (Okay, they didn’t actually riot in the street, but they probably would have had they not been terrified of teenagers mimicking their new favorite turtle-gang and stalking the streets with colorful face masks.) To combat rising fears about political unrest and anarchy without upsetting TMNT fans, the country formed a compromise allowing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to air on TV, but as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Not only was the word “ninja” edited out of the script and opening title sequence, but it was edited out of the theme song as well.
2) Water closet
Everybody poops. While the title of an extremely popular 1977 children’s book, “everybody poops” is also a universal fact that, for some reason, continues to make people uncomfortable. Human waste is one of the most taboo topics of conversation in the civilized world, so much so that we’ve invented a handful of euphemisms to avoid having to ever utter the word itself. Amy Schumer recognized the country’s discomfort with our bodily functions and created a song about it, which is how you know it’s a problem. America, in particular, has a well-documented fear of “Number 2,” which can be seen most clearly in its erasure of toilets on TV. The first visible toilet on TV didn’t show up until 1957 and in 1960, Tonight Show host Jack Paar stormed off of his live show mid-taping because the censor bleeped out a joke with the word “water closet,” another word for toilet.
There’s one thing that scares America more than excrement, though, and that’s babies. Or rather, what babies symbolize, which is “the product of sex.” Through the 1950s, the depiction of pregnancy, or really anything that might suggest that two characters have ever done anything more than hold hands off screen, on TV was extremely limited. Viewers didn’t see a couple sleeping in the same bed on screen until 1948 in Mary Kay and Johnny. I Love Lucy made news for following the sitcom’s example in 1955 when it showed Fred and Ethel attempting to share a bed together, but the show still failed to completely break free from the Censor Gods’ when CBS declared it could not use the word “pregnant” during Lucy’s pregnancy arc. The network forced writers to swap out the “suggestive” term for things like “with child” and “expecting,” as if avoiding the word “pregnant” would cause people to forget how the child got inside Lucy’s belly and that it didn’t just materialize out of thin air.
I hate our society’s addiction to social media as much as the next person but I don’t think I’d go as far as France did a few years ago. In 2011, the country decided to wage war on social media by banning the mention of Twitter and Facebook on radio and TV unless it was related to a specific news story (i.e. Man dresses up as Facebook for Halloween, pokes all of his friends incessantly). Though the plan sounds a lot like something your crazy aunt would do after her 8 year old asked for a Twitter account, France’s logic was surprisingly sound. In a statement to the press, CSA spokeswoman Christine Kelly made her plea for the censorship: “Why give preference to Facebook, which is worth billions of dollars, when there are many other social networks that are struggling for recognition. This would be a distortion of competition.”
The ‘90s were filled with quirky sitcoms that, if pitched to networks today, would be tossed in the trash faster than a rotting piece of cheese. Weird Science is one of them. The show follows the life of two techy teenagers who, in an attempt to design the perfect female robot, accidentally end up creating a real live woman. The show was able to get away with quite a lot of material, but the word “stud” was not one of them. USA network apparently censored the word in some of its broadcasts, which I imagine made the nickname “studmuffin” a million times less appealing.
TV censorship goes a little wild sometimes but hey, it’s better to be safe than to have your kids running around offending people, like some kind of bad-mouthing Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle, right?
(Featured image via DesiLu Productions/CBS).