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.