There are, according to George Carlin, seven words you can't say on television, but I've heard several of those very words on Rescue Me. I couldn't believe it at first--I thought perhaps I'd wandered over to HBO, or plugged in a DVD in my sleep. But there they were, dirty word after dirty word, waking me up and serving me notice.
These new language games aren't isolated to deep slots on the television dial. Coarse language and thinly disguised euphemisms are becoming more common in commercial advertisements on the major networks, on billboards, in print and online. I know of a local restaurant that uses slang terminology for an erection as its tagline. Ruins my appetite every time.
Now, I was a junior high boy once, so I know the visceral appeal of dirty talk. And I was still juvenile enough during my constitutional law class in college that I committed to memory the case that protects our right to free vulgar speech (Cohen v. California, in which a young man was arrested for showing up at the courthouse wearing a jacket that read "F--- the Draft"). But most of the drift toward vulgarity in culture is unconscious, with very little circumspection guiding the process. So I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about
- why people use vulgar language,
- what makes it vulgar,
- how vulgarity shapes our worldview and behavior,
- how our worldview and behavior shape our approach to vulgarity,
- and what we ought to do about either ourselves or the world around us as a consequence.
Have fun! Show your work! Tell your friends! It'll be interesting to see how I react to the comments on this one.