A bleep censor (or "bleeping") is the replacement of verbal profanity with a beep sound (usually a ), in television or radio.
History of use
Bleeping has been used for many years as a means of censoring
"inappropriate" content from programs to make them suitable for 'family' or 'daytime' viewing. The bleep censor is a software module, manually operated by a broadcast technician
. A bleep is sometimes accompanied by a digital blurring of the speaker's mouth or covered with a black rectangle, in cases where the censored speech may still be easily understood by lip-reading
On closed caption subtitling, bleeped words are usually represented by the phrase "(bleep)", or sometimes asterisks (e.g. "****"), remaining faithful to the audio track.
Bleeping is normally only used in unscripted programs - documentaries, radio features, panel games etc - since scripted drama and comedy is designed to suit the time of broadcast. In the case of comedies, bleeping may be for humorous purposes. Otherwise, bleeping of these is rare.
When films are censored for daytime TV, broadcasters usually prefer not to bleep swearing, but cut the segment/sentence out, replace the speech with different words, or cover it with silence or a sound effect. (See also In film.) In the first example, the film may (unintentionally) become nonsensical or confusing if the 'bleeped' portion contains an element important to the plot.
The bleep is sometimes used to protect an individual's identity (if they didn't agree to be named on TV or radio), or where they live (as in the British hidden-camera series Trigger Happy TV, when a member of the public answers the question "Where are you going?").
Bleeping is commonly used in English- and Japanese-language broadcasting, but rarely used in some other languages, displaying the varying attitudes between countries; some are more liberal towards swearing, or less inclined to use strong profanities in front of a camera in the first place, or unwilling to censor.
Bleeping in the final cut
of a film is extremely rare, unless it was intended by the director
(as in a fantasy 1960s sitcom
scene in Natural Born Killers
, or for plot purposes in "Kill Bill
"). "F---" was (intentionally) bleeped out of Talladega Nights
, Ocean's Twelve
, Happy Gilmore
, and during the credits of Wild Hogs
Some Hindi-language films bleep stronger swear words to preserve a "12A" BBFC rating, as cinemagoing is regarded as a family experience by the Indian community.
Examples of use
- ''Examples of 'live' censorship can be put in the article tape delay (broadcasting).
The existence of the 9pm watershed
makes the boundary between "suitable" and "unsuitable" content clear: the bleep censor is employed much less after 9pm. Many broadcasters (such as Paramount Comedy
and Discovery UK
) prefer to insert silence rather than a bleep.
- In the 1980s, 1990s, and present
- When MTV UK and Ireland screened The Osbournes, it was uncensored after the watershed, but they later introduced a daytime version, The Bleeping Osbournes, containing (usually hundreds of) bleeps or sound-effects to cover swearing.
- On BBC television, some post-watershed programmes such as Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, QI and Have I Got News for You are bleeped if "fuck" or "cunt" is uttered, perhaps because they appeal to younger viewers and the BBC doesn't want to seriously offend during prime time/family viewing.
Channel 4, meanwhile, almost never bleeps swearing after the watershed, and it is almost a cliché that every post-9pm Channel 4 programme will contain a "strong language" warning before it starts.
- In 2006, The Apprentice was repeated before the watershed in a bleeped form.
- Often, the DVD versions of such reality shows as Shipwrecked and Pimp My Ride (which contained bleeps when first broadcast) retain the bleeping.
- Prank call segments on daytime radio programmes are often subject to be bleeped if, like on hidden-camera TV shows, the victim becomes very agitated and swears.
- Pre-recorded daytime comedy series on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4 are often bleeped sparingly; even the word "shit" often remains.
- Hip-hop shows on mainstream UK radio, even late at night, mainly use radio edit versions of songs; objectionable words are censored, or replaced with alternate lyrics (though not usually with beeps).
'I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!' is broadcast on a 5 second delay using a system introduced by Time Delay TV which instantly cuts out profanity.
and radio commercials
are not allowed to use bleeps to obscure swearing under BACC/CAP
guidelines. However, this does not apply to programme trailers or cinema advertisements and "f***" is beeped out of two cinema advertisements for Johnny Vaughan
's Capital FM
show and the cinema advertisement for Family Guy season 5 DVD. An advert for Esure insurance released in October 2007 uses the censor bleep, as well as a black star placed over the speaker's mouth, to conceal the name of a competitor company the speaker said she used to use.
A Barnardo's ad, released in summer 2007, has two versions: one where a boy can be heard saying "f*** off" four times which is restricted to "18" rated cinema screenings, and one where a censor bleep sound obscures the profanity which is still restricted to "15" and "18" rated films. Neither is permitted on UK television.
Trailers for programs containing swearing are usually bleeped until well after the watershed, and it is very rare for any trailer to use the most severe swearwords uncensored.
- In the United States the bleep might be employed as part of the tape delay, and therefore added seconds before footage is broadcast.
- The Federal Communications Commission has the right to regulate indecent broadcasts. However, the FCC does not actively monitor television broadcasts for indecency violations, nor does it keep a record of television broadcasts. It relies exclusively on documented indecency complaints from television viewers. The FCC is allowed to enforce indecency laws between the hours of 6am and 10pm.
- Talk shows The Jerry Springer Show and Maury are heavily bleeped for daytime broadcast, as are 'reality' programs like Cops.
- In rare examples of bleeping of scripted programs, Comedy Central's South Park and The Daily Show are bleeped (even during watershed). However, the South Park episodes It Hits The Fan, Imaginationland Episode III, Fat Butt and Pancake Head, & It's Christmas in Canada, all use the word "shit" uncensored at least once. In certain cases, scripted programs are intentionally bleeped, for humorous purposes, e.g. The Simpsons or Arrested Development.
- Most episodes of Family Guy and American Dad have at least one word that has to be bleeped, though most of the DVD releases have a feature to keep the word censored or hear it uncensored.
- On Inside the Actors Studio, clips from films containing swearing are bleeped.
- WWE wrestling programs can rely heavily on bleeping, particularly for daytime versions; WWE Raw and pay-per-views are censored 'live', though on rare occasions the audience may use swear words in a chant, most commonly chanting "holy s***" either when something they don't like happens or when a wrestler performs an especially massive "bump", or, in one case, "F*** You Orton". Censoring was also used on RAW during Kurt Angle's entrance to bleep out the crowds chants of "You Suck", this was removed after Eric Bischoff was fired.
- Some programs, such as the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch, use various sound effects in place of the normal bleeping noise, the types of sound effects used with the nature of the program (Deadliest Catch does still use conventional bleeps on occasion).
- The Discovery Channel's MythBusters censor the profanity with various sound effects, obscure the images of dangerous, and often harmful ingredients to things like gun cotton or other things "you shouldn't try at home".
- On The Office, profanities are occasionally bleeped, in accordance with the show's mockumentary set-up.
- On Metalocalypse, the sounds of a distorted guitar pinch harmonics are used to bleep out swearing.
- On the dub of the anime Samurai Champloo, a record scratch was heard in place of swearing.
- Shows from the Flavor of Love franchise (including I Love New York and Charm School) are heavily censored due to swearword use; the subtitled broadcast on German television channel MTV and latin american VH1 are completely uncensored.
- On Aqua Teen Hunger Force, swear words since Season 3 are often covered by various sound effects. (Such as a horn honk, a grunt, or a sound of something breaking)
- Usually, the words "fuck" and "motherfucker" are bleeped out on American television. The word "shit" is sometimes bleeped out.
- Interviews on This American Life are subject to being bleeped.
- According to FCC rules, radio shows must not broadcast profane material between 6.00am and 10.00pm, and so words may be bleeped if used at all.
In popular culture
Notable references to the bleep censor include:
- In an episode of The Bill Cosby Show, Chet tries to get one of his basketball players to not swear on the court. The player's swearing is bleeped with the "beep beep" of Road Runner.
- In the episode *Bleep*, Arthur became one of the first children's series to cover the issue of swearing and censorship, which sparked a lot of controversy amongst parents.
- Similarly, in a SpongeBob SquarePants episode, "Sailor Mouth," characters say an unknown swear-word and learn about not swearing. The words are censored with squeaking, horns, and dolphin and boat noises. At the ending, one character says something that is censored with a honk, as one of the profanities from before, but it turned out to be someone in his "car" honking the horn.
- In the episode "Miniature Golf" from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, a guest character says to Zack: "You're what my uncle Vinnie would call a..." but while she speaks, a truck's horn blows.
- In the 2006 song, "Beep" by the Pussycat Dolls, the lyrics intentionally included bleeping, due to the suggestive nature of the song, and for a unique sound.
- An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch involved characters going on The Jerry Springer Show, and being bleeped even though they weren't swearing, lightheartedly suggesting that bleeps were only there to add controversy to arguments. Also, in Austin Powers 2 and The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror IX", Springer segments contain bleeped swearing, even though characters don't swear the rest of the time, suggesting that simply being on The Jerry Springer Show makes people swear uncontrollably.
- A MADtv sketch involving Aries Spears involved a parody of a hip-hop video where he repeatedly swears, resulting in the song being nothing but bleeps. Also, one sketch was a Pax network presentation of The Sopranos, except it's censored heavily. At the end of the sketch it says "Next time, tune in from 9:00 to 9:03 for a new episode of the Sopranos."
- During an interview on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert joked that whenever he tries to swear all that comes out is a loud beep.
- The Jimmy Kimmel Show features a weekly segment, "This Week in Unnecessary Censorship", which features bleeps (and blurring) inserted onto clips of various family-friendly television programs, including religious and children's shows. The effect is to make said clips appear derogatory or obscene.
- Hip-hop group Ugly Duckling featured a song called "Potty Mouth" on their 2003 album Taste the Secret. The song catalogues humorous examples of uses of the bleep censor.
- Epic Movie features a song in the Pirates of the Caribbean parody that uses the bleep censor more than 7 times.
- Larry Niven's Known Space novels (particularly the Gil Hamilton stories) depict a world in which words such as "bleep" and "censored" have been used in place of swear words for so long, that they have become expletives themselves.
- In Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath when Stranger receives the password to Packrat Palooka's junkyard, it is covered up by a continuous string of bleeps (this occurs 3 times: When he receives the password, verifies it and presents it at the junkyard gates).
- Bleeping is common in the series Arrested Development, where the character's mouth is cleverly hidden in a variety of ways to avoid using an obvious blue dot or other shape added onto the screen in the editing process.
- Several instances of bleeping is heard in the song "Beep" where in the chorus each line ends in a sound resembling a bleeping censor. Although it sounds to make it look like it is censoring profanity, its intent is to ending each line with a rhyming sound.
- The Vulture units in the Blizzard Entertainment game StarCraft, when clicked repeatedly, say "I don't have time to f*** around", with "f***" bleeped out.
- In Aerosmith's song "Just Push Play", The chorus states, "Just push play, ('bleep'ing A) Just push play, they're gonna bleep it anyway)". But the end of the song has the chorus reversing this, by stating "Just push play (F***in' A) just push play, they're gonna 'Bleep' it anyway"
- "Bye Bye Baby", a song by Madonna which is included in her 1992 album "Erotica" is bleeped at the ending part, where she mentions the sentence "You f***ed it up."
- In Victor Lewis-Smith's TV Offal, a frequently occurring joke consisted of the bleeping over swear words being mis-timed with the effect that the word was still audible.
- In a The Ronnie Johns Half Hour episode during the second season, one particular segment with character Chopper Read (Played by an actor) involves Chopper arguing with the censor over when and what is bleeped in his segment. At the beginning of the segment, he states that due to the timeslot he must watch his language, and thus is only permitted to utilise the word 'F***' fifteen times throughout the segment. However, he quickly surpasses this and is censored, before quickly realising he is still permitted to use other profanity, such as 'S***' and 'Bulls***.'
- In the video game Half-Life 2 the character Barney Calhoun tells Gordon Freeman "If you see Dr. Breen, tell him I said f*** you!", but the "f***" is obscured by a makeshift door closing.
- In an episode of American Dad!, the talking fish Klaus says the word "bleep" himself in place of the implied swear words, claiming to "take the fun away from the censors" this way.
- In the Season 5 episode The Non-Fat Yogurt episode of Seinfeld, some words spoken by Jerry and other characters are bleeped out (implied to be 'f***' and, in one case, s***). This is not the only instance of such language in the hit sitcom; it was previously bleeped in the Season 3 episode The Subway. Indeed, the real life Seinfeld is famed for using swear words sparingly. It is likely that the swearing in this episode is intended ironically as such words were never used on Seinfeld. However, other words such as 'bastard' were used relatively often.
- In the adult swim cartoon Metalocalypse, the bleep censor is replaced with the sound of a short guitar rift being played.
- In the episode of "Baby Looney Tunes" entitled "Who said that?" The sound of a rubber duck toy is used to obscure swearing.