Thursday, June 21, 2012

F-bombs and the death of common sense

Although the fate of 'Obamacare' is the most eagerly anticipated Supreme Court decision, the justices have been deliberating other cases, as well, and today announced an 8-0 verdict against the Federal Communications Commission's rules for censoring profanity and nudity on television.

Those rules applied only to certain types of broadcasts (the original fines levied were due to expletives uttered on awards shows by those two beacons of intelligence and good taste--Nicole Richie and Cher--along with the infamous Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction') and a New York appeals court had ruled against the FCC, which prompted the appeal to the Supreme Court.

It's usually a good indication of the soundness of a decision when conservative and liberal justices are in agreement, and their finding that the FCC rules were "unconstitutionally vague" sounds right to me, under the circumstances. That does not translate, however, at least in my mind, to the proposition that 'anything goes,' in terms of profanity, whether it's on TV or in public.

Which brings us to Middleborough, MA, a community that recently made headlines by voting to issue citations for outbursts of profanity in public spaces, like the town park. This was already prohibited by law (no doubt a holdover from the days when communities mistakenly believed there actually was a standard of 'common decency' which they were within their rights to protect) but it was never enforced. Middleborough proposed to decriminalize the offense, allowing officers to write $20 citations, instead, much like parking tickets.

The outcry was immediate, of course, with hysterical cries about the abrogation of our sacred First Amendment right to free speech, and people speculating darkly that cops would be lurking in the bushes, ready to spring out and write a ticket if they heard the 'f-word' spoken into a cell phone during a private conversation.

Puhleeze... No one doesn't know what the problem here really is, because who hasn't gotten caught in a hailstorm of 'f-bombs' in a public place where, theoretically, one has as many rights as the ignoramuses who are polluting the air? I remember once being at a South Carolina beach, settling down for what I thought would be a lovely afternoon but leaving after 30 minutes because some meathead nearby had exactly one adjective/adverb in his vocabulary and it was 'f***ing.' As in, 'f***ing awesome,' 'f***ing lame,' 'he's a f***ing ***hole,' and so on. Since I couldn't ignore it, I counted, and he used some variant of the f-word over FORTY times in that half-hour. He was extremely loud, so tuning him out was not practical. (And if you think I'm overly sensitive, imagine yourself with your present, past, or future toddlers in tow, with them being subjected to this.)

This is what the town of Middleborough wants to stop, and while I think they will doubtless back away from the ordinance because someone with nothing better to do will sue them, why is it that we can agree on a community's right to fine people who allow their dogs to leave steaming piles of crap in a public place, but become paranoid if any attempt is made to limit the 'right' to make public spaces hostile environments in other, equally repugnant, ways?

I know, I's because it's a threat to free speech!!!

I think our founders would be horrified to know that this protection they enshrined so that citizens could criticize their government without fear of reprisal has been subverted so thoroughly that people actually get passionate about their 'rights' to pornography and foul language. Benjamin Franklin's comment that 'only a virtuous people are capable of freedom' becomes more chillingly apt with every passing year.

I am well aware that a certain toleration of this kind of boorishness is the price we pay to 'hold a line' in defense of the right to free speech, but how have we gotten to the point where no method exists to promote a civil society because of the 'right' of crude, inconsiderate people to make public spaces unbearable for anyone but the equally crude? (If you suggest saying something personally to the offender, you are truly out of touch.) How have we gotten to the point where some parents will undoubtedly sue, rather than tell their foul-mouthed little angels to have some respect for themselves and consideration for others?

I think Middleborough should just go back to its Puritan roots and put up a set of stocks, and let the citizenry pelt the pottymouths with rotten produce. I know, I know. I guess I don't really mean it, but I can dream, can't I?


  1. As many have said, just because you're allowed to do something doesn't mean you should. I'm no stranger to f-bombs since I play the f*****g game of golf with minimal talent and only a moderate about of tolerance for failure. But I do try to limit my transgressions to an audience that doesn't really give a f***.

    No doubt our language and tolerance for profanity has softened up in the past 50 years. After all, my mother told me about the tremendous outcry when Clark Gable stated "and frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." We've come a long way baby------ but not necessarily.

    1. Remember that Cole Porter song with the (approximate) lyric: 'a glimpse of stocking used to be shocking but, now, anything goes!'?

  2. I don't comment on your blogs often because I guess I'm more apt to make a comment when in disagreement. You are absolutely right here, and this is another aspect of our society that irks me. Yes, you have the right to free speech, but you also have an obligation to those around you. I cannot STAND going somewhere with my children, and being within earshot of some classless yahoo who knows no other adjective or noun (and once adverb, wow) aside from "f***." But I guess another fundamental right to being a free American citizen is also to be an inconsiderate, uncooth blowhard. I have no problem with people being issued a citation for profanity in public. It's just as disgusting and offensive as urinating or walking around naked. As you said, I don't think our forefathers anticipated 'freedom of speech' meaning you should walk around dropping f-bombs in front of 4 year-olds. But that's the war cry these days... as soon as someone has a problem with something, it's unconstitutional or their civil rights are being violated. It's funny how when it's convenient, the Bill of Rights isn't up for any sort of interpretation, only a very literal meaning. But only when it's convenient. I can hear it now, "Look at the f***ing Bill of f***ing Rights, you f***ing liberal f****!" Now THAT'S an intelligent argument. I have said things to people using excessive profanity in public before, when my kids are with me. If I am offended I'll simply tune it out or move; but you are not going to influence or upset my children, especially in a public place that they have every right to be in as much as you do. I think it's a real testament to how our society is changing. Remember back in the day when a man wouldn't even consider cursing in front of a woman? Now everyone curses at everyone else, including to and in front of impressionable children. I think it's a real sign of a lack of intelligence... You can't come up with a valid argument when something makes you angry, or you don't have a big enough vocabulary to substitute another adjective for 'f***ing'. I'll tell you, I love to be an American, I love our beautiful country. But on some things, we are so far off course it's depressing. Especially considering how 'advanced' we are.

    1. You were bolder than many, in terms of confronting the boors. I'm curious what the response was? Society in general operates much like an individual does--if no curb or challenge is ever imposed or issued, the conviction grows that it is a 'right' to do whatever one chooses, and anyone who doesn't like it deserves to be abused. In most cases, speaking to someone will earn you a "Shut the f*** up and mind your own business..."

  3. My husband & I have done it several times, & gotten a wide spectrum of reactions. Yes, we've gotten cursed AT for saying something, we've had a couple people apologize & appear embarrassed, & one guy got so enraged Chris had to whip out his badge. That's another issue, how people seem to have no control over their anger anymore, in public & especially on the road.