Years ago, I was working in a library, doing some fun reader’s advisory for the mother of a teen, and after extolling the virtues of a young adult novel, I also warned her about the profanity inside. She brushed it off, saying, “Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing he hasn’t already heard in school.” I remember this incident vividly, as it was my wake-up call that the world that I’d left behind for my years as a cloistered homeschooling mom had changed dramatically in my absence.
Fast forward a decade or so, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for those of us who would prefer to go through life without a constant barrage of filth to participate at all in American public life. Witness the increasing number of books whose covers scream four-letter words, often—but not always—with an asterisk or other symbol in place of the vowels. Isn’t that cute? Before you can look away, the word is in your head. The ladies in pink hats featured speakers who vomited a barrage of foul language into the TV cameras. This is what our foremothers fought for? The right to prove that women can curse better than men? The latest news story is that the new DNC chairman is choosing a slogan with a curse word in it, cheered on by adoring crowds, including a woman with her young son. Fox News says, “Isn’t that terrible? Here, we’ll play the clip again. And again. Read his lips for the barely-bleeped part.”
In the early days of the Obama administration, the president was talking to reporters and other fans about something I can’t remember that he found reprehensible, and as he talked, he dragged his middle finger down his face. The crowds went wild. I didn’t get it; I am just that naïve. Someone told me that he was surreptitiously giving the finger to his opponent, but I disagreed. “He is not!” I exclaimed. “He’s the president of the United States! He would never do something like that.” I was wrong. Not only did he mean to do that, but his gesture was greeted with glee by his adoring crowds, and America fully entered into a prolonged adolescence. We are all twelve now.
This is by no means confined to the left. Our current president is certainly no model of refinement. Milo Yiannopoulos, who is often called “alt-right,” gives interviews in which every fifth word starts with an “f,” and P.J. O’Rourke, who is an old-style, fiscal Republican, writes books and gives speeches that are minefields of salty language. Examples are legion. As a librarian and wide-ranging reader, I am completely opposed to censorship, but we used to be able to choose whether or not to go into the bar with the sailors. Now, profanity is mainstream, and the choice does not extend to everyone. Men and women who would like to make well-reasoned arguments on college campuses (OK, Milo is not an example of this) are kept away with curse-laden protest signs that we all get to enjoy for days on the TV screen. One could argue that I could turn off the television, but why should I be forced out of daily American life?
In his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, scholar Thomas Sowell decried that the African American demographic that is celebrated in mainstream media is the lowest rung of the ladder, the ghetto dweller who listens to gangsta rap and sells drugs on the corner. More than ten years later, the portrayal of the entire nation is full of bottom-dwellers. Our mass media blasts out professionals and politicians rejoicing in coarseness and nauseating bilge, as if we’ve all been waiting to burst forth from our bondage to politeness and reasoned discourse. We just can’t seem to grow up. The more outrageous and profane a celebrity is, the more he or she is lauded in popular culture.
The reasons for our mutual descent are myriad, but surely social media takes some of the blame. I recoil from my Facebook feed sometimes. Apparently, since we surround ourselves with our chosen echo chambers, we forget that some of our “friends” don’t talk like that. Or maybe we just don’t care. The strangest phenomenon to watch is that of the receivers of the filth. They cheer at lewd speeches and giggle at swaggering profaners. “Oh, we are so cool. Oh, we are so edgy.” Oh, we are such children.
I was driving along yesterday, thinking about this topic and composing in my mind, when I pulled up to a red light. Before I could stop myself, I glanced at the car in front of me. The license plate frame had a big, bold f-bomb on it, with the “u” replaced by a cute, daisy-shaped asterisk. No, I would not like to buy a vowel.