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You Are So F--ing Obscene

The President Says It, You Say It, Your Kids Say It All The Time. So What's The F--ing Problem?

by Mark Morford

My grandmother's face used to scrunch up like she just stepped in dog droppings whenever she heard it.

My own cherubic and supercute mother rarely used to say it but has become much more friendly with it over the years because, you know, what the hell, and now whenever she launches an f-bomb or even an s-bomb she almost can't help but smile a little sheepishly afterward, like her own mother is looking down from the heavens and making that face, or if my mother's really angry and the cuss is meant to be a serious exclamation, well, it's almost impossible not to smile yourself, like you just heard this really adorable squirrel pass gas.

Me, I remember my first time. Somewhere around 7 or 8 years old, just chillin' on my bike in my Spokane 'hood on a warm summer's eve, a gaggle of other boys scampering around (there might have been girls too, but at that point girls were still incredibly toxic and hence my brain would not have registered their existence) and everyone just doing boy stuff.

Suddenly, it happened. From outta nowhere, one kid launched a never-before-heard "screw you" at some other kid and all chattering stopped as we all sort of looked at each other as if to say "huh?" and "what was that?" while this weird electrical charge shot through the air like creamy peanut butter on fire.

Everyone felt it. Everyone present sort of knew, even then, even without the slightest clue as to what the words actually meant, that something interesting had just occurred, something powerful and strange and, well, just a little bit wonderful.

As a quick test, I dashed home with those two words hot in my mouth and promptly unleashed them on the head of my older sister. To, if I recall, absolutely fantastic effect.

Clearly, Bush's Federal Communications Commission is terrified of boys like me. Oh yes they are.

Let us now recap: Since 2003, BushCo's own nipple-terrified regulatory agency has been working like a prudish little ferret to destroy perceived indecency, particularly those "fleeting expletives" that love to pop up in major media, threatening to fine any network roughly $5 bazillion for any appearance of the dreaded "f--" or "s--" or anything else that causes unusual tingling sensations anywhere in the pallid body of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Dismissed as eye-rollingly idiotic by every cunning linguist in existence, this absurdly strict rule nevertheless caused enormous panic and trepidation among generally spineless network honchos who immediately shifted programming and yanked uncut versions of "Saving Private Ryan" from broadcast and fired on-air talent for the slightest indiscretion and desperately called their lawyers in prayer. It was, to put it simply, f--ing ugly.

Fast-forward to now. A New York appeals court just told Bush's hard-line FCC that they are, in essence, a bunch of simpleminded out-of-touch dweebmonkeys and that the TV networks, while morally vacant in nearly every way imaginable, still cannot be held to such impossible standards when such juicy curse words are a common element of everyday speech, including that of President "Stop This S--" Bush and Dick "Go F-- Yourself" Cheney and just about every other being anywhere, with the possible exception of the ghost of my late grandmother.

"We are sympathetic to the networks' contention that the FCC's indecency test is undefined, indiscernible, inconsistent and consequently unconstitutionally vague," Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote in a delicious smackdown, a decision that also called the FCC's obscenity rules "divorced from reality," a perfect kicker that promptly induced Kevin Martin to whine uncontrollably.

"It is the New York court, not the commission, that is divorced from reality," he puled. "Boogerbooger wabba, jerkface thhhbbbppptt!" he did not spittle, his face turning bright red as he hopped on his Big Wheel and pedaled away furiously.

Ahh, obscenity. Here is where you may want to jump in and play devil's advocate and argue that, while swearing may be delightful amounts of everyday fun, mature discourse doesn't actually require such language. And sure enough, you can go through your entire life and never utter a single curse word or, for that matter, never let alcohol pass your lips or enjoy a butt plug or inhale from a joint or be just like Frank Sinatra and never once wear a pair of jeans, and you can still make it to your grave a reasonably happy person. It's true.

But maybe that's beside the point. Because as far as Bush's God-spanked FCC is concerned, it is, always and forever, all about protecting the children. Or rather, it is all about protecting some imaginary Christian Everychild, some sort of perfect hypersheltered dovelike organism made of spun glass and delicate bunny hearts and little golden crucifixes, a fragile, blessed thing whose happy, unblemished life had been completely free of blood or spit or pain right up until he overheard Bono say "f--" at the Golden Globes and his precious virgin heart shattered forever.

No matter. It's all fast becoming rather moot anyway. Broadcast television as we know it is dying a clumsy, confused death, curse-happy cable/satellite TV is in 87 percent (combined) of American homes, satellite radio remains free to blaspheme up a storm, the Internet is a giant linguistic smut-for-all and even the more serious blogs and indie media outlets are happily loosening crusty journalistic binds and slanging their way into the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.

See, most people seem to get it: As is always the case in things prurient and dirty and fun, it all comes down to balance. Too many gratuitous f-bombs and you sound juvenile and uneducated and mean. Too few (or too awkwardly placed, or unearned) and you sound prudish and awkward and far too much like, say, Jerry Seinfeld.

This, then, is the real linguistic lesson kids need to learn. When it comes to a good curse, it's all about the placement, the timing, the precise usage. After all, "f--" is a delightful power word, one I wish I could actually employ in this very column every so often without those damnable dashes that protect, well, no one.

The truth is, there are always perfect cuss-ready moments. There are always those times when it's not only entirely appropriate to launch a well-placed swear word, but not to do so would feel, well, downright irresponsible. Let me see if I can think of a good example ...

Ah yes. How about this: "The FCC finally got some comeuppance from the courts? The Christian right's death grip on the culture is weakening even further, and the nation as a whole appears to be slowly but surely coming to its senses? Well. Thank goodness. Praise Jesus. Pass the wine."

"And oh yes, it's about f--ing time."

See? Perfectly reasonable.

Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

© The San Francisco Chronicle

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