There was a moment when I was just a young lad, sitting and watching M.A.S.H. and enjoying the drama when something I'll never forget happened: Alan Alda cursed.
It was, in a way, life changing. I'd heard bawdy language before, of course. But this was someone on TV saying it. It was all official and stuff. Son of a [female canine] was something you could say on TV.
My exposure to profanity was probably like most people's. I heard it from my mom and her friends, mostly when they told risque jokes. I remember, after one particular group camping trip, trying to decipher what it was that made them laugh so hard and concluded it had to be the rude words because they were the only feature present in the jokes that differed from the one's I told.
I was later corrected. It may have had something to do with a joke I told the assembled adults that was in fact just a long string of blue language interrupted by a couple of "and then she said" clauses. I was told that these weren't nice words and you didn't use them if you were a kid.
But then, years later, I have to rectify this fact with the excellent delivery of Mr. Alda. Holy [excrement]! What a mind[fornication].
It was then that I understood that delicate use, profanity had a place in the daily lexicon. It was something to indicate emphasis, something that could show that you were serious or that the tone of conversation had moved beyond the formal and proper into the immediate and naked reality of whatever given situation.
When I started incorporating course language into my frequently used vocabulary, it took a while to find the appropriate level. I over did it at first, as kids tend to do with any new and effective mental tool, but over time I feel that I've come to use profanity less as a replacement for language and more as method for setting the mood of a particular conversation. I got my [poop] straight, [condemned by Deity] right.
But even if I say George Carlin's seven dirty words almost daily, I have to ask myself why mass media has failed to learn the lessons that I have.
I mean, I can understand South Park's [doodie] episode because they were making a point. But when Saturday Night Live decided in the 90's to exploit the fact that the FCC was okay with [glutius maximus] being said on air, they had to incorporate the three-letter four-letter word into every sketch. The show Deadwood used the word [fellatio expert] of an alarming frequency, but justified it with the setting; the same director was not able, I think to make the same case in his later series John From Cincinnati. Samuel L. Jackson has used the compound word [your father] so well that not only is it expected dialogue of virtually any role he's in, but that it's lost it's sting. And then, especially in the past year or two, there's the way that music uses profanity:
So if you're [angered to the point of urination] like me
[Lady curs], here's what you gotta do
Put your middle fingers up in the air
Go on and say "[Procreate] you!"
-I Hate My Life, Theory of a Deadman
I hate that song so much it chased me off my favorite radio station.
In an age where we've almost lost our collective sense of humor (if reaction to Janet Jackson's exposed nipple is any indication) I find it troublesome that I find myself horrified by profanity. I was thinking that by this point in American culture, we'd get over it and be able to recognize words for what they are; just words. They have power, yes, but it's what power you give them. And we give these words too much power, so much so that we feel hundreds of thousands of dollars are just punishment for their utterance.
But maybe the mass media is like me after the camping trip. Maybe they're just trying to find the level at which profanity is effective, not excessive. Perhaps we're at the top of the hill and soon will be rolling towards the maturity that will keep us from giggling at the word [see you next Tuesday] or mortified if our date cries out [anal aperture]. Perhaps we'll move beyond such words and expand our vocabularies to more creative expressions of displeasure, elation or confusion.
Though most likely, we'll just make up new ones.
I guess it's wrong to say I'm tired of profanity, but I am tired of it's over- and misuse. And I'm sure I'm not alone, but as long as comedians can get a laugh off of a single [penis/cranium] I may have to be convinced. Either way, I hope that we as a culture figure out when to use and when to not use such language not only to keep from debasing the language as a whole, but also to preserve the impact a well placed swear word can deliver.
And also so lyricists will stop being so [sexual penetration] lazy and I can get my [forsaken by Jesus], [maternally inclusive copulating] radio station back. [Mouth to genital contact providing] [Illegitimate sons].