"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Language is Dangerous, I Swear

Written by Bob Rehak
Edited by: Sharon Estill
Joboja Staff Writers

No one ever said anything profound using profanity.

That's one of the many lessons my father taught me in the 34 years that I knew him. Although I must admit that I ignored the lesson for the first four years while I grasped the English language. Then I ignored him again for another 7 years from age 13 through 19 while I grasped what it meant to be a teenager. By the time I was 20, I had figured out his message (see? kids CAN be taught)! And not to sound like a grumpy old(er) man, but the use of profanity has steadily gotten out of control since, say, the beginning of time.

Even when Adam caught Eve with that apple he probably said something like, "Shucks, woman, what did that Creator guy tell you?" (I doubt that he took the Lord's name in vain. That honor probably went to Noah first, when he saw all that damn rain).

If we are to believe what we see in the movies and the eyewitness accounts of folks who were alive in the 50s, they never swore, so this profanity insanity probably started somewhere in the 60s, perhaps as soon as Oswald's bullet found its target. Up until then, people seemed pretty calm and literate. Maybe with the aftermath of the Kennedy era and our "conflict" with Vietnam, profanity became more socially acceptable.

It has been a slow, disturbing evolution. Growing up in the 70s, even television was tame compared to today. Turn on any prime-time sitcom tonight and it will likely be rated TV-14 for Language, which means that the language is unsuitable for those less than 14 years of age. With that warning level necessary for a supposedly funny "family-hour" program, the writers' strike is looking better every day (no new scatological humor or sexual innuendos to make parents squirm when the kids ask what a pole dancer is).
Earlier this month the city council in St. Charles, Missouri proposed a ban on profanity in bars and taverns within the city limits. City Councilman Robert Veit proposed the idea to help curb the rowdy atmosphere at some of the local establishments. Naturally, the national media was incredulous. The ACLU got involved, claiming that the right to free speech was being trampled. Before the ban was set for a vote, Veit withdrew the proposal, no doubt fearing the expense of a lawsuit. Sometimes the Fifth Amendment gets in the way of common decency.

I once worked with a salesperson who used profanity all the time, even in casual conversation. She shocked me with her matter-of-fact expletive use the very first time we met. She could tell that I was caught off-guard, but she just kept right on lobbing f-bombs like a kid throwing balls in a McDonald's ball pit. Months later, after I realized her Turrets-like vocabulary was intentional, I asked her why she swore ALL the time. She told me that when you swear, people pay attention. It's true that she got people's attention. She also no longer works here.

In the early 1960s Lenny Bruce was arrested several times for using obscene language in his act. Today, although arresting someone for talking dirty would seem absurd, I wouldn't necessarily call that progress. Comedians like Chris Rock (and Richard Pryor before him) can't get through a joke without using profanity.

They call it edgy. I call it lazy.

I saw a Chris Rock routine one night, and he was talking about how hard it is to go out to dinner with married couples. The concept was funny; that married couples are boring and wrapped up with way too many responsibilities and bring down their friends who are single. He started out his rant by saying, "I hate f***ing married people." Take out the f-word, and is the message any less funny? I caught his act on Comedy Central, so all of his profanity was bleeped out. Since every other word was censored, it was like having him put on his act while programming a microwave.
Howard Stern moved his act to SIRIUS radio for two reasons: money and the uncensored freedom that satellite radio provides (and yes, in that order). Basically Stern had to move because he can't get through a show without using profanity, and the FCC was holding him back. His big pitch to potential subscribers is that his show is now uncensored. That's a great reason to subscribe to radio, don't you think?

Now, I'm not naïve. I know that profanity is part of our everyday language and is most definitely here to stay. I also know that television and radio will continue to test the censors, all in the name of Free Speech. I just don't consider it progress. I also find it ironic that subscribers are willing to pay to hear profanity, all in the name of "free" speech.


therapydoc said...

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Anonymous said...

Pretty damn funny.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, there are some nasty, stupid people out there. I don't bother with them. It's easier to switch the channel or walk away than to try to determine whether there is actually any real thought behind the totally inane profanity that spills out of some people's mouths.