• Writer: Profanity is a Must!

    by  • March 18, 2014 • Broadcast Decency, Profanity • 14 Comments

    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.”badlanguage

    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.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    14 Responses to Writer: Profanity is a Must!

    1. Frankie
      June 5, 2015 at 10:27 am

      What the BFD about profanity? Basic Cable uses the s-word, while Premium Cable goes further with the f-word. Broadcast seems to be the place where they have no mainstream use of those profanities, and i find that boring. Movies can use the f-word and s-word, and people in real life especially New York and Los Angeles on the street there is swearing, also on the battlefield a lot of soldiers swear. Broadcast TV should be given the freedom to say those words PTC.

    2. kirsi
      May 27, 2015 at 5:41 am

      I find foul language revolting. I don´t want to live in the sewer, thank you very much.

    3. Marion
      March 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Is it any wonder why shows like Downton Abbey as so successful? Because it was so civilized. The English do have a command of the English language, they are more educated and have a wide range of vocabulary. They can express themselves in the most cutting way and get their point across. F word has shock value because it is a swear word, that has its place in the back room, not on TV or Comedy shows. Those who write this kind of TV shows reveals his inability to express his thoughts because of their limited vocabulary. I have seen shows where every second word f f f f. so sickening I turned the TV off. Worse yet, when women use the word. UGH

    4. Graywolf12
      March 21, 2014 at 7:16 am

      The only time profanity is required is when the uneducated, uncouth, immature are trying to impress a person of like kind.

    5. Hector
      March 21, 2014 at 4:57 am

      The issue is not so much the occasional use of general swear words (damn, hell, etc.) to emphasize a point; it’s the gratuitous inclusion of specific words connoting sex organs, sexual activity, and necessary, but gross, bodily functions, for obvious shock value or to prove the hipness of the writer. Would the classic movie “Bullitt” have been any better communicated by throwing in a few “f-bombs”? Or, “The Day of the Jackal?” Hardly! By the way, there is more than one F-word per season in “Breaking Bad” – another example of a brilliantly written, and acted, script that would have been just as well communicated without its “F” quota. Our vocabulary is not that limited, at least not yet.

    6. William Childress
      March 21, 2014 at 4:56 am

      I would argue that these vulgar words are used to shock people and that’s why certain writers use them. It stands to reason that the words will loose that shock value as they enter common use. What will these folks use when the dramatic effect is lost? It’s a slippery slope. Truthfully, gutter language elevates no one and it suggests that the person using it has nothing left to say of value.

    7. Anoush
      March 21, 2014 at 12:21 am

      I disagree that swear words are necessary to make a good script or a good show. The foul language used in todays TV programming is the result of gradual and steady inclusion of such language into the TV shows. I still watch a lot of shows from back in the old days of TV (1960′s, 70′s). Shows like MASH, Barney Miller, The Jeffersons, Dragnet, Adam 12, Emergency, All in the Family and alike. All these shows had drama and humor and yet I can sit down and watch these with my kids today and not oly enjoy them knowing that there will be no foul language but also know that they address some real social issues of the time and even perhaps today. In my opinion majority of shows on TV today not only have to be filtered for language but most don’t even address any real issues of our time. In my opinion they lack substance.

    8. ann
      March 21, 2014 at 12:15 am

      In our home we use ‘pluggedin.com’ a lot. We review tv programs & movies before we watch them. No, we don’t know everything that will happen but it gives us a pretty good idea of what kind of program it is and what the content is. There are so many programs that are totally ruined by the language, violence and sexual content that it just pretty much makes the program trash! Yes, I know…’if, I don’t like it turn the station’ but these kinds of programs & movies are not helping our society or our children. And, let’s not forget our families!!!

    9. Jonathan
      March 20, 2014 at 7:20 am

      You’re research is on shows that most kids have zero interest in. “Sons of Anarchy” “Breaking Bad” “Hannibal” “Walking Dead” “The Following” etc. Are all adult shows that ARE rated correctly. Instead of attacking adult shows that kids have no reason to watch why dont you look at shows on Nickelodeon or Cartoonnetwork? A lot of those shows are disgusting and not as kid friendly as many think.. Cartoons have always had adult related content but its a lot worse today, there are no shows like Tom and Jerry, CatDog, Scooby Doo etc anymore.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        March 20, 2014 at 8:17 am

        Hannibal and The Following are both rated TV-14. Clearly, they are not rated correctly…and NBC and Fox are trying to attract older kids by rating them that way.

        Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead have both produced toys based on their shows which they have marketed to children, not just the adult collector’s market. So obviously, they also are trying to attract children.

        Interesting how, when it’s demonstrated that one DOESN’T need to use profanity to make a point, your argument changes to, “Why isn’t the PTC talking about Nickelodeon?”

        • linda degennaro
          March 21, 2014 at 7:35 am

          Thank you so much for articulating what I as a mother feel everyday. Everyday I feel ambushed as my kids surf tv with what they are exposed to! I don’t think profanity should be ANYWHERE on TV. As a matter of fact, I thought even movies that have profanity in them are adjusted or modified to censor out those words when aired on TV. I have watched movies where the swear words are substituted with less offensive words having the same meaning. SWEAR WORDS SHOULD NOT BE ON PUBLIC TV and if a writer cannot be creative enough to get a “poignent” or “dramatic” moment across to the viewer without profanity, maybe that writer should rethink his career!

    10. Jonathan
      March 20, 2014 at 4:28 am

      If the PTC actually had knowledge in both writing and TV shows/movies they would realize that swear words can add more drama to the scene. In “Breaking Bad” the writer was only allowed one F word per season so he saved for the most dramatic scene. As a writer myself I have found that sometimes it is best to use a swear word in replace of a regular word. Do I think it should be used every other word? No, but yes profanity in certain shows/movies is a must.

      • PTC-CR
        March 20, 2014 at 6:51 am

        Jonathan, No reason to bash our knowledge of television. We research and analyze the content on TV programs, not just for entertainment, but we provide an accurate and educational service to parents. In actuality, I am sure we don’t disagree too much on what you are saying. Not that we agree that it should be used on broadcast TV, but we clearly understand the dramatic effect of a “swear word” in certain instances in adult situations. Language is indeed very powerful. However, whether you believe it true or not, clever writers can also make the same dramatic effect without profanity. As an example, Seinfeld had some very controversial shows, but was very clever in their use of language. The writers could easily have used profanity all the time, but this would have ruined the show. I really don’t think speech writers for the President’s “State-of-the Union” address think a few f-bombs would help improve the healthcare system. Yes, it would be dramatic for TV, but completely counter-productive. If you read our mission and our posts, you would understand that we are not censoring, but want to make sure that shows are rated accurately so parents can make educated decisions about what their children should see and hear. We are sure you agree with most adults that there is no place for using the f-word when children are watching.

    11. Zein
      March 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm


      I don’t remember the manager shouting ” Do you have any f****** idea which f******* bank you motherfu**ers are stealing from”! But the robbery was still very dramatic.

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