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Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: Profanity in Public Was Rare

October 23, 2018

(image via wikimedia)

No matter where I go today, I hear profanity.  It’s on the television and in the movies, even when they’re supposed to be family friendly.  It’s on internet videos, even those marketed to kids.  It’s on the radio stations, even in music that’s marketed to kids.

It’s in the church, even in the services marketed to… okay, I’m kidding.  I haven’t heard much profanity in church.  But I’m beginning to dread the moment when it becomes acceptable.

I’m not necessarily complaining about profanity (except if it happens at church).  I don’t yearn for the days when I could turn on the television and everything was clean.  Looking back, some of that clean programming was awful.  But it was wholesome.  And back when I was a kid, it was tough to get away from wholesome.  You could do it, but you had to put some effort into it.  Nowadays, you have to have to work pretty hard to find wholesome.

Television had almost no profanity.  George Carlin had a famous comedic routine where he talked about the words you couldn’t say on television, but you had to buy the record album to hear it.  There were no Netflix comedy specials back then because there was no internet and hence no Netflix.  Comedians would actually make records and curse on them, and desperate consumers would actually buy them.  The George Carlin album was like gold because we could actually hear brazen profanity.  And it was hilarious.

Anyway, most movies were G or PG, and there was a huge difference between a PG and an R rated movie.  If a movie was rated R, we kids never got to see it.  There was no cable TV or internet and it was tough to sneak into movie theaters because there was only one screen per theater.

Back in the 1970s, I heard about movies like The Godfather, Animal House, and Flesh Gordon, but I knew I’d never be able to see them.  I had to listen to adults (or older siblings) explain the movies to me.  In other words, I had to rely on the storytelling skills of people I knew to understand what was going on in pop culture.  Some of those R-rated movies had violence, some had nudity, but all of them had profanity.

The original version of the movie The Bad News Bears was groundbreaking because kids cussed in it, and adults in the audience laughed.  Of course, this was the 1970s.  Parents in the 1960s and 1970s were known for having bad judgement. Parents in the 1950s never would have let the adults who made The Bad News Bears get away with it.

Then again, the parents of the 1970s were raised by the parents of the 1950s, so they had to get those values from somewhere.

The cursing in the novel The Catcher in the Rye used to be a big deal.  Back in the 1970s, teenagers (or young adults) would read The Catcher in the Rye just because of all the bad language.  Holden Caulfield was relatable, partially because of the profanity he used.  Now, nobody would give his language a second thought.  In fact, he’s kind of mild.  And he’s kind of a whiner.

Nowadays, profanity isn’t a big deal.  People might care about it, but they don’t care about it as much.  We hear it all the time, so it’s nothing special.  And it’s not funny.

I still don’t think kids should use profanity, but it’s okay for adults.  Using too much profanity, however, shows a lack of self-control.  I have a couple expletives that I’ll yell out occasionally.  Cursing up a storm for a moment can help out my nerves when I get ticked off at something or someone.  Once I get it out of my system, I’m usually calm again.  I’d rather curse it out and return to my normal calm demeanor than hold it in and be angry the rest of the day.

If you curse all the time, though, it can lose its effectiveness.  If you curse all the time, then you have to fall back on something else when you get really mad.  It might not be violence, but it could be something destructive.  I don’t know if there are any official studies that prove or disprove my theory.  I’ve become really skeptical of most studies anyway.  It seems like so many of them turn out to be wrong later.

When I was growing up, if a kid cursed in public, an adult would tell the kid to shut up.  Today, if a kid curses in public, a lot of adults pretend it didn’t happen.  Sometimes I feel like telling the profane kid to shut up, but it’s never my kid doing the cursing, so I’d come across looking like the bad guy.  Plus, I don’t like public confrontations anyway.  I’d end up having to explain to the kid that I grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of profanity in public.

And in today’s environment, that might be kind of tough to explain.

From → Pop culture

  1. Honestly, cursing doesn’t really bother me anymore. I probably do it more than I should.

  2. There have been scientific studied that showed using swearwords reduced pain, but only in those who didn’t use those words in their everday vocabulary.

    • What do people who swear constantly do when they’re in pain (if swearing doesn’t help them)? Did the study say what happens in that situation?

      My theory is that they lash out physically in some way, but I have only some anecdotal evidence to back me up.

      • I have a bit of a potty mouth, and I swear when in pain. I don’t physically lash out and neither does anyone I know (and we all speak in profanity laced sentences). I don’t thing it’s a cause and effect, but rather people who are inclined to act out aggressively will, whether or not they’ve ever dropped the f-bomb before.

  3. If you consider the words hell, damn, or damnation profanity then you will find them in church. You will probably only catch them if the pastor is in the mood for a real fire and brimstone type of sermon though. You will go to hell for your sins, sin will damn your soul, and you will suffer eternal damnation!

    • I think context matters, and most people would be okay with your examples.

      I think last night a politician in New York(?) said the f-word during a debate held in a synagogue. I think THAT might be considered inappropriate.

  4. Hollywood and TV used to bank on profanity for shock value…but that account was overdrawn years ago.

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