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Carlin was right: Stop bleeping fuck and its profane cousins

with 2 comments

There are some wonderfully descriptive and colorful words I’d like to hear on television. I know that they’re being uttered; after all, most of us can read lips to a certain degree.

Our ears may hear bleep, but our eyes see lips moving that say shit, asshole, fuck, cocksucker, and motherfucker. Sometimes our ears will gather additional evidence. They will hear mother followed by bleep instead of fucker. Sometimes the ears will detect ass followed by bleep or bleep followed by hole but never the compete asshole. But the ears never hear cock followed by bleep or bleep followed by sucker because, it seems, Almighty Television Execs think cocksucker is so reviled a concept as to ever be partially bleeped.

I rarely view pricey premium channels such as HBO or Showtime. But my friends who can afford such luxuries assure me that there’s rarely if ever a bleep to be heard. It’s shit and fuck and motherfucker and cocksucker, etc., as far as the eye can see (or, rather, the ear can hear).

The broadcast networks, of course, don’t even offer any profanity to bleep. (Well, maybe the occasional nipple, but that’s not the issue here.) Apparently, the Federal Communications Commission fines them (in the public interest, of course) for transgressing against something called “public decency.” (We all know, of course, that offending the public with profanity isn’t the real reason — the networks just don’t want to piss off the advertisers.)

Basic cable is my only hope for a little guilty pleasure. Wouldn’t comedian and social critic Lewis Black’s unbleeped HBO “Red, White & Screwed” special be much more delicious if Comedy Central’s reprises of it didn’t bleep every instance of Mr. Black’s fuck and shit and the occasional dickhead? Comedy Central doesn’t demand that Jon Stewart clean up his language during live taping of The Daily Show — yet bleeps his utterances of asshole and fuck when the show airs.

And then there’s the lovely, demure Kathy Griffin on Bravo (winner of two Emmys, as she likes to point out). She’s a true potty mouth. We all know what she’s saying. She drops the offending profanities with aplomb. She’ll even use hand motions to emphasize the language. Yet Bravo bleeps them all.

That’s hardly brave of Bravo, the basic cable channel that says it “delivers the best in food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture to the most engaged, upscale and educated audience in cable.” Surely such an audience can deal with the occasional shit, fuck, motherfucker, and cocksucker uttered by some of its performers. Surely such an audience does not need the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” that bleeping represents.

Hell, even basic cable channel AMC bleeps the use of shit in “Blazing Saddles.” Why is AMC so wimpy about such a low-level profanity in that Mel Brooks classic movie ?

I like the occasional, well-timed profanity. I’ve even used it in my classroom. (Committing such rhetorical sins, however, as a professor at a Catholic university probably means I’ll be plenty warm during my afterlife.)

I should confess, though, that I prefer limits to my liking or use of profanity. Like any rhetorical device, if overused, profanity loses its capacity to convey shock, emphasis, and powerful emotion. We all know, of course, people who drop fuck, shit, asshole, and motherfucker into every possible utterance. From the lips of those people, profanity is merely noise shrouding a lack of signal. Lewis Black, Jon Stewart, Kathy Griffin, Mel Brooks and other comedic social commentators are not such people: They are desperately needed signal trying to break through overwhelming noise.

I wish basic cable would just let me hear what my eyes can see. It’s particularly egregious when Comedy Central, of all basic cable channels, bleeps profanity. After all, this is the network that put a counter on screen to record the 162 utterances of shit in a South Park episode. Comedy Central broke linguistic ground with that show — then promptly threw the dirt back into the hole it dug in social norms.

To those TV chieftains who serve as basic cable’s Highest Authorities on What May Be Heard, who deny my ears the profane audio of these social critics to accompany the video my eyes can see, I say fuck ‘em. If viewers of these comedians object to not bleeping shit, asshole, fuck, cocksucker, and motherfucker, I ask: Why the fuck are you watching those shows in the first place?

xpost: Scholars and Rogues


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 16, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. FX, etc.
    I totally agree with you on this one. As much as I didn’t mind holding my tongue as a radio host, I prefer what I call “real-life language” in my drama and comedies. Not sure how, but IFC and FX both get the blessing from the FCC.
    “The Henry Rollins Show,” “Whitest Kids U Know,” “Rescue Me” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” are some of the most provocative (and funniest) programs on television, in my opinion. The rest are probably on the premium channels, which I can’t afford either.
    When it comes to censorship — particularly on non-networks — WTF?
    Shane L.


    April 21, 2009 at 1:18 am

  2. [Word]
    Ad Age clearly is reading your blog for ideas. 🙂 They posted this this morning:
    I thought, hey, Denny did this first.
    – Lisa Barnard


    April 22, 2009 at 3:54 pm

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