Profanity is more extreme – and more widespread on TV today than ever before. But one writer claims that the only possible alternative to using foul language is to “give up the idea of communication altogether.”
Writing for Pacific Standard magazine, freelance writer Paul Hiebert recently claimed that “swearing is a necessary dimension of how we exchange thoughts and feelings,” that acting as though there are “good words and bad words” is “irrational,” and that reducing the use of profanity on the public airwaves would mean “an end to all human communication.”
This is beyond ridiculous. For the overwhelming majority of the time broadcasting has been in existence – circa 1920 to the present – profanity was not used on the public airwaves; and in the classic era of movies, it was extremely circumscribed. And yet, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart seemed to communicate perfectly well with Katharine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall without using a string of f-bombs and explicit sexual language.
It is a simple fact that there are some places and times in which certain behavior – including manner of speech – is appropriate, and others where it is not. At the beach, it is appropriate to wear a skimpy pair of trunks; in the workplace, it is not. Similarly, in the workplace, or indeed in most social settings, use of profanity is not appropriate. Then why should it be on the airwaves, which are owned by the public?
But Hiebert’s irrationality goes further, and lapses into hypocrisy. In his article, Hiebert explicitly spells out and uses the words “f***,” “s***,” and others – without the asterisks. He claims that such words “only have the power to insult because we give them this power,” and says that a “mature society” should “do away with the concept of vulgar words.” Yet tellingly, in his litany of offensive words, Hiebert calls one particular racial slur “the n-word.”
This points out the utter absurdity of Hiebert’s contention. Hiebert himself won’t follow his own advice, and use a profane racial slur. Why not? Because he knows that explicit use of “the n-word” would be insulting and hurtful. Thus, he implicitly acknowledges that there ARE certain words one should not use.
Basically, what Hiebert is saying is, “Nobody should use words that offend ME. But if the words I like to use offend other people, then that’s their problem.” To use Hiebert’s own word, this is irrational. Only by extending the same respect and civility in language to everyone that one demands for oneself can a genuinely civil society result; and the best way to begin is to limit profanity on the public airwaves.