‘Def Poetry Jam’ Poet Wins Indecency Case Against FCC

Portland radio station that aired Sarah Jones' poem will receive refund of $7000 fine.

Note to Sarah Jones: “Your Revolution” is no longer banned by these guys.

After nearly two years of deliberations, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Thursday that the poem “Your Revolution,” written and performed by the poet and playwright best known from Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam,” is not indecent under the commission’s own guidelines.

In the poem-turned-song, which uses Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” as inspiration for the refrain, Jones says, “Your revolution will not happen between these thighs.”

In May 2001, the FCC fined Portland, Oregon’s KBOO-FM — a listener-supported, noncommercial radio station — $7,000 for playing “Your Revolution,” a song that one of its DJs had aired more than 18 months earlier, claiming the track violated the commission’s decency standards.

“Your Revolution” borrows many exact lines from rap songs readily available on the radio and other media outlets, but delivers them with a feminist twist. Jones confronts and parodies the sexual braggadocio and posturing of many male hip-hop artists who have never been targeted by the FCC.

Jones sued the commission with the help of the People for the American Way Foundation and KBOO-FM, arguing that “Your Revolution” is “a feminist attack on male attempts to equate political ‘revolution’ with promiscuous sex,” and as such, is not indecent. The FCC countered by saying the sexual references were designed to “pander and shock and are patently offensive.”

The FCC was supposed to respond within 60 days but did not do so until Thursday.

And after almost two years of being kept in the dark about what the offending lyric was exactly, the FCC cited the verse “You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of/ French vanilla butter pecan chocolate deluxe/ Or having Akinyele’s dream/ A six-foot b—job machine,” placing emphasis on the last line.

FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief David Solomon originally said that “Your Revolution” described sexual activity and that the matter warranted scrutiny. Later he said, “However, based on our review of the record developed in response to the Notice of Apparent Liability, we now conclude that the material is not patently offensive and [is] therefore not indecent.”

“While this is a very close case, we now conclude that the broadcast was not indecent because, on balance and in context, the sexual descriptions in the song are not sufficiently graphic to warrant sanction,” Solomon said. “For example, the most graphic phrase, ‘six foot b—job machine,’ was not repeated.”

“They wouldn’t tell me that [that line was what the indecency charge was for] for a long time,” Jones said. “I thought maybe it was [the lyric about a] VD shot. Or the word ‘douche.’ That’s how stupid it was to us. It was like a ‘name that indecency’ game show, trying to figure out what they’d think was indecent.

“Which, of course,” she added, “goes to show how subjective all of this is.”

Jones’ case received less attention than the FCC’s decision a month later to impose a fine — also $7,000 — on commercial radio station KKMG-FM in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for airing an edited version of “The Real Slim Shady.” In January 2002, the FCC rescinded the fine against the station and its parent company, Citadel Broadcasting Company. The Portland radio station will receive a refund for the $7,000 it paid as well.

Jones is currently working on her debut album for an independent release this spring.