Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Foolish Inconsistency is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Yes, I know I got the quote wrong. In the context of today’s post, what I have here is correct.

Thomas Pluck recently posted an excellent blog to Crime Factory about foul language in books. The topic occasionally pops up, is debated for a couple of weeks, then subsides as writers find other things they can’t control to vent about. Pluck’s comments were timed with something that came to notice here.

The Beloved Spouse and I will occasionally watch a bit of stand-up on Comedy Central before turning in. Hop over to Channel 690, see what’s on, and stick around a while if it looks promising. We’re also regular viewers of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. With the Supreme Court currently looking into what can, and cannot, be said on television, one thing struck us: there is a strange inconsistency in what network Standards and Practices will allow, and what they won’t.

Let’s take Comedy Central, notably stand-up comics, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. They can’t say “fuck” or “shit” and get away with it; either word will be bleeped every time. This is in keeping with the late, great, George Carlin’s definition of the seven words you can never say on television. “Shit” is, however, permissible on FX, which is owned by Fox, which is the Official Network of Family Value Conservatives, as is “piss.” On Comedy Central—near as we can tell—you can be pissed off, but you can’t take a piss. A little weird, but it gets better.

CC allows the word “dick” as a reference to someone, but it can’t be used as a body part. You can be a dick, but you can’t have one, never mind why calling someone a dick is an insult. People act “dickish” all the time. “Balls” is okay, unless in the context of body part, so someone can have balls (“It takes a lot of balls to do that,” “You got some balls on you.”) but he cannot actually have balls. The origin of the phrase is, again, neglected. The secret here may be in the connection to what Archie Bunker so eloquently called “the groinal area.”

"Asshole” is a good one. You can say “ass” and you can say “hole,” but you can’t say “asshole.” Even better, they won’t bleep the whole word; just the “hole.” So “ass” is okay and “hole” is okay, but they are banned when combined, and it’s the “hole” that makes it obscene.

Then there is “goddamnit.” This one is okay for reasons that escape me. The Cultural Wars in this country are generally between the Christian Right (sometimes referred to as The Right) and people who generally want to be left alone and think we have bigger fish to fry (also known as The Wrong). A couple of ministers keep themselves in the public eye—and, not coincidentally, keep those contributions rolling in—by periodically pointing out the road to Perdition is paved with foul language and semi-second glimpses of Janet Jackson’s nipple. How does “goddamnit” get past these sentinels of propriety? I’m no Bible scholar, but isn’t taking the Lord Thy God’s name in vain one of the Ten Commandments? How does that get a pass, and “balls” doesn’t?

A study was recently released that says conservatives and racists are less intelligent. (Than what, we’re not so sure.) I don’t believe this—I’ll have more to say on From the Home Office in a couple of days—though inconsistencies like the above do give me pause. I sincerely don’t want to come across as insensitive—though, as regular readers know, I will if I feel the need—I’m genuinely curious about how this works, especially the “goddamnit” business. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.


Ken Zamzow said...

Goddammit, that's some good shit you wrote!

Jim Winter said...

Fox NEWS is the network of the right. Fox, FX, and Fox Sports never miss a chance to make of them for it. For Murdoch, it just means free advertising.

But it is amazing how inconsistent everyone is. Recently, Conan O'Brien was talking about this very Supreme Court case. His response, with nary a bleep, was, "Keep us posted, assholes."

My wife and I still roar over that one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very funny!