Words You Can Say on Television

Come on, people. I thought we’d been through this already. George Carlin said the words, got thrown in jail, and that’s the template the FCC had been using ever since. You could use every pseudonym in the Urban Dictionary and even dream up a bunch of your own to refer to the load in baby’s diaper, and you could even use the scientific name, but you couldn’t say what “it” really was. You could call someone an ass, but you couldn’t show one.

But lately a couple of frowned-upon words have been sneaking in—and one isn’t even on the list.

I noticed that instance when former Governor-Wants-To-Be-Governor-Again Jerry Brown’s advisor called Meg Whitman a whore. (Always make sure phone call is disengaged before using salty language to describe the person you just spoke with.) ABC went with it, as did CNN, Fox, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (although MSNBC and NBC later on bleeped it, or called it the “w-word.”) But using the word “whore” is distasteful on certain networks – and, oh, how local news anchors strained themselves coming up with pseudonyms. My favorite? “…A word that rhymes with sore.” (I’ll take “bore” for $300, Alex.) Why is “whore” any worse than “hooker” or “prostitute?” Is it the context? Is it the kiss of death and an FCC fine if any male politician calls a female politician a whore? Even when the male politician is as much as or an even greater whore than the female one?” It’s not like Brown’s team said that Meg Whitman sells her body for cash. That would be wrong. I don’t live in California, nor care a whit which of these pols gets elected. I’m just using them as an example. Describing your opponent as a political whore is probably not the nicest choice of words, but follow the money, honey. If you’re taking it for favors, doesn’t matter what sex you are, you’re still practicing the world’s oldest profession. So why can’t we call it what it is?

As annoyed as William Shatner is about the title of his new show, you still can’t say “shit” on network television (although they produce it quite regularly.) I was surprised to find out that “shit” is used as all forms of speech on “Mad Men.” I know AMC is a cable network, but it’s “basic cable,” like TBS and Comedy Central and they watch their potty mouths. Guess you have to be Matthew Weiner to get away with it. Or the BBC. BBC America’s shows with Gordon Ramsay have him “shitting” all over the place, although it’s bleeped in his Fox-broadcasted shows.

The ruling is that networks are subject to government-regulated censorship, and cable networks subject to what advertisers will accept. So I guess nobody’s objected yet. Wonder how far they might push it? I’d love to hear that prissy Trudy Campbell drop the f bomb during dinner.

What do you think of swearing on television? Creative expression that defines character, or a coarsening of our society? Or somewhere in the middle?

10 thoughts on “Words You Can Say on Television

  1. JenD says:

    You probably already know which side of the line I’m on. Like I tell my niece and nephew, there are no bad words, just poor usage. Sometimes “shit” is way more appropriate that “doody” – especially in an adult drama. And like gratuitous violence, language can be overdone to the point of being tasteless and ineffectual. I suppose it depends on the average person’s threshold, but I for one am sick of the FCC being ruled by puritanical dogma.

  2. Genevieve says:

    I think swearing is in-between. Sometimes you need it other times it’s not necessary. It can be used to emphasize anger; it can be used to emphasize lack of education or respect; it can be used to express humor. It does depend and at this point, I don’t think society swears more because they hear it on TV.

  3. MOM says:

    In some situations only the big guns are appropriate! LOL Other times …mostly on cable..I find some of the harsher words being spoken and I cringe. You have to remember while the hub is watching TV non stop after working all day I have kids in and out of the room and he fails to push mute! I fight with my older sons at least once a week about the language of some of the comedians they watch during the day before or between classes. If they want to hear it that’s fine they are of age but some of it I can’t stand to hear even from the other room. Some words don’t faze me but those are the small ones…the raunchy ones..well I have to unplug the TV or leave the room! LOL

  4. Beth says:

    It’s so frustrating that my kids are always exposed to bad language on the tv, but I’ll admit my language slips when I get really frustrated. I can’t even imagine what Jerry Brown was thinking, or why he would think it’s all right to call any woman, especially an opponent a whore.

  5. laurieboris says:

    It was one of Brown’s aides, not that this excuses anything, because he had the obligation, once this hit the media, to decry it, or apologize, or whatever it is that politicians do when they get caught. Considering that nearly everyone, when they hear the word “whore” thinks of the world’s oldest profession, there should be some sensitivity, especially when applying that term to a woman. Even if the connotation is that she’s a “political whore.” Perhaps we need a new term. But mainly my objection with the word, or not using the word, is when it comes to how the media handled it. Why some bleeped and some didn’t. Thanks, everyone!

  6. JenD says:

    It makes no sense to bleep the word “whore”. Again, there are no “bad” words, just poor usage. You can deeply offend or hurt people and never utter a single curse word. Just sayin’…

  7. laurieboris says:

    Jen, I totally agree with you. It’s the intention, it’s the usage. Swearing in context is perfectly fine by me. It’s egregious usages meant to wound that I have trouble with.

  8. JenD says:

    Yeah, I can see your point. Still, I’m not quite as hurt if someone says “F**k you” or calls me a “c**t” than if they were to say I’m a bad person in some other way that didn’t involve the blunt force of a curse. I guess just cursing me out doesn’t hit as hard because there’s no direct accusation; it’s just unspecified anger verbalized, which is easier to blow off. I’m more offended when someone tells me to shut up.

  9. laurieboris says:

    Great point, Jen. Oh, I pity the person who tells me to shut up! I also don’t like curses that involve weight, ethnicity or appearance. What’s the point of that? It’s just cruel, insensitive and uncreative.

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