Growing up, I was expected to follow many family rules. One of the top ones was no swearing. My English teacher mother believed (and still does) that there is never a good reason to cuss, that the use of vulgarity simply reflects one’s inability to adequately voice their feelings.
I remember one time, during elementary school, that some arguing with a neighbor got heated. I called her a bad word. I then, literally, had my mouth washed out with soap. Another time, when I was in high school, I was standing at a public place when I got hit out of nowhere with a rock. I let a vulgarity slip, and then got the scornful eye of my mother who thought that was what I said.
Don’t get me wrong, my language is not as pure as the winter snow. Having spent a good part of my adult life working in newsrooms and political campaigns, I can talk a blue streak, and I’m certainly no prude about language. But having worked on Capitol Hill for elected officials, I always recognized that what came out of my mouth reflected on me, my boss, and all of those who elected him into office. So my rants (in both English and Italian) were always for behind closed doors. In public, I’ve always used the Queen’s English.
Now, not a day goes by when I don’t see many of George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television in my Facebook feed, on my Twitter stream, or in mainstream news coverage. It used to be big news when Vice Presidents Dick Cheney or Joe Biden used some colorful language when they didn’t realize the microphone was hot. Now it seems to be news if our politicians don’t curse to prove their point.
Last month, Politico Magazine published a piece entitled, Why Democrats Are Dropping More F-Bombs Than Ever: The profane has become mundane. In it, reporter Alex Caton notes that “it might be a political asset” for politicians in 2017 to drop carefully scripted words in political discourse that once got comedian Lenny Bruce arrested for using in public.
California Democrats really took that to heart, as this past weekend their chairman led the state convention in a chant of, “F#%$ Donald Trump!” as those in attendance threw double middle fingers for emphasis.
Some may embrace the value of finally saying in public what many are saying in private. Others will stake out the position that the severity of the times require the use of more severe language than ever. And others may wrap themselves around a scientific study claiming that intelligent people swear more.
But it is fascinating that a generation of parents who regularly preach to their kids, “use your words,” to express their frustrations now throw in the towel when it comes to doing the same themselves.
Let’s be honest. Vulgarity is largely used for shock value. A child uses the F-word for the first time not to harken back to the 15th century English roots of the word, but instead to get someone’s attention. It shows friend or parent that on perceives him or herself as an adult, one that can use adult words. And in the process, it makes the speaker seem entirely childish.
Let’s be even more honest. Running a post-Trump political movement based on blue language and shock value does nothing to address the concerns that the 2016 election was supposed to bring to the forefront. Instead of demonstrating empathy or looking for common ground, we seek to either offend to numb us from being offended. We’ve regressed from being are mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore to just f*%! it.
Using the words that will get you banned from network television won’t restore the good jobs so many families seek. Using the words that earn you an R rating from the MPAA won’t protect healthcare, immigration, or voting rights. And using words that in days passed would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap certainly won’t give us a results-oriented discussion on how we improve politics, community, or our nation.
If we can’t articulate the solutions we are seeking without resorting to vulgarities, perhaps we aren’t offering solutions at all. Dirty words may grab our attention, but for most of us they won’t pay the mortgage. They won’t pay for childcare. They won’t put food on the table. They won’t ensure our children are educated. And they won’t guarantee we have leaders in power who are looking after our interests.
Yes, the coming years will bring us more and more politicians talking up a blue streak in the pursuit of power. It will cease to surprise. It will cease to shock. And it will cease to motivate. And that’s a cryin’ shame.
As politicians throw the seven words and a multitude of middle fingers around in public to demonstrate they are both hip and angry, maybe, just maybe, they would look to throw around some actionable solutions instead. Anyone can be irrationally angry, calling those who oppose them every name in the book. It’s that special leader who can offer both reasoned solutions and the plan for implementing them.
Sadly, reason and leaders seem to be out of season these days.