This morning I was listening to a CNN reporter in New Hampshire interviewing an ordinary, middle aged woman who is a Trump supporter, and she dropped a word inappropriate for TV live. The interviewer said, “You just said a cuss word!” and she just ignored him. In Phoenix, Don Harris, the head of Arizona’s largest NAACP chapter, was discussing the somehow national scandal over six white teenage Desert Vista High School students posting a photo of themselves aligned so the letters on their T-shirts spelled N-I-*-* E-R when he just couldn’t resist saying that a TV reporter who had just interviewed him had “nice tits”as he was speaking to another TV interviewer.
The recording was posted, and Harris had to resign as Chapter president. Called about the incident by another reporter, Harris said, among other things, “I’m really fucking sorry. I’m going to slash my wrists . . . Better yet, I’m going to throw myself out of a fucking window, except I’m on the first floor . . . I’m one of the best goddamned people in the state. They’ve seen me now, they’ve seen what I’ve done. I’ve given up my law practice. I’m down here six, seven days a week. That’s what my commitment is. I support NOW, the women’s organization — goddamn! — are you shitting me? Are you going to write this up?”
Why yes, Don, you vulgar fool, they are.
Harris and the dumb New Hampshire woman (I did say she was a Donald Trump supporter, right?) are victims of the crude and ugly culture of rudeness and incivility being imposed on the culture. If you don’t fight back, you will be sucked in: your civility and decency ethics alarms will become rusted and useless. At the 2016 Golden Globes awards, knowing they were on live TV and in front of an audience of adults, various presenters and award winners used the words cunt, sugar tits, fuck and fucking (twice). Speaking like this in private or controlled workplace surroundings is as old as the hills, but somewhere the principle has been lost in which such gutter discourse was understood to be ugly, lazy and the mark of an unmannerly lout when it leaks into more formal, or public settings. Who thinks this is a positive development?
The pendulum was once way too far swung in the other direction, of course, when “damn” was routinely bleeped out of the famous last scene in “Gone With The Wind” and Rooster Cogburn’s immortal challenge to Lucky Ned Pepper in “True Grit” was shortened to, “Fill your hand, you — ! Now, however, the useful and natural filter we used to have on language has been shot full of holes. Too many high profile boors to mention are to blame, but here are a few: Dan Savage, George Carlin*, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, hip-hop artists, TV and Hollywood screenwriters, Madison Avenue’s fondness for using obvious smutty word avatars to be cute, the producers of TV’s “$#!* My Dad Says,” Joe “This is a big fucking deal!” Biden, and parents who never taught the basic lesson that that vulgarity and profanity are defensible options in certain settings, and wildly inappropriate in others. That’s just a sample.
Does everybody want to live in a society where everyone from executives, pundits and actors to nannies, athletes and bank tellers are routinely spewing cunt, fuck, suck and motherfucker like Samuel L. Jackson on a bad day? That’s where we’re heading, if enough people don’t have the guts and common sense to say, and fast,”Oh, stop it. Learn to speak like an adult.”
*About George Carlin: his classic routine was funny and brilliant, as his routines often were. But Carlin was essentially an anarchist, and his routine convinced a whole generation or two that vulgarity was cool. As a culture, we have paid a high price for a few laughs.
50 thoughts on “Keep It Up, Vulgarians”
Hahahaha! I always thought of George as more the ultimate libertarian. Where did he cross the line into anarchist?
An ultimate libertarian IS an anarchist. Most of the old anarchists would call themselves libertarians today.
Well, true, George was always on the side of no one else being able to tell you what to do. I thought he and his ideas regarding telling other to screw off were great… when I was in my twenties just starting life on my own terms and took great pleasure in gleefully crossing lines. Unfortunately, a society with zero respect for authority or standards isn’t going to last very long.
George Carlin always struck me as being like the hoods in eighth grade. Half of them became criminals and the other half became cops. George could have been a Catholic priest, instead he became … George Carlin. Kind of like archangels. When they go bad, they go really bad. See, eg., Lucifer.
Let’s not leave out Lenny Bruce and Howard Stern.
And Carlin was so manic. As was Robin Williams. I sat through both of them late in their careers. Wore me out. I assume Robin Williams was on cocaine or something. He went through entire gallons of bottled water during his sets. I think George was just naturally, Irishly, manic/depressive.
And half the half who became cops became the cops you hoped you didn’t meet, because they’d taze you or beat you and think nothing of it, or smash your head against the side of the police car and threaten to charge you with damaging the car (yes, this really happened in a town not too far from mine), or work you over with a plunger. But that group of hoods were the football players, the weightlifters, and the physical bullies. George was more like the little jerk with the big mouth who never got his underwear pulled over his head or thrown off a twenty-foot rooftop by someone he antagonized.
Actually, do you think there is a connection between vulgar behavior and out and out thuggish behavior? It’s frankly not that far a step from cursing someone out to making threats, or acting on them, like Michael Grimm going Tony Soprano on that reporter who asked a question he didn’t like. If you think it’s ok to use foul language with someone and not adhere to standards, isn’t it a heck of a lot easier to say “I’ll throw you over that balcony?” It’s frankly crazy to say things like that, because what are you going to do for a next step, actually throw the guy over the balcony? That’s just nuts.
George was very cerebral. I just compared him to the thugs in eighth grade because of how they could go either way. I’m sure George was an altar boy for a while when he was a kid, but probably got kicked out of the sacristy for stealing unconsecrated hosts or something, maybe taking a nip or two out of the wine cruets? But he was a bit of a scold and priestly in that regard. Irish priestly in that regard. Things were pretty black and white for George.
Come to think of it, Bernie Sanders could be best described as a humorless, less smart George Carlin. A scold of about the same era but completely lacking in humor and perspective. But as with George, everything’s black and white and simple for Bernie. Everything’s clear when you’re a second generation Brooklyn born commie University of Chicago grad from the early ’60s a la Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dorn. The proletariat simply needs to rise up and get the capitalist pigs to cough up their ill gotten goods and life will be wonderful.
God I miss George. I think he’d have a bloody hayday on trigger warnings and safe spaces. Cram a load of SJW’s into a room with him and watch the aneurysms.
Yes, those would be right down George’s ally. He was a smart guy whom I felt wasted his mind on comedy.
Speaking of smart comics, how about Groucho? But is it truly a waste of a spectacular mind to go into comedy? If Carlin or Groucho were truly meant to be high powered intellectuals, I thing they would have ended up going on the route. Really bright minds make their own luck.
I always thought Carlin’s use of profanity in his middle years was crafted for perfect emphasis. His early years may have been a little crazy, but his middle years were wonderful. I saw him after his wife died and I am afraid part of him died with her. He just was never quite the same,
I love this. Published right after his wife died.:
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but
shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more,
but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and
smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more
problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too
little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our
possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and
hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to
life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer
space but not inner space.
We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air,
but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold
more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small
character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of
two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.
These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one
night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer,
to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the
stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time
when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.
Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going
to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to
you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your
Remember to give a warm hug to the one next to you because that is the only
treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent. Remember,
to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all
mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep
inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday
that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak
and give time to share the precious thoughts in your Mind.”
Her death definitely gave him a different perspective on a few things.
In fact, it makes me wonder if he was a huge hypocrite. Much of his act was as hateful and divisive as any I have ever seen. These sentiments are typically cynical in one respect: everything was shit to Carlin; and then he resorts to sentimentality. Much of my reaction to Carlin was that I eventually ended up thinking, “Oh, who the hell are you? Read Teddy’s “Man in the Arena” speech. All you do is tell people who have taken on bigger risks and challenges that you will ever take on that they are fools and monsters. OK, you get laughs, and that’s important, but you’re still just the class clown, a break from the important stuff, with pretensions of grandeur.”
This man who talked about slowing down, enjoying life with friends, did a whole routine, an angry one, about making golf illegal, because it was a waste of land.
It’s not from George Carlin, but it’s been attributed to him for over a decade. It was written by a preacher, according to Snopes. Carlin, on his own site, said of the piece-
“ One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called “The Paradox of Our Time.” The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.
I figured out years ago that the human species is totally fucked and has been for a long time. I also know that the sick, media-consumer culture in America continues to make this so-called problem worse. But the trick, folks, is not to give a fuck. Like me. I really don’t care. I stopped worrying about all this temporal bullshit a long time ago. It’s meaningless. (See the preface of “Braindroppings.”)
Another problem I have with “Paradox” is that the ideas are all expressed in a sort of pseudo-spiritual, New-Age-y, “Gee-whiz-can’t-we-do-better-than-this” tone of voice. It’s not only bad prose and poetry, it’s weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that.”
Now THAT sounds like old, bitter, nihilistic George. I wonder how he got that way. I had a room mate who was completely hollowed out by Vietnam traumas, and whose reaction to every issue or controversy was “Fuck it, right?”
If I ever sound like Carlin, shoot me.
The mention of a soul is a dead giveaway it wasn’t him. Carlin was a pretty strict atheist and viewed all spiritual stuff as lies and garbage.
After a lifetime of his sort of cynicism, he would have to react this way to this false attribution, at least in public. I suppose I should have known this wasnt him, but I know from personal experience how loss of a mate can destroy and re-make you, so it wasn’t a huge leap for me.
That was not George Carlin. It is one of the plethora of quotes falsely attributed to him.
Good, though what he really said is disturbing.
“Occupation:foole” was the name of one of his albums.
Hard to believe that was him. People pray too seldom?
Dan Savage: He writes an adult-oriented column about sex and relationships. Any time his columns are picked up by major publications, such profanity is often censored. Otherwise, people know what to expect.
George Carlin: Irrelevant. Carlin was an entertainer and vulgarity was part of his routine. If you’re going to call him out, the same point could be made for any actor or performer who curses as part of a script or any author who uses such words in their writings. Also, he too was adult-oriented and HIS audiences knew what to expect).
Jon Stewart and Bill Maher: Both entertainers (see above). I know you criticize them for their “hat on/off” routine, but they’ve both made it clear they were entertainers first and foremost. Bill Maher’s show airs on HBO (which allows such talk and it’s viewers know this) and Stewart aired on Comedy Central (where most such words are also allowed and THEIR audience knows it).
Hip-hop artists: What an odd group to single out, considering the genre has only been around 30 years and, until recently, is far from the worse offender (especially considering most early hip-hop was socially conscious and actively avoided unnecessary cursing). There’s also a fundamental difference between rap and hip-hop, but I don’t expect you to understand that.
It’s also Interesting you didn’t call out any authors, rock n’ roll musicians (despite the genre having been around longer and being far more vulgar), or visual artists — all of whom make similar uses of uncouth terminology and imagery. What’s more, this borders on censorship (even if only voluntary). If something happens in the context of art it is, by definition, fictional and is therefore free of ethical considerations. I’ve seen thousands of murders depicted on television, but haven’t yet committed even a single one yet. If other members of society find themselves incapable of making said distinction, it’s their failing not that of the art(ist).
TV, and Hollywood: See above. Cursing for purposes of entertainment don’t translate into cursing in the public sphere. This is an issue of personal ethical failings, not those of mass media. As with so many things you tend to blame them for, news and entertainment media follow trends, they rarely (if ever) lead them. The media didn’t start allowing more vulgarity and then society followed; it was the other way around.
Finally, curse words are only vulgar if those hearing them deem them to be so. There’s nothing inherent in the word “fuck” that makes it unutterable (why isn’t it “in”?). In Spanish, curse words are considering impolite, but hardly vulgar, and are often used between parents and children and family members (and regularly on TV). Certainly then, the same rules don’t apply there, as societal and idiomatic standards differ. Whose to say English isn’t headed for a similar paradigm? And, if so, what makes that so wrong?
You so often rail against PC culture and groups that so easily take offense to things — perhaps you should take some of your own advice?
Something to consider,
Just a dense and pompous comment Neil. I don’t know how else to describe it. The culture is the culture, and who people express themselves is no less influenced by those who have every right, in their own contexts, to express themselves as they want. The question was, what makes people say “fuck” “cunt” and “motherfucker” on TV in public now when past people from their background never would. Answer: visible people who publicly say fuck and cunt and motherfucker. Words exist to convey images, and sexual intercourse, sex organs and people having sexual intercourse with their mothers are not pleasant or appropriate images to jam into every conversation in ever setting. Yes, yes, they are just sounds. What sophistry, unless, of course, you don’t really understand why we don’t call judges “dicks” in trial, and let kids (so far) call teachers motherfuckers. Quite apart from their vulgarity, they just become placeholders for missing, more expressive words.
Go ahead, make the silly argument that there’s no reason to try to train children nor to say fuck and shit six times every sentence, that this creates a more respectful, communicative, pleasant environment. The same argument can be made about Nigger, too. Go ahead, make it. It makes you, and anyone else who makes that case, sound like fucking idiot.
Have someone with more patience explain the concept of “culture” to you. See, everyone is in it, and because an entertainer or a marketing whiz has a rationalization for being vulgar and a right to be so, that doesn’t make it healthy, considerate or productive for the culture itself. I think, for example, the Jon Stewart was pretty deft at using fuck, just as it was funny when Sundance and Butch jumped off the cliff yelling “Shiiiiiiiit! Nonetheless, they are still partially responsible when people who are neither deft nor funny decide from those role models that talking like a long-shoreman is cool in and of itself. It’s not a matter of “legs to stand on”: it’s true. Explaining why each individual who makes vulgarity seem more acceptable is in isolation justified in their use of language just proves that you don’t understand the issue even a little bit. I don’t care what hip-hop artists say—I don’t have to listen to them. Ditto Bill Maher. I do care how the rest of society expresses itself.
Here are the top 5 brain dead statements in this comment:
6. You so often rail against PC culture and groups that so easily take offense to things — perhaps you should take some of your own advice? This is essentially an argument that respect and civility shouldn’t exists. I never said a word about being offended, or trying to censor the speakers, nor is there anything political about this issue.
5. “In Spanish, curse words are considering impolite, but hardly vulgar, and are often used between parents and children and family members (and regularly on TV).” Go look at the map. “This is OK” in culture X is non-argument for why it should be OK in culture Y. Some cultures are better than others.
4.”It’s also Interesting you didn’t call out any authors, rock n’ roll musicians (despite the genre having been around longer and being far more vulgar), or visual artists — all of whom make similar uses of uncouth terminology and imagery.” It’s not interesting in the least. Will someone please explain to Neil what “Too many high profile boors to mention are to blame, but here are a few” means? Thanks.
3. “Cursing for purposes of entertainment don’t translate into cursing in the public sphere.” When the entertainers are cursing in public, it does. What do you call saying fuck on a live TV broadcast that is supposed to be an awards show?
2. “What an odd group to single out, considering the genre has only been around 30 years.” Again, look up culture. 30 years is an eternity in cultural terms. How different was the culture of 1939 from the culture of 1969? 1984 to 2014? How can you even write something this silly?
1. “Finally, curse words are only vulgar if those hearing them deem them to be so.”
Of course, instead of explaining any of this, I could have just written “Go fuck yourself, motherfucking shit head,” and according to you, there would be nothing inappropriate about that.
#5: It’s also very difficult to avoid vulgarity in Spanish. For example, “Mi Papa (drawing out the a in papa) tiene 47 anos (pronounced “ahn-yos) means “my father is 47 years old, whereas “mi papa tiene 47 anos (pronounced “ah-nos”) means “my potato has 47 assholes”.
Fuck off Neil, you smarmy son of a bitch. You wouldn’t recognize a fucking argument if it was shoved three feet in your bloody ass. Why yould your fucking ass be bloody as opposed to fucking? Because it just had an argument shoved up it.
Honestly, if anyone ever begged for that response, that comment was it.
“Of course, instead of explaining any of this, I could have just written “Go fuck yourself, motherfucking shit head,” and according to you, there would be nothing inappropriate about that.”
You did write that, Jack. And it hurt my feelings – a lot. I would never address you in such a way, even as a joke or hypothetical.I respect you so much and (I feel like) you treat me with so little in return. As I’ve said, I sincerely apologize if my tone conveys pompousness or incivility; I’m not a great writer. That said, I often feel like whatever rudeness my tone conveys, it gets paid back in spades.
Tell me I’m wrong all day long. Spend pages disputing my points (if you have the time and interest) but please, please don’t be obscene.
“Go ahead, make the silly argument that there’s no reason to try to train children nor to say fuck and shit six times every sentence, that this creates a more respectful, communicative, pleasant environment. The same argument can be made about Nigger, too. Go ahead, make it. It makes you, and anyone else who makes that case, sound like fucking idiot.”
Why would I make that argument? I don’t believe it. My only point/argument/opinion is that there’s a time and place for everything and that cursing in one context doesn’t necessarily cause people to curse in another. And, if it does, it’s the fault of the people who can’t recognize that distinction, not those who are being emulated.
I realize that is at odds with your point and also realize I may be out of my depth, but it was just an opinion. I meant no disrespect.
Neil A. Dorr
I called it… So beautifully…. 34 minutes before he posted this.
I didn’t know that was the name of that dialect! [laughing] Now, at least when I am stuck in traffic, I think I know what dialect I am speaking (in an illiterate suburbanite’s fractured way). I had long assumed I had been speaking 21st-Century, Southern U.S. Pazuzuki.
Precisely so! It can help to overcome one’s stuttering problems, too, according to the man himself.
“Hip-hop artists: What an odd group to single out, considering the genre has only been around 30 years and, until recently, is far from the worse offender (especially considering most early hip-hop was socially conscious and actively avoided unnecessary cursing). There’s also a fundamental difference between rap and hip-hop, but I don’t expect you to understand that.”
Can’t let this load of a paragraph go. As a participant in, and lifelong part of hip hop culture, a fan of the “socially conscious” early hip-hop, who’s performed with Kurtis Blow and Ahmad and shot the breeze with them about hip hop culture, of COURSE hip-hop artists bear responsibility for coarsening the culture. Hip-hop has been the most popular music in the country, and the most-consumed by White and Black Americans, for a long time, and the content was shocking to the prevailing culture since at least as far back as the 80’s. And it very quickly BECAME the prevailing culture. Of course it made a huge impact. So I don’t see how hip-hop artists are an “odd group to single out.”
You also have rose-colored glasses on about early hip-hop. Not even the lyrics of “Rapper’s Delight” would make it into a PG-13 movie without some heavy censorship. When I was in grade school my classmates and I were smuggling 2 Live Crew, Beastie Boys, and NWA tapes around from class to class, BECAUSE they were so unbelievably raunchy. Ice Cube rapping about kicking a pregnant girl in the stomach, La Di Da Di, Go See the Doctor, all the oldest Old School classics…those are some nasty, nasty songs, outside of Afrika Bam it was mostly extreme stuff from the beginning.
Positive/Conscious hip hop didn’t really become a big deal until the 90’s, and after that there was a lot of whitewashing/nostalgia for “real hip hop” that was supposedly wholesome or uplifting, it was mostly some “back in the day it was better” kind of baloney.
As for the difference between rap and hip-hop…even if you to subscribe to KRS’s ideal hip-hop culture…hip-hop artists are the same as rap artists, for all practical purposes, so that’s not really relevant except as a way to bust somebody’s chops for not being as cool and urban-sensible as you.
Thanks for addressing this from a point of expertise, Isaac.
It’s been on my mind. I’d like to have some classic hip-hop to share with my kids someday…but I’m surprised at how offensive my old favorites were. Maybe since I’m still at it I can chime in some time with a playlist of ethical hip hop classics.
You had more of a leg to stand on when you critiqued Michelle Obama for her “F n’ vs” joke on Jimmy Kimmel or Obama’s use of “bucket” since neither is an entertainer and both were made (albeit jokingly) under the seal of the Presidency.
Once again, with sincerity (and no snark),
A question Neil: Why do entertainers get a pass on coarsening the culture? They’re part of the culture. A big part. You lost me there.
Neil is confused about what culture is. I have no idea why.
If curse words are only vulgar in cultural context then Jack is correct in calling out as unethical people who use them to coarsen the culture.
Yeah, that would be about it.
I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’ll accept that I’m wrong (and often am), but I thought this was a forum for posting our thoughts/opinions/arguments for comment. If you don’t want to, or find me offensive, I apologize. I’ve admitted to not knowing as much and have expressed before that I have learning disabilities. I’m just trying to understand.
Why are you so rude? Is it my tone? If so, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to come off as pompous — I’m just expressing opinions. I have never, nor would I ever claim they’re facts. I’m sorry
I’m so, so sorry. Really, I apologize for it all. Please, no more mean things.
Jack is never angry, just frustrated by poor thinking and logic. Lengthy comments often get lengthy replies. I have been at the receiving end a couple times. I actually thanked him once, because looking back at my own comment several times, it was really was subpar thinking on my part.
And I’m just always a jerk.
I would break from the letter format except I can’t. Sorry. I will refrain from addressing you henceforth to avoid causing you any further upset.
I don’t distance myself from what I write; I just don’t write well. As I’ve said, I have dealt with dyslexia and other learning disabilities all my life. The reason it may seem otherwise is that (owing to my poor abilities) I am often misinterpreted or argue incorrectly and keep trying to correct the mistake. I don’t blame anyone; I just don’t appreciate being talked down to when I admit upfront to being ignorant of a great number of things.
As I said, I’m really, really sorry. I mean no disrespect and have always appreciated your insights — even if I don’t acknowledge it directly. I just don’t understand why you, Jack, and so many others seem so keen to harp on it. If my commentary is as abrasive as you suggest, why not just leave it alone?
I (sincerely, without ANY sarcasm) apologize for wasting your time.
Until next time, Neil.
Just leave it alone.
I hold that we should treat people the way we want to be treated, address people the way we would want to be addressed and refrain from personal attacks and name-calling – no matter how much we disagree with them. The measure of the heart of a man is his ability to persuade without pummeling. I fail to see the difference in degree of disparagement between the epitaphs “idiot” and “cunt”. Just because your mom said you couldn’t say the C-word, doesn’t mean it hurts or degrades or coarsens society any more than “idiot” or “moron”. You can’t uplift society while tearing down the individuals. Good debate engages discussion of differing points of reference. It opens the mind. It allows that people can have opposite positions and both can be valid. It does not shut down discussion with insults and denigration.
I doubt he meant it personally. I’ve seen him take very close friends to task on this blog quite a few times, and I’d assume that they’re still friends.
I’d have never guessed you have learning disabilities, by the way. You’re not alone. Mine take the form of problems with executive function due to Parkinson’s, and the various medications I take for it and other problems. It’s why my comments tend to often be short, or less coherent at some times than others. It waxes and wanes, and tends to make life very complicated at times.