Buck Foston’s Ethics

News Item:

“A New Brunswick businessman has filed suit in federal court, charging New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill is holding up approval of his liquor license for a new high end sports bar because he doesn’t like the bar’s proposed name — Buck Foston’s. Larry Blatterfein, who has owned the Knight Club, a bar on Easton Avenue, for 30 years, charges Cahill is violating his first amendment constitutional right to free speech by holding up the transfer of a second liquor license to Blatterfein from another restaurant in town.”

The story goes on to say that the mayor denies the accusation, that the name has nothing to do with the planned establishment’s problems. Maybe not. I am close to being a First Amendment absolutist, and the laws and case precedent on efforts to stifle public obscenity are pretty inconsistent and murky. I have little doubt that “Buck Foston” is an effective, if not especially clever, way to be publicly vulgar in fact without being technically vulgar. There have been bars named the similarly cheeky (but slightly more clever) “C.O. Jones,” a name that can’t be called obscene because there really are people named C.O. Jones.

Nevertheless, I don’t relish living in a culture where mildly disguised vulgarity and obscenity is  on every street corner, local and national ads strive to get away with lame sexual double entendres at every opportunity —“Size matters!” is especially popular—and where respected pundits call the President of the United States  a “dick.”

Wait—I am living in such a culture!

Oh, well. Crude vulgarians like Larry Blatterfein will continue to try to make the world a cultural and behavioral cesspool, and  those of us who believe gentility, dignity and grace must be protected  for those of us who don’t want to be assaulted by  incivility at every turn just have to keep insisting that the America they want us to live in will be ugly, callous and mean.

[Thank to Craig Calcaterra for the pointer]

14 thoughts on “Buck Foston’s Ethics

  1. Names akin to “Buck Foston” are offensive and turn society into a “cespool”? Do the words “fuddy duddy” also have special meaning in your life?


    • At least you could have said “duddy fuddy.”

      In civility terms, a sign saying “Buck Foston” is indistinguishable from one that says “Fuck Boston.” If one is objectionable in civilized society, so it the other. But only one can be blocked by the government…amd eventually, not even that.

      See Moynihan’s broken window theory, and apply it to conduct and civility.
      Yes: cesspool.

      • Jack,
        Considering the broken window theory (which you incorrectly cited as being Moynihan’s) has been shown to be fallacious, I’ll take that as a win (correlation does not prove causality). Fuck is a “bad” word because we view it that way and have likewise given it negative connotations, but there’s nothing inherently evil or uncivil about it. Americans will commonly use Yiddish words like “putz” or “facacta” in jest, even though either would make a Jewish mother wince. Should I refrain from using the word “villain” because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been a duelling offense?

        What if the restaurant were “Boston, FUCK YEA!” .. would that be more civil. Friendly ribbing of a person’s hometown is, if anything, is the height of civility as it’s a way of poking fun at something while still implying a certain comradery. You could, of course, always argue the “niggardly” principle, I suppose, except that I’m not sure it’s the ethical duty of the offender to change their behavior when it’s the offendee who’s making it an issue.

        Finally, people are not mindless drones. Hearing increased profanity in TV, movies, and the names of business isn’t necessarily going to encourage similar behavior in others. You’re not going to steal from your son and then lie about it, no many how many tide commercials you see. What makes you more immune than others?


        • Well, there are a lot of offsprings of the original “broken window theory,” one of which was Moynihan’s “defining deviancy down” idea, which is more of a corollary of it—I stand half-corrected. Anyway, it has certainly not been ‘disproven”, and Philip Zimbardo, who has done a lot of terrific work in what causes corrupt cultures, has applied it to creating the context of acceptable deviant behavior.

          Yours is a lost argument. Yes, words are just sounds and collections of symbols, but they convey emotions and respect. A culture benefits from encouraging people to be considerate of others, especially strangers, in public. The broken windows in this regard have been people dressing like slobs, talking too loud, playing boom boxes, being rude, and otherwise displaying disrespect by making the environment look, feel and sound ugly and hostile. It continues, and it is a natural gravitational process. I think wearing tank tops on an airplane or in a theater is disrespectful, absolutely. Using fuck? My mother didn’t want to hear that, and neither do I. Hearing “Yankees suck” chanted at Fenway Park? That’s great for my kids. No, it’s rude. “Fuck Yea” on a public sign is no better of worse than “Buck Foston.”

          “Hearing increased profanity in TV, movies, and the names of business isn’t necessarily going to encourage similar behavior in others”—boy, you really are stubbornly immune to the whole process of setting social norms, aren’t you? Or in denial about it, perhaps.Gee, Neil, why DO you think the VP said “fucking” over his mic, , and Melissa Leo said fuck on the Academy Awards, and a rock awards show never happens any more without some boor using an obscenity? Why is it impossible to watch TV at 4 PM now without encountering a sitcom with a penis or sex reference? Why did my son report that his teachers at school had to shout lessons over shouted obscenities, when even a whispered obscenity would have been enough to ge me sent home when I was in school? Why is each generation cruder, less articulate, less able to express themselves without using obscenity? My Dad said that in the army, every other word coming out of his mouth was obscene—he literally never used such words in conversation or in public again. Why was that? Because he maintained the level of respect and gentility that you ridicule, and that society no longer tries to enforce or even encourage. That’s progress? Tell me one thing good about it. I can’t go to the CVS without hearing some loud-mouthed kid say “shit” or “cock-sucker.” That’s the standard you want? Fine, I’ll blame you when every town looks like “Pottersville.”

          I’m not in the least offended by Buck Foston’s…which we are told is a “high end’ establishment. I’m not offended by most of the witless, crude, inconsiderate things I hear on TV and see on the street. That doesn’t mean it isn’t objectively wrong to subject me to it. I can’t stop creeps like thsi bat owner. all I can do is point out that his conduct sets the bar lower than it was before.

            • Before I read either, please demonstrate that you have read the part where I stated quite clearly that I wasn’t “offended” by the name of the bar—or, in the alternative, show me the place where I said I was offended. I’m not offended by most of these things. They are just rude, crude, and disrespectful of everyone who doesn’t need to be confronted with obscenity or quasi-obscenity at every turn. It makes no difference what offends me personally. If you don’t get that, you don’t get it. This is an ethics blog, about what is right and wrong, not a “what offends Jack Marshall blog.” I would think that would be obvious by now.

              • OK…I checked anyway. Those have, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with the post, which is about maintaining standards of public civility and decorum and resisting the relentless downward pull of crudity on society. I don’t understand what point you could possibly be making with such a comparison. That there are worse things than juvenile signs? Check the rationalizations list for that one, waaaaay at the bottom of the barrel.

                But off topic, no, I have no problem with the decision not to prosecute CIA or Bush officials in relation to the torture matter, and I say this as one who condemned the Bush stance on “enhanced interrogation” from the beginning. It is terrible policy to for each new administration to have political show trials of previous administration officials who may have broken laws in a good faith belief that they were 1) not breaking laws and/ or 2) doing what was in the nation’s best interests as a matter of national security. When an official has willfully broken laws for personal or political gain,or out of criminal intent, that is something entirely different. In the same vein, I think war crime trials are usually, if not always, ethically disingenuous and hypocritical, and except in the most extreme of circumstances (as in clear-cut genocide) is wrong.

                Personally, I am more offended by the attempt to politicize the legal system than by the decision not to prosecute the torturers.

              • Jack, I surmised from the above that you find the level of crassness in American society “wrong”. In my view (for example, the Bush people getting away scot-free with their use of torture), I associate the wrongness of a situation with being offended by it. In other words, my taking offense at something is tied in with my sense of right/wrong. So, again, torture, in my view, is wrong, and, therefore, I take offense. Hope I’m clear on this point.

                • I understand. That’s a broader use of the term than I would accept—I have to make ethical judgments dispassionately whenever possible. I am not, in fact, easily offended. The use of torture by the US does in fact offend me, because, as an American, I am offended by unAmerican conduct being pursued in my name.

  2. I think the restaurant is C.O. Jones, as the term cajones is more like ‘crates’ or ‘dresser drawers’ and much less titillating. Unless you are really expanding your definition of vulgar 😉

  3. There’s a new restaurant in my hometown operating on the same principle — it’s called “Hugh Jass Burgers.” It’s on a popular corner near the university campus, and is clearly catering to a rather sophomoric crowd. While I don’t find the name outright offensive, I do think it’s embarrassing and would not be caught dead eating there. God forbid someone think *my* sense of humor is so juvenile!

    Buck Foston rings differently in my ears, because the [implied] obscenity is clearly directed AT someone, and therefore carries a suggestion of hostility or even violence. I think there’s a time and place for swearing — out of the earshot of children, co-workers, and various friends/relatives/acquaintances who might be offended. That’s basic respect.

    Basic respect also dictates that it’s never acceptable to lob a curse word like a missile at another human being or group of human beings. I wouldn’t patronize an establishment called Buck Foston for reasons of basic civility.

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