Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fuck the Children: English language taboos in 2007

If you can’t say fuck, you can’t say “fuck the government” – Lenny Bruce

The word "fuck" continues to have the power to create great fear. In this week alone, the word has made it into the news in many unrelated ways. The Canadian band Nickelback caused uproar in the Prince Edward Island city of Charlottetown when they swore at the city's "family-friendly" Festival of Lights. They also threw beer into a section of Confederation Landing Park that wasn't designated for alcohol. Local councillor Cecil Villard suggested the band play a “free family-friendly concert” to make up for their bad behaviour while Mayor Clifford Lee told the local Guardian newspaper “people were really, really disappointed and really upset."

In Britain a more well-known Guardian discussed the equally upsetting Diaries of Alastair Campbell released last week. Tony Blair’s media manager, a man in his own Lear-like words “more spinned against than spinning,” admitted in the diaries to being a misanthrope. When his cabinet colleague Peter Mandelson asked Campbell "Do you like anyone?" he responded he liked his children and also his partner Fiona but only when she's not disagreeing with him. He added “the rest can fuck off”. Campbell justified his part in Britain’s decision to back the US invasion of Iraq but was betrayed by others such as the BBC, Geoff Hoon, Tony Blair because "they all fuck up." Number 10 Downing St, according to Campbell was Peyton Fucking Place.

A more whimsical use of "fuck" was in Dorian Lynskey's article in the same newspaper discussed great swearing songs and came up with a top ten that has Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” at number one. John Cooper Clarke’s Evidently Chickentown is at number nine even though he bowdlerised the poem on the recording by substituting a “bloody” for every “fucking”. Although the Guardian has a policy of spelling out fuck, even it was coy about what it called “the most powerful expletive of all - the one that rhymes with James Blunt”.

Even with James Blunt at his service, British journalist Ed Conway is unhappy about the staidness of the current cache of curses and is launching a Facebook campaign to find fresh swearwords for the 21st century. Conway believes words like fuck and cunt have been neutered by overuse. He suggests we try the likes of spaff, pok, gash, gosling, ragnarok, shagsak, bacardigan or melted welly. One of Conway’s respondents wrote back: “Whatever we come up with, at least it’ll be better than Battlestar Galactica’s ‘frack.’” Sounds like a load of melted welly to me.

Moving forward to the brave new world of 21st century swearing,’s GlassPipeMurder reviewed “Use Your Delusion” a new album by Shit Piss Fuck. SPF is, according to Punknews' admiring reporter, “the most attention-whoring name I’ve ever heard”. Shit Piss Fuck play a kind of “squatter punk / crustified crackrocksteady” music. Their song “Fortified wine” begins:
“If you live in North Carolina or South Dakota or Oklahoma
Then you already know the fucking truth”.

It's unlikely Rod Stewart will be listening to Shit Piss Fuck any time soon. Stewart has just admitted he was “shaken” by the use of foul words used at the Live Earth concerts, and he promised to his own audience three days later to keep his gig free of foul language. Stewart made a pledge to his audience in Coventry last week. "If you hear me swear on stage I'll give you all a tenner” he said. The canny Scotsman Stewart can given himself a monetary incentive for keeping a civil tongue.

The words that shook Stewart in the first place were uttered by comedian Chris Rock. At the gig Rock swore “I’m just jokin’, motherfuckers. Shit” while introducing the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Live Earth. He was cut off by the BBC and its TV presenters Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton apologised to viewers saying that all artists had been warned not to use “bad language during the show”. Showing the priorities of Web 2.0, the Youtube video showing Rock swearing was removed not due to its language but because of a copyright claim.

In the morally uptight world of US free-to-air television, it is a violation of federal law to broadcast indecent or profane programming during certain hours. The law is “vigorously enforced” by the Federal Communications Commission. In 2004, the FCC took action in 12 cases, involving hundreds of thousands of complaints and dished out $8 million in penalties. Under President Bush, the FCC toughened its enforcement penalties by issuing monetary penalties based on each indecent utterance rather than a single penalty for the entire broadcast.

Earlier last month, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals made a landmark decision rejecting 2-1 the FCC’s fines against networks in cases that involved "fleeting expletives" such as those Cher and Nicole Ritchie issued during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards. The court noted President Bush himself has been caught uttering “shit” on television, meaning the FCC was acting arbitrarily.

Tim Winter is president of the Parents Television Council, an extremist advocacy group that has argued for stricter FCC regulation. Last week he supported Republican presidential hopeful Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan) who planned to introduce an amendment to strengthen the enforcement of broadcast decency laws to protect children from violence and sexual material on television. The bill would strengthen the FCC’s ability to act against networks using “indecent material”. Winter said they hoped the Senate would affirm the FCC's authority to enforce the broadcast decency laws "rather than letting two judges in New York override strong public opinion”.

Winter, like many conservatives, used protection of children as the overriding reason for restrictive laws. The PTC’s slogan is instructive: "because our children are watching”. It is time to remind Winter and co of a fundamental truth: It's not all about children. Maybe he should listen to "seven-swear-words" comedian George Carlin who said:
“Something else I'm getting tired of in this country is all this stupid talk I have to listen to about children. That's all you hear about anymore, children: "Help the children, save the children, protect the children." You know what I say? Fuck the children!”

Carlin finished his plea with a question: “You want to know how to help your kids?" His answer: “Leave them the fuck alone”.


Pulento said...

Wow! I must say:

Joestoke said...

One reason why the C word is still so feared is partly because of the gutteral effect of the U sound that dominates it. The F word is still a top range swear word BUT its frivolous to throw the word feck around and everyone knows what it derives from. But in its purity the U makes it ugly and offensive.

By the way for their Live Earth coverage the BBC received more complaints for cutting away from Metallica during Enter Sandman than they did for Chris Rock using the word Motherf**ker!!