If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

We've all heard it. The old, philosophical question, "If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, is there a sound?" The secondary kids with whom I work love to debate this one. So I'll tell you the same thing I tell them.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines sound this way :

vibrations transmitted through an elastic solid or a liquid or gas, with frequencies in the approximate range of 20 to 20,000 hertz, capable of being detected by human organs of hearing.

Notice that the definition does NOT say that the human organs of hearing have to be in the vicinity when the vibrations occur. That's definition 1a. So, according to that definition, there is a sound in the woods when a tree falls whether anyone is there or not.

However, definition 1c states that sound is:

the sensation stimulated in the organs of hearing by such vibrations in the air or other medium.

According to THAT definition, if there is no one around to hear the tree fall, there is no sound. As long as you back yourself up, at least in this instance, you can have it both ways.

This is exactly the argument CBS is using as it asks the Federal Communications Commission to drop charges of indecency that were leveled against it because of a teen orgy scene on WITHOUT A TRACE. This program showed a scene of a teen orgy which, according to the FCC , "broadcast material graphically depicting teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy." For this reason, the FCC is proposing fines of $32, 500 for each of the 103 CBS stations that aired the show. You can read the whole article here.

CBS says that the FCC should drop their fines because the 4, 211 e-mailed complaints came from the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association. These groups run web sites to alert their members of issues that may be important to their families. CBS contends that only two of the e-mails mentioned actually watching the scene in question, and that those e-mails referred to it as being " a brief, out-of-context segment." CBS contends that for the complaints to be valid, they have to come from people who actually watched the show on the station that is being fined.

CBS may actually feel that it has to make this stand because the fines for airing indecent material are about to go up. Congress has approved increasing the penalty to $325, 000. Multiply that by 103 and you get…$33,475,000. But maybe, instead of thinking about their potential fines, CBS should think about WHY people are complaining.

WITHOUT A TRACE airs at 10 PM. Most of the students with whom I work aren't even thinking about going to bed then. And a good portion of them already engage in risky behavior. Do they need to have that behavior reinforced by what is shown on TV? I know, I know…parents could just turn the TV off. But every parent of a teen knows that doesn't always happen.

So, I guess you really have to decide. CBS justifies what it showed, saying that while the actors were in "sexually suggestive positions," there was no "nudity or course language." And I did not see the show, so I can't really tell you.

But if it were your child or grandchild watching, would such a scene only be indecent if YOU were there to judge it so? Do you want to have it both ways in situations like this?

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