Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Profanity

What with this whole X-Factor vs Rage Against The Machine thing for the Christmas #1 in the UK singles chart this Sunday (which I support in principle, but wish they'd picked a different RATM song to Killing In The Name, which IMO is not their best song and is liked by too many people for the wrong reasons), Rage were interviewed by BBC Radio 5 this morning about it. I was impressed that the BBC had actually managed to get the band together, but that's an aside.

RATM were interviewed for a bit, and then performed Killing In The Name. At the infamous "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" part, Zack first just sung "I won't do what you tell me", omitting the swearing until the guitar kicked in properly, at which point he sang the full line, or at least he did until they muted it, cut the band off and then apologised for the swearing (for anyone interested, here's a BBC Article which contains the radio audio with video from the RATM side, albeit censored at the relevant part).




The whole thing about the Christmas #1 Single aside, it got me thinking about swearing and obscenities. I'm not surprised that 5 Live cut the feed. I'd have been massively surprised if they'd let it run to be honest. Considering it was around 9am this morning, and that it's a respectable news and sports channel that goes out to millions of listeners worldwide, I don't blame them for stopping it. God knows that the BBC have gotten into enough shit as it is recently for things that have happened over the airwaves (which have, in their defence, mostly been blown out of proportion by easily-offended people and the rest of the media), so I can't really fault them for trying to avoid another.


So to not question the BBC's censorship of the profanity, I question the underlying cause for them cutting the song off: people being offended by the word "fuck" being aired in the daytime. The producers didn't mute the band because they didn't like the swearing, they muted it for fear that there'd be a ton of complains and an Ofcom fine. So I question why the British public would react that way.

The first set would be people who just find all use of foul language in itself to be repulsive and offensive. I don't understand this, and never really have. Words like "fuck" and "shit" are just words. They might add extra venom to an angry, offensive comment, but ultimately they are just words. They convey ideas and emotions, and little else really. The only thing that could possibly be considered offensive would be the emotion behind the word, not the word itself.

The second set would be people worried that children might hear. And I would say "so what?". And they would say "the children will repeat them". And I would say "fair enough, they probably would, but still, so what?". Ultimately if we introduce children to swearwords it won't do them any harm. If anything, it'll utterly nuke the impact of the words themselves, and render them inoffensive. How would a child know that "fuck" is meant to be a really bad word and that they shouldn't say it. If people who hate profanity were actually less uptight about it, then ultimately they'd create a better word for themselves, because it's only because people take offence at these words that they are offensive. If we didn't make such a big deal about how we shouldn't swear, then really they'd cease to be swearwords and would no longer be offensive.

Sure, there's the principle that words like "fuck" and "cunt" have quite strong sexual connotations, and that we'd be harming the innocence off children if we let them use them, but I don't see why that really is. Words like "twat" and "douche-bag" have meanings that are similarly related to sex, yet they're not quite so frowned upon. And I used those words as a child for years before I found out what they actually meant. And to be honest, how does saying "my fucking car won't start" in any way relate to the original meaning(s) of the word "fuck"? Almost every time I use the word "fuck" I'm using it in a way that has nothing to do with sex.
Another argument comes with "shit" and "crap". Those two words are, for all practical purposes, completely interchangeable, and yet one is deemed so much more offensive than the other. It's not even really the meaning of the word that's the offensive part, just it's social implications.

Really people should examine more why they're actually offended when people swear, and come to see that profanity really doesn't mean all that much, and there's no reason to be offended by it. They don't corrupt people, they don't harm people. They're just a collection of syllables which we're brought up to find offensive for no real reason.


Now I sort of intended to post this as something of a discussion starter, and to get some opinion, but I figure most of my friends are going to be pretty liberal and hold the same "people should just scrape the sand out of their vaginas and stop being offended" point of view. So I go further, and question if it's even really possible for us to live with a language which doesn't contain profanity.

I used to think that swearing was becoming less offensive. Words like 'crap', 'hell', 'damn' and the like used to be reasonably offensive, or at least I'm led to believe they were, yet today nobody really bats an eyelid at them. They've become old curse words, that nobody gives much of a shit about any more. "Oh my God" and "Christ" have gone a similar way. I'm sure years ago people would have been aghast at use of such foul language, but nobody today gives a rat's ass when people blaspheme, unless they're in the deep south (sorry Brandon) or a church. I mean, jesus tapdancing christ, I don't realise I'm even doing it any more.

And so I wonder if 'fuck', 'shit' et al have always been common swear words, or if they've just been drafted in as the old ones have lost their impact. I know the words existed years and years ago, but did anyone use them all that often? Or were they like 'cunt', and viewed as being the mother of all swears, which shouldn't ne'er be spoken, while the likes of 'hell' and 'dammit' ruled our languages as the multi-purpose everyday swearwords. Are we just sort of stuck in a conveyor belt of profanity, with swearwords becoming to familiar and inoffensive, and new words being brought in to replace them as they lose their ability and retire?

Personally, I think we are. We live in a world of obscene political correctness, and one in which discrimination and racism are massively frowned upon. If anything I would say a little bit too much, as people feel the need to overcompensate and go out of their way to make sure people don't think they're racist when they say anything that could be possibly viewed as slightly racist. Even right now for saying that racism is perhaps too frowned-upon, I feel the need to clarify that I am, for the record, not a racist. And I think that from this social mindset we're breeding a new set of swearwords based around discrimination. That in ten or twenty years time, it won't be the likes of 'shit', 'fuck' and 'cunt' that are swearwords, but the likes of 'nigger', 'chink' and 'fag' (Americans, you probably won't understand why I put 'fag' there, but you will once your country stops being stupidly fascist over homosexuality). A few decades ago those words were socially acceptable (though to be fair, so was racism) to the point where you even got films like Boss Nigger. Now (quite rightly) they're not so socially acceptable, and I think in a couple more decades they'll become the new set of offensive swearwords that can't be aired on TV, and people will no longer care to much when people say 'fuck' in public or on air.

So, to do a little BBC 'Have Your Say' but with people I'm friends with and therefore people who aren't retards (except for Corrosive, but I de-friended him a couple of days ago so it's cool), what are your opinions on this? Are people too uptight for being offended by words like 'fuck', or is it their right to find them disgusting? Will we all be swearing like they do on Firefly in a century or two (and I don't just mean in Chinese), will swearwords be gone altogether, or will we just have the same status quo?

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