You are here: Home>Collections

You (still) can't say that on TV?


  • William Shatner on "$#*! My Dad Says"
William Shatner on "$#*! My Dad Says"
March 13, 2012|By Stephen Markley, For RedEye

It should come as no surprise that as a happy proponent of vulgarity, I don't think there's much point in TV, radio, newspapers and other media censoring language.

Let's focus on a specific case: the word to which my parents referred when I was very young as "the S-H word," always warning me not to say it before promptly applying it in all manner of situations, from describing the head of my mother's boss to my father's reaction when I yanked the banister out of the wall while playing "Back to the Future."

This specific word has gained a measure of mainstream respect lately, all but working itself into the title of William Shatner sitcoms and Internet memes that media must then report on as "'Stuff' White Girls Say." (Spoiler alert: It's mostly about "The Bachelor" and/or pretending to not know about "The Bachelor.")

This begs the question of why we still purport to call this a "bad" word. First of all, vulgarity is good for art. It's good for creativity. The poet Carl Sandburg once said that slang is "a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work." Therefore, it's bizarre that the collective wisdom of mainstream media still believes that if you bleep a word or use an absurd "#$%!" stand-in, somehow that raises the discourse rather than making everyone feel silly.

Secondly, language has only the power with which we imbue it. A century ago, religious blasphemy and words such as "damn" were considered the height of profanity, but obviously we barely register those examples consciously today. In 100 years I find it unlikely anyone will think twice about this word, and people's agitation will arise from some as-yet-unknown slur, which future namby-pambys will deem vulgar—perhaps even "namby-pamby."

Take the example of presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose name—thank you, Dan Savage—will continue to hold its lunch-losing definition long after he vanishes from the national scene. There is no reason to fear the word "plonder" right now, but if I were to launch an intensive campaign to define "plonder" as a "monkey placenta one hollows out to lose his virginity to," you can bet the Tribune Company and its affiliated papers would no longer be able to include it in print.

We descriptivists understand that language is fluid and that even the worst of today's vulgarity could turn up as tomorrow's "Gee willikers, fellas, this rhubarb ain't even ripe yet!" (For some reason, all my fantasies of the future involve gangs of "fellas" picking rhubarb.)

Finally and most importantly, I've always found it totally counterintuitive that we hardly blink an eye at all kinds of societal vulgarity yet are so firmly wedded to our outdated ideas of supposed indecency. God forbid a kid sees a boob on TV or hears a slang description of feces while political leaders lie us into multibillion-dollar wars, financiers set the economy ablaze, fossil fuel industries fund anti-scientific propaganda campaigns while the world burns, and cults of old white men tell women what they can't do with their reproductive organs.

These are perfect examples of society's actual vulgarity, and frankly, all of those namby-pambys—they can eat my plonder.


RedEye Chicago Articles