“There are bad actions. There are bad thoughts. But there is no such thing as bad words.”
I’m not exactly the type of person who you would expect to quote George Carlin. He was a hippy who did drugs daily for much of his life and used his raunchy comedy routine to take a stance on social issues. I’m a university professor and basketball mom. The comedian and I weren’t exactly cut from the same cloth. But there’s one thing the late comedian and I agree on—language.
Carlin was a lover of language who studied and memorized a dictionary as a boy. He understood words and used them creatively to support a higher level of enlightened thinking than most expected from a comedian of his time. Saying Carlin was anti-establishment probably is an understatement. He purposely spoke out against anything in the majority, saying he loved groups of people, but he didn’t want to be part of any of them.
Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin by James Sullivan is Carlin’s life story, complete with the tale that made me a huge fan.
Carlin became my unlikely hero for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine. The string of obscenities in the name of comedy originally was broadcast in 1972 on a New York radio station.
The Federal Communications Commission received a complaint and prohibited the use of the words, saying they violated obscenity laws.
This, of course, just supported Carlin’s stance that it was beyond ignorant that the government chose seven random words out of the more than 400,000 in the English language and declared them offensive. In other words, it gave him even more of an excuse to use those words and ones he thought might be even more offensive in his routine. He was arrested several times for reciting these words on stage.
The Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s order in 1978, establishing a decency standard that still exists on the “public airwaves.”
As the old saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Apparently the FCC disagrees. They still think just hearing certain words can harm people.
That’s some pretty outdated shit right there.
I am pretty old fashioned myself and I don’t particularly like using “dirty” words but that is just my personal preference. We live in a country where you can say what you want and can’t be judged for it. Although there are words that are inappropriate for young ears, it is up to the parent to determine what is obscene. You told us in class last week about regulation of what is on the radio and the parents who complained that the things being said were obscene. Your point was that if the parent didn’t want to listen, they could just turn it off, and I agree.
When I was younger, I listened to the radio with my parents in the car. Mostly it was classic rock and although some of the themes could be mature for me but I never noticed. Even though times have changed a little bit and we have some more obscene things on the radio, my parents funneled what I was allowed to listen too. The FCC has set a standard of what is the decency standard for public airwaves, but with privately owned stations and online stations, stations are able to put out what they want and listeners are able to listen to what they want to listen too without the FCC standing in their way. Also the FCC is outdated and too controlling of the content on the public airwaves. The private stations are going to be major competition of the public airwaves and some stations might have to release previously obscene content to keep their audience from going to the private stations. And although it isn’t my personal taste, the obscene material is entertaining for some people and they should be allowed to have it. It is up to the listener on whether or not they want to listen to it and if it bothers them that much, don’t listen and change the channel.
After looking up and reading George Carlin’s original Seven
Dirty Word stand-up routine, I realized I didn’t know what the seven words are.
I figured a couple right away, but I had never taken the time to look it up.
I understand why the FCC would want to monitor these words.
I can see how, from their view, these words are harmful to children and should
not be aired.
That does not mean that I agree with them.
In 2014, there is
very little we would consider obscene that you can’t find on the Internet or on
TV at some point. Music videos, movies, and some primetime television shows throw
around obscenities like nobody’s business. The radio stations are censoring out
less and less as the songs become more vulgar. On premium channels such as HBO and
Showtime, the shows have more pornographic elements than ever.
The problem with the seven dirty words, in my opinion, is
their reputation. If words cannot actually hurt anyone, the FCC has essentially
given these words more power by labeling them as dirty. We know that they are
bad because there are ramifications if they are used. There is a shock value
that comes with these words now.
I think, if the FCC wanted to label dirty words, they should
look at words that do more harm. I think there are words that are intended to
humiliate a person for their lifestyle choices and other elements they are not
in control of. If someone wanted to call
me a cocksucker, go right ahead. But to use words against a person’s race, lifestyle,
or physical and mental handicap, then we will have some trouble.
I agree with WhitneyReinke in that I don’t like the use of supposed dirty words, but I can’t stop others from using them. I will possibly mention that I would rather they not use those words in front of me, but in the end it is there choice. To be completely honest though many of the words that once were deemed dirty have now lost their “shock value” as amyvfuhrman put it, and now they are just every day words. For instance I have two younger cousins around five years old and they curse up a storm but their parents don’t seem to mind at all. The only time their parents even think twice is when the kids grandparents are in the room and even then its just them saying “you shouldn’t say that” then they go back to what they were doing before the interruption. I know words can’t cause physical damage but they can cause mental harm when used in a viscious way, though this isn’t limited to just seven words as it seems many agree.
So to sum everything up, no I don’t think that there are any words that are too obscene for 2014’s public consumption. I just don’t want to be the one hearing them, and so I will turn it off as others have advised.
It truly takes a lot for me to get offended. Profanity and lewdness, for example, really don’t bother me. Like most people, I was raised not to speak inappropriately in public settings, and I do avoid that most of the time, but profanity really does not bother me. The beauty of the First Amendment is having the power to say pretty much whatever we want. Though I sometimes might not agree with or appreciate what a person has said, I have to allow the person the right to say it. Kenna, you said it best in class last week: “I might not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
I’ve heard many times that violence in the media is a catalyst for violent behavior among impressionable people (mostly children). I think we can say the same about profanity in the media, too. For instance, I vividly remember the day in fifth grade when my parents took away our cable. My brother had started watching MTV and had picked up on the inappropriate language The Real World “stars” had been using. One day my parents had finally had enough and decided that taking away our cable TV was the solution to this problem.
Like Whitney said, the FCC has their own set of standards for what can be considered decent language and behavior for the public. With these standards the FCC blocks inappropriate words or actions made within the radio or television program, which takes away someone’s right to entirely convey their message. This makes me think of the FCC as a kind of “gatekeeper.” It’s 2014 and we’re not naive – we know what the “F” word stands for.
I understand where the FCC is coming by restricting certain language on its airwaves. However, when my parents thought inappropriate language on television was starting to negatively affect my brother, they canceled our subscription. A parent has every right to change the channel, turn off the TV or in the extreme case of my parents, take away cable. The FCC limiting what is said on television or radio absolutely infringes on someone’s right to completely express their opinion. The FCC can’t limit what we say in face-to-face conversation where profanity can be thrown into the mix, so why pretend obscene language doesn’t exist on radio and TV?
So, to answer your question: I don’t think there are words too obscene for public consumption. The First Amendment says we have the right to say any word we want and if we don’t like what’s being said, like others have stated, change the channel.
Kayla Bennett says
“Dirty words” don’t bother me at all. I grew up in an environment where no topic was off limits, and while my parents taught me that certain words didn’t need to be coming out of my mouth at a young age, they didn’t censor themselves. I’m glad they didn’t because now I’m not easily offended. The only reason “dirty words” exist is because one day, someone decided they were bad. If no one had decided they were offensive, we wouldn’t have dirty words.
One argument is that children need to be protected from these words. I wasn’t because that’s how my parents chose to raise me, but I like to think I grew up to be pretty level headed. I didn’t repeat what they said because they told me it was bad. They explained to me why I shouldn’t repeat certain words, but as I grew older, they became more lenient about what I was allowed to say.
I think that there are worse things that we are exposed to, such as violence in media or over sexualized advertising that would be more influential on adults and children. These things can cause emotional issues. I highly doubt dirty words are going to cause anyone to do anything irrational.
WhitneyReinke Whitney, the case you referenced above with my suggestion about the parent just “turning off the radio” actually is this case. We’ll study it later in the class.
I hope that stations don’t begin “pushing the envelop” just to keep listeners, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, look at Howard Stern.
The best thing for us to do as citizens is refuse to subscribe/listen to/watch things that we don’t agree with. The ratings (which drive business) are what really will make a difference.
I love your thoughtful feedback. I really look forward to hearing more from you in class.
amyvfuhrman Amy, it’s important that you understand that the FCC did not forbid a certain list of words. Carlin had the seven dirty words routine, but the FCC made “indecent language” a moving target by not identifying specific words that would fall into this category. Also, I would argue that it changes based on societal standards, which makes many of Carlin’s words (shit, for example) obsolete in this argument.
I rarely think there is such thing as a word that can harm. However, I also sometimes think that any word can harm. For example, calling a child “stupid” can be quite harmful. At the same time, a black person calling a black person a name that you or I couldn’t and wouldn’t say is acceptable in some groups. I think my point is that context is super important.
I appreciate your thoughtful response. I’m so glad that you’re in this class. I look forward to learning more about you.
ToriBrack I like the idea of parents and individuals being gatekeepers much more than a government entity serving as one. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Tori.
Kayla Bennett I love the idea that “dirty words only exist because one day, someone decided they were bad. If no one had decided they were offensive, we wouldn’t have dirty words.” I think that was Carlin’s argument exactly. Even more so, he argued that the government, not the people decided they were bad. Also, remember, during the times he was arrested for using those words, he was performing on stage as a comedian. We pretty much expect that these days. In fact, we pay to see it.
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Kayla.