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?