Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You can't do that on television

To piggyback upon my previous post about the utterance of racial slurs, and the perpetuation or eradication of said words, I thought I would introduce a discussion of "dirty" words and their place in society. Now, while I try to keep the curse words to a minimum on my blog, in my everday speech I swear worse that Snoop from the The Wire. However, I never think about curse words making me sound unintelligent or ignorant, I think they actually add emphasis to whatever particular word I'm using them, or to a particular point I'm trying to make. Now some may hear someone using curse words sprinkled heavily through their regular speaking patterns, and believe that the person is unintelligent, because they cannot think of alternative words that deliver the same impact. I guess I can understand the point, but in my opinion, the whole reason the words are so taboo is because they add a sharpness and specificity of emotion that other words have a difficult time eliciting. What I find so interesting is that most people in society swear; whether it's Vice President Joe Biden calling the healthcare bill a "A big fucking deal", or Lyndon Johnson likening the difference between a Senator and a Representative to "the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit". But we all like to act as though the use of curse words is relegated to those that are considered profane, not pure of heart like the former president. So everyone watches their mouths around kids, and punishes their children for cursing, while at the same time recognizing that once they grow up, everyone will curse at one time or another. Obviously there are different levels, and it's important to convey to children when, where and to whom to direct certain words and phrases. But to act as though there is never a time for curse words is not only unrealistic, but completely misses the point of the words in the first place. When a child is hurt, and screams out "fuck" in a fit of anger or injury, you don't typically see parents repremanding them for this behavior. But when a brother calls a sister a "bitch", it usually doesn't matter what age they are, parents will be furious. So I guess my point is that there is a time and place for everything, and curse words fit into the social lexicon just like other words. This brings me to the next point, which is the use of words on television. A classic comedy sketch by George Carlin dealth with the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". This list included a few words that have lost their edge, and been relegated to either non-use or non-curse status - I'm speaking of piss and tits. People still use the word tits in society, but you rarely heard it uttered on television (and not because of its previous status as a "dirty" word); and piss has become commonplace on television, and therefore no longer can be considered a "dirty" word. The remaining several words still pack a punch, most of them having those hard K sounds that somehow always manage to turn heads, except for shit which, while it has become more commonplace, will always remain a dirty word because, well, it's the word for shit. Sorry for the tangent, I remember listening to that on record when I was a little kid, and it always made me laugh, and still does, and I think really helped shape my view of the absurdity of censoring, especially considering the hypocrisy of censoring words that everyone uses. Anyway, the use of swear words on television has morphed considerably over the years, from the early days where damn and hell slipped in on late night dramas like Silk Stalkings and NYPD Blue, to the more dramatic flare of South Park paying FCC fines for the use of "fuck" on air, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia using shit and fuck unabashedly as if they were on HBO. But has more use really has any effect on kids that are watching? I don't think so, I think that kids still swear the way they always have; in the school yard, behind the backs of their teachers and parents. I think that more swearing on televison is simply art imitating life, and not the other way around. Back to a discussion of the use of swear words in society. I, for one, think that curse words convey so much emotion, that it is folly not to include them in our speech. Calling someone a "motherfucker" is much more potent that calling them a jerk, no matter your inflection or level of anger. Certainly "motherfucker" can also be a term of endearment, which can be confusing from an intellectual level, but actually seems to work very well in the real world. That is one of the beautiful things about curse words, their diversity and ambiguity. No other word in the English language can possibly be as diverse as the word "fuck". "Fuck" can be used as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, interjection, noun, and basically can be used as any word in a sentence. In essence, I think that we should not be so puritan with regard to our speech patterns. Certainly we should try and find a word that best conveys the specific point we're trying to make, but it's nice to know that when all else fails, "Fuck the fucking fuckers" still works as a gramatically correct sentence.

5 comments:

Nora said...

i feel like making certain words taboo or off-limits to general society is imbuing them with more power than necessary. one wonders, if 'curse words' became commonplace, used across all age groups and demographics, if kids would feel the need to use them in secret. making something forbidden always makes it more tempting.

mpm210 said...

True true.

Christine H. said...

It does say something about American culture though that we consider the expression "Fuck you!" as just about the worst thing you can wish on someone. Some other cultures might think you were heaping blessings on them.

mpm210 said...

If only... :)

Anonymous said...

When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger.