Line in the Sand: What the F*#@ is up with all this swearing?
Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
A funny thing happened to my wife and me the other day. Despite both of us being relatively young and open-minded, we were both afflicted with simultaneous cases of Sudden Onset Old Person disease, thanks to the new Anna Farris TV show Mom. Sudden Onset Old Person disease is a very rare disorder of the fun gland wherein, without warning, you turn 100 years old, and it’s almost always caused by something you see on TV.
I’ve never watched the show Mom before, but I’ve seen enough Anna Farris movies (one) to assume the plot revolves around her acting bubble-headed and me changing the channel. But God knows why, my wife thinks she’s funny, so we gave it a shot.
We flipped it on at 8:30 p.m. (a time of night which technically counts as “day” this time of year), and we were greeted with the sight of a post-coital Anna Farris, in a bra, hanging out in bed next to a guy who was smoking out of a bong. For those of you who don’t know, a bong is that thing in your teenager’s closet that he swears is aquarium equipment. It is not. It’s for smoking pot.
That one moment of salacious television triggered severe S.O.O.P. attacks in both of us. How dare they show this sort of filth at this hour? What if our kids were to walk in and see this? Can you even show this on TV? In the span of that one scene, I went from the guy who can recite from memory the better part of Eddie Murphy’s Delirious to the head of the Parents Television Council.
Anyway, I realize that this month’s issue at hand is bad language, but I almost have to start with that Anna Farris moment, because it was something of a watershed moment for me. Up until that moment, I’d shrugged off the so-called “moral decline” in our culture. But something in that moment made me take a good step back and realize that we as a society might need to tone it down a bit. And the language we use, I now realize, is a huge part of that.
For example, you can call people the D word on TV now. You can even call someone a D-head.
Think about it: the D word. That’s one of the big ones, isn’t it? Growing up, I could maybe slip a “damn” or a “hell” past my parents without significant repercussions, but a D word would have earned me a quick trip to the soap dish. To me, that’s up there with the S and F words. And you are absolutely free to sling the D word around on network television now (just the word itself, mind you. You are still not allowed to sling around an actual D word on network television. But give it time.)
And it just kind of happened one day. No one seemed to notice.
Here’s an easy way to illustrate how things change. When you watch The Breakfast Club on TV, you’re watching an edit that was made way back in the ’80s to bring the language in line with the social mores of the time. Which is why Judd Nelson tells Principal Vernon to “eat my socks” instead of the risqué-at-the-time “eat my shorts.” In just a few years, “eat my shorts” would become the slogan for a cartoon 10-year-old.
Oddly enough, in that same Breakfast Club episode, they edit out the part where Judd Nelson calls Principal Vernon “Dick,” even though that is the character’s name.
So our relationships with certain words change, and I’m not necessarily opposed to that. I was a huge fan of The Shield, and that show used the S word so much that the S word nearly took home an Emmy for supporting actor.
But The Shield was not on a network. It was on cable. On cable, you can say whatever the H word you want, up to and including the S word. You just can’t say the F word, because apparently, that’s where the line is drawn. (You can also show a breast, but only if you blur out a tiny section in the middle. Because that makes sense.)
And I’m fine with it. On cable. They do a pretty good job of self-regulating, but more important, they don’t have anything to prove. The networks sling around profanity like an eight-year-old who just learned his first swear word: they’re trying so hard to impress you by how cool they sound, it comes off as childish.
Just knock it off, network television. You’re not impressing anyone. There are ways to be entertaining, funny and shocking without petitioning the FCC to break down that next swear word barrier. If you could just try and be creative and figure out what they are, you’d not only possibly make better television, you’d help stem the moral decline of our entire country. You’d also stop making me feel old, and possibly save us from any further exposure to Anna Farris.
I’m not going to lie. Our first plan this month was to discuss the Bluffton High School teacher who was charged with assaulting a student. But having no way to anticipate what could happen in the weeks between submitting our opinions and the actual printing of the issue, we decided to let the dailies deal with this one. (But oh, the opportunity for discussion remains so tempting! Sew a button on my pants?)
Somehow amid our e-mail debate Barry lobbed over the following:
“Option B is the sudden proliferation of swearing/assorted hedonism on TV. Do you remember when suddenly you could call someone a “d*ck” in prime time? Turned on CBS last night at 8:30 and it had a lady in a bra on a bed next to a guy smoking a bong.”
It seems the bra-bong duo made Barry uncomfortable. He balked for a second pondering that if he was to take a “tone down the language” stance that he didn’t see me arguing the “bring on the F bombs” side of things.
Oh (Barr)ye of little faith. Challenge accepted. I can curse you ten ways ’til Tuesday, my $%^& friend.
So no, cursing doesn’t bother me. And I am not easily offended. I owe that gift to my eighth grade school bus driver. (And perhaps my New Jersey upbringing, but I don’t want to stereotype.) Every morning, on the ride to school, Mr. Bus Driver had 92.3 KRock on the radio. And that meant 25 minutes of Howard Stern radio to start my teen mornings.
I doubt everyone on the bus was listening, I mean with so much other middle school angst to deal with—braces, boys, kissing, kissing boys with braces… Yet, I tuned in each morning with anticipation. And that one year of bus rides launched a 28-year love affair with Howard Stern.
Now, in 1986 on “terrestrial” radio, Stern couldn’t curse or he’d be fined by the FCC. So he spent the better part of his career dancing around bad words and taboo subjects in a most hilarious way, often times belaboring a point to make sure you fully understood what he was really trying to say. He taught me to never be afraid to speak your mind. And frankly, he also taught me the art of the interview, and he is the reason I am a writer today. (Rick Reilly gets some credit too.)
It was also Howard who introduced me to George Carlin (rest his soul) and his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” First recorded in 1972, the “filthy words” are still not allowed on television. And I am pretty certain I shouldn’t type them here. (But oh, the temptation.)
Those seven words are allowed on satellite radio. When Howard Stern made the switch to satellite, as a fan, I was wondering if cursing and dirty words would dominate his delivery each day. It hasn’t, but the freedom to accentuate a particularly contentious situation with an F bomb—damn it feels good.
A few weeks ago, a colleague e-mailed me with some particularly good news. I responded, “hell yeah.” He (the more reserved, conservative, proper of the two of us) replied, “Hell f ’in yeah.” I cracked up.
Sometimes you need the extra oomph. Go ahead try it for yourself.
Courtney is a good writer.
Courtney is a good f ’in writer.
Need more examples?
A Christmas Story wouldn’t be A Christmas Story without Ralphie exclaiming …”Oh, Fuuuudge ….” (Except he didn’t say fudge.)
In the days following the Boston Marathon, Big Papi took to the field and declared to Boston, “This is our f ’in city.” The crowd—and a nation—roared.
Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even cursed at the Kings’ Stanley Cup Parade saying, “This is a f ’in great day.”
I play with words for a living. Bad words are just words that grammarians prefer to call colorful adjectives. I mean, look at what they did for Ron Burgundy’s career.