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Bleeping "Contact"

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I thought the final performance of Susan Stroman's "Contact" looked quite good on "Live from Lincoln Center." (I had seen the show in the theater and liked it enormously.) When the TV broadcast was announced, I wondered how the dialogue in the second sketch would be handled by PBS, since the most basic of all four-letter words, in its adjectival and adverbial forms, is used in it repeatedly. I ended up thinking they'd probably go with it. I was wrong. They bleeped it every time, including at crucial moments. Thereby the illusion of being at a live theater event was destroyed and we were reminded we were watching television -- the medium of Jerry Springer. I think "Contact" is strong enough that it overcame the bleeping; nevertheless, I think it was the wrong decision. What do others think?

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I think that if I had been producing Contact for NPR I'd have thought about it a long time, but finally would have bleeped it. NPR is not HBO. "****" got through, I noticed but not the unmentionable F word. I also noticed that Farrell Fan also bleeped it in his comments.

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I used circumlocution in my post, because I knew our moderators would bleep out the word -- and rightly so. (I notice they bleeped a word from Bobsey.) I agree that PBS is not the same as HBO and I'm glad of it. Although I enjoy both The Sopranos and Sex and the City on HBO, the profanity has a numbing effect. Especially in the case of The Sopranos, I think it definitely detracts from the dramatic impact of some episodes. But having made a commitment to show "Contact," I think the PBS powers-that-be should have realized they'd be harming the effectiveness of the "Did You Move?" sketch with their bleeping. But I don't want to make a big bleeping deal of it.

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I missed the television version... but I, too, saw Contact in "real" life and loved it as did my daughter... And I would guess that the husband's vile essence in the "Did you move?" scene would probably have lost it's razor's edge with the removal of his favorite word... :(

Agreed that in many movies, etc., it's totally unnecessary...

Often, one person's view of something as "art" is another's need for censorship. :)

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Just a word on bleeping -- this board bleeps out two basic four-letter words, too. If you type them, the board will replace the word with ***** I did this after one person (drunk, one hopes) came on one night and put up posts that were nothing but four letter words, addressed to several dancers who, one presumes, had injured him at some point in his career. Since we have so many teen posters (and lots of pre-teens who read the board but aren't allowed to post yet) I decided to use the software's editing capabilities.

Having a board with teenagers has made me rethink a lot of my notions about bleeping and related issues. It's not just protecting children from words they hear on the bus, on TV, at school, and probably around the dinner table -- if they have a dinner table. It's setting an example, showing that it's possible to discuss a topic, even in anger, without resorting to a base vocabulary. And it's also providing an alternative, so that everything they read and see isn't vulgar. I think we forget that. Older people know there are other options. Young people aren't being given that chance. If we don't bleep, it becomes the norm. I think if I worked for something as mass media as television, I'd bleep. (I'd also encourage programming that was not bathed in blood, too :( )

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Good issue...constantly raised in the field I toil in (theatre)

Profane language has a power because it is limited to certain situations. I may draw the line in a different place than you, but we all draw the line somewhere. I personally would have bleeped because I know a general audience including children (esp young dancers) was tuned in. I feel that young (12 & younger) children should not be exposed to such language.

That's where I draw my line.

I must admit, however, that I am somewhat amused by the proponents of artistic profanity when they raise the banner of "honesty" (as in: "That's the way people really talk")

Contact was a perfect example of how false that argument is: a man taking his wife to a middle class Brooklyn restaurant in 1954 would NEVER speak that way in public, no matter what crime family he might belong to. Out on the docks, sure...but not in a crowded, respectable eatery. Not even in 1964.

The larger point, of course, is that this is a SHOW, not REAL LIFE, and it is just as ridiculous for me to insist that it be true to the mores of 1954 Brooklyn as it is for the anti-bleeps to uphold the overuse of certain words "because that's the way it really is".

(Not that anyone on this board has said this...yet)

I have a further question, born of my severe disliking of the show:

Of all the performances from LC that could have been shown, why this? Having shown a variety of music, ballet and opera, did they want to represent theatre somehow? And this was all they could offer? I know this is a popular, entertaining show, but what a jumble of trite ideas and shallow characters: all set to a grab bag of top forty tunes (even the classical top forty). I felt like I was watching something conceived by a team of hormone-laden seventh graders.

I will concede to some inventive, fun choreography danced very well, but this is not what I think of when I think "Live from Lincoln Center". .

Another point against wasting valuable PBS resources and airtime on this pop-fizz is that while we in the hinterlands pine away for want of current ballet and opera offerings, Contact is touring all over the place and can be seen soon in a theatre in downtown Anywhere. Shouldn't Live from LC be bringing us the stuff we can't see?

But then pop singers have been crooning fron the stage of Carnegie Hall for decades, so I'm not suprised at this, just disappointed.

Oh, well...at least it provided work for some very good dancers.

And I liked the dance-centric nature of it all. I just think that Ms Stroman's talents lie in the area of light show choreography and she needs to work with a much better artistic team if conceiving an original piece with deep themes. "Clever" always loses when it meets "Meaningful".

All right, that's enough wind from the northwest....


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Originally posted by Mary Lynn Slayden

I saw "Contact" last year in NY and enjoyed it completely!

The bleeping was irritating. I am always frustrated with the US

approach to what is not accpetable on television. Never do we edit out the worst violence or gore and yet our we can't cope with profane language.  

Fortunately they didn't edit the dancing.


They may not have edited the dancing but they certainly videotaped Act III at angles that all but edited it, i.e. from the waist up, or centering in on other dancers and omitting The Girl In The Yellow Dress who, at the time, was the center of attention.

I too saw it in NY but for some reason enjoyed it a lot more on TV last night, maybe because I didn't have false expectations.

While bleeping the 4-letter-words they sometimes included an important word preceeding or following the profanity, losing the gist of the sentence. One bleep missed all but the last letter of the profanity and hit the following word!


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If I correctly recall the credits, part of the funding for the broadcast was from the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has to tread very softly on any matter that might offend some idiot congressperson in some ****ing backwater of the USA.

The Girl in the Yellow Dress segment showed just how difficult it is to tape/film dance. You are stuck with what the TV director wants to show, so you get a small slice of what is happening on stage.

It wasn't very good on TV. I thought it was decent live when the tour stopped here in the Motor City but the tops of the pops music in the third act didn't really fit its dark content. I didn't like that music when it was new and it hasn't improved with age.

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The bleeping ruined the second story; it wasn't very affective in showing the guy's cruelty.

I loved seeing all of the dancers' faces unclose. Watching something on television never comes close to the excitement of being there live, but it's also nice to see their expressions. I missed all of that in the theater. It was also nice that they didn't use a standby Girl in the Yellow Dress.

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Watermill, I appreciated your comments about the profanity. I was also wondering about that guy. I didn't think in that era a man who was not mentally unbalanced or a victim of Tourette's would talk that way in that setting. And even though it’s a show and not a documentary, it's a sign of carelessness, or something, that Weidman didn't know that, or that someone, Stroman for example, didn't point it out to him. Quite unnecessary.

However, the bleeping basically destroyed the episode. You can debate about whether or not the profanity should have been in there, but I agree with Farrell Fan it should not have been omitted once the decision was made to broadcast the show in the first place. Show the program later in the evening if you have to, but show the program. I was also unhappy with the editing of the dancing in the third act. (Ed, I'm not sure I agree with you that the fault lies with the inherent difficulty of filming dance; they just didn't do a very good job.) However, I enjoyed it, since I wasn't expecting much, and it is indeed nice to see a dance-centric musical once again.

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I thought the bleeping spoiled the entire scene and ruined it for me. There is plenty of profanity, violence and nudity on TV. These days they put up warnings so that parents can decide whether or not they should allow their children to see a show. So why not on PBS? Because they are afraid of affending some congress person??? I want to know just what those congress people are watching at home. :)

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I liked the show so much that I saw it twice with the original cast. It did not, however, translate well to the small screen. I wonder how many viewers turned it off while watching the first segment--"Swinging". What was so charming on the stage, seemed leud on the small screen. The bleeping in the Queens Restaurant was unfortunate. Not only was the offensive word obliterated, but also the important following word---"rolls". (in case the producers forgot, that word got the laugh). Charlotte D'Amboise lacked the sweetness and deep sadness of Karen Ziemba in the original cast, but I can forgive her because she was fighting against those terrible camera angles. The same can be said for the final segment--the camera ruined it. The Girl in the Yellow Dress was too stiff in the upper back--she seemed as rigid as a board--where was the fluidity?---only in flow of her dress!

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All this talk of bleeping reminds me of The Osbournes.

Whenever I hear stories of bleeping and how it's "necessary" nowadays to make a point, I think of "I Love Lucy" and how she couldn't even say the word "pregnant" on tv!

Perhaps the performers (since they knew it was being taped) should have done voiceovers with different words.

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I'm afraid that might have actually made it worse -- you'd get a dubbed "foreign movie" effect, or the kind of thing you see on some stations, where they overdub things such as "freaking" or "shoot" for Those Other Words, and only succeed in making the omission more obvious.

I think we've gained more than we've lost by greater frankness -- I'm very glad euphemisms and evasions are no longer needed to describe simple facts of life such as pregnancy.

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As the son of TV professionals, I can add a very important note to the "bleeping" issue. PBS is broadcast on the public airways; the network and all of its affiliates are subject to FCC regulations which, among other things, forbid the use of "seven dirty words." These are common expressions for sex and bodily waste; those who want to guess will get them all. Any station that airs them can have its license revoked, unless it makes extensive and costly legal appeals. Underfunded PBS stations have no stomach for this fight and therefore choose to bleep.

HBO, like all cable-only services, is exempt from such regulation, since their programs are distributed not over the public airways but over privately owned cable networks. Anyone who buys a TV can get broadcast stations, so their programs need to be vetted (goes the legal argument), but subscribing to cable is a consumer choice. Adding HBO is an additional choice. Therefore (goes the legal argument) anyone who bought HBO is comfortable with Sarah Jessica Parker spouting four-letter words. The broadcast networks try to push the envelope -- since they are losing adult viewers to more daring cable series -- but with the Republicans in charge (Colin Powell's son is the current Chairman of the FCC) it's a tough fight.

As for choosing shows to broadcast -- I believe that part of the decision is left to the Lincoln Center constituents. Lincoln Center Theatre would choose Contact on the basis of its popularity alone, but the fact that more than one touring company is roaming the country right now also played a role. The PBS show gave the touring companies free publicity. At the same time, I must point out that while LCT produces at least five shows a year, this is the first time in many years that I saw one of its productions on PBS. I assume they are not part of the original agreement and took this as a gift.

Finally, there is the new dynamic of public broadcasting, whether TV's PBS or radio's NPR, has become more and more obsessed with numbers. Most of the trend has to do with the networks' increasing dependence on "enhanced underwriting" -- ads by another name -- but the rest has to do with the ambitious young executives who lead many public stations. Armed, in most cases with MBA's, they are obsessed with numbers. The goal is the highest ratings possible.

It was such an executive, eager to make payments on a million-dollar townhouse, who killed half the classical music programming on our local NPR affiliate, WNYC-FM. It was in this context that the NYCB chose repertory for its "Diamond Project" broadcast. Lincoln Center Theatre chose a proven hit for the same reason. The Metropolitan Opera never chose to telecast Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio," let along the Brecht/Weill "Mahagony." TV and radio are all about ratings.

I'm delighted to hear that great performers are making their way to the country's rural areas via public broadcasting, conventional repertory or no. But it will never be a path for innovative artists to grow under the present rules.

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Morris Neighbor, thanks for your explanation about TV and radio. That "list of forbidden words" looks a bit odd seen from France, I've never heard about any bleeping of TV or radio programs in France, it seems to me that American people are more cautious about bad words than French people...

What you say about the public television and radio being "obsessed by numbers" is worrying indeed. I think that has been a problem on some French public channels too: the main publich channel, France 2, depends more and more on advertising, and so is more and more likely to copy its main private competitor TF1 (whose quality is in general very low) and to program stupid or vulgar things. All those people obsessed with numbers really forget that a number reflects the percentage of the audience who watched a program, but not at all the quality of the attention and the consequence on people's lives... How many people have started being interested in ballet because they saw some ballet on TV by chance and became hooked? There have been two TV programs which had a lasting influence on my life. One was a series of programs about Nijinsky, shown about 1990-1991, including "Afternoon of a faun" performed by the POB, it was the first ballet I ever saw, and made me feel interested in ballet. The other one was a program that my husband saw around 1992 at late night: the end of a documentary about the writer Georges Perec. It interested him so much that he quickly bought several books by Perec, and later made a web site about him, and it was thanks to that web site that I met him (being also a fan of Perec) in 1995- actually at our wedding when we did a little speech of thanks at the beginning of the dinner, we even thanked Perec ("who unfortunately couldn't attend the dinner"- well, he died in 1982 ;) ) Both those programs were shown then by a public channel called "La sept", which in fact showed some cultural programs on saturday afternoons and evenings on another public channel FR3, later it became a real channel ARTE. The audience of those cultural programs was very low indeed- but it didn't mean it was unimportant!

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Estelle --

I greatly appreciate your comments. Your anecdote brings new hope to widowers of a certain age like me.

It is sad to hear, however, that commercialism is raising its ugly head in French broadcasting. I have always admired the willingness of French taxpayers (like most European taxpayers) to support great arts institutions. In America, as you may know, government support of the arts is spotty. On the national level, conservatives (like the present administration) consider this a waste of money and slash, slash, slash. Under Reagan, Federal arts funds were cut nearly 70%.

New York State -- where the economically important tourist industry depends heavily on theatre, dance, and museums of every variety -- continues to fund arts at a high level. In fact, over the past 40 years, New York State has devoted more dollars to arts than the federal government, or any other state.

But the basic rule in America is, "Whoever gets the most money wins." Classical music has virtually disappeared from the radio because the audience is too old to appeal to advertisers. Cable TV "news" is dominated by extremist idealogues whose shouting matches create much (audience) heat but no (informative) light.

Fortunately, we have a few eccentrics who will spend money for reasons other than profit. Lincoln Kirstein -- heir to a department store fortune -- for instance, effectively created the New York City Ballet because he admired Balanchine's work.

The future is a bit foggy, but not utterly dark.

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Morris Neighbor, your posts are illuminating. As an arts professional who moved from NYC to Portland Oregon, imagine the artistic "bends" I suffered upon discovering that Oregon ranks 52nd in per capita arts support ( behind Puerto Rico and Guam) And don't get me started on the lack of quality in the single PBS station, where their idea of local history is to visit ghost town brothels, and the ratio of nature to arts programing must be 65 to 1. But like I said: don't get me started...

RE: PBS in general, I agree; It just feels like the whole thing is sliding slowly in the bean-counter's direction. There's this nauseating feeling as one realizes the so-called "underwriters" have become commercial sponsors. Will PBS and Fox be indistinguishable in ten years? Actually, yes, because at the current rate PBS will look like Fox now, and Fox will have fallen even further into excess in its rabid quest for "numbers".

I envision "Naked Extreme Executions" and "Celebrity Bathroom Cams" as top shows...

Now where did I put my Jane Austen....


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