Obsenity, Decency, and Age.

I’m a teenager, 17, and I sometimes wonder about the current standards for decency and obsenities today. When I was younger, you’d never hear the word ‘bitch’ on tv, but now it seems to be everywhere…and, even though I don’t swear all that much in conversation, I wouldn’t be incredibly upset if I heard other swears on television. Now, the rules against what you can/can’t say/do on television are upheld by people, and at one time, those people were my age. Did they always think that stuff was so bad? Was there some sort of change over the course of their lives? I think alot of my friends, at least, would be okay if someone said ‘shit’ on tv, so what will happen when they become the age of those who hold the decency standard today? Will TV and society change, or will they?


Personally I think your standards will change several times over your life time and depend on who you are with as well.

A lot of people think it is funny to teach a swear word or two to their kids, right up until the child says “the word” in front of the wrong person. Things you might say in front of “the boys” you might not want to say or have said in front of a girl your really care about or your own mother.

So it is not a simple thing for you and no easier for the people who create the standards for what will or not be on TV. Should there ever come a time when the movie about the motorcycle gang and Sesame Street have exactly the same vocabulary?

I think Jois is right. Your standards will change many times over the course of your life. They may even swing back and forth to where you, at some point in later life, end up with similar standards to what you have now.

I think what is behind the TV standards becoming more and more lax, is that there is more and more of a push toward the shows reflecting real life (well, to some extent anyway… if they got too real, they would be very boring most of the time). I don’t know if you (bradysg) ever watch reruns of older TV shows, but in case you don’t… For a long time, they NEVER showed a MARRIED couple sleeping in the same bed together. They would always get into separate beds in the same room that were separated by at least a nightstand. That is certainly not realistic, and everyone knew that the vast majority of married couples did indeed sleep in the same bed together. It was considered scandalous when they first showed a married couple getting into the same bed (I forget which show it was, but I’m sure that someone will remember). The TV standards changed to reflect what actually was going on in society. The more people saw it, the more they got used to it. They slowly realized “hey… that’s just life”, and let it go. I don’t think it added anything to the overall quality of the shows. It simply introduced a tiny touch of realism.

Of course, that’s just one little change. They couldn’t make all of the changes at once (nor was it desired). I’m not trying to make it sound as if this “move toward realism” is an organized or planned progression. I think that it is just that each group of “censors” change TV a little each year, and let something slide that doesn’t seem like a big deal to them. As with the married couples sleeping in the same bed thing, people get used to it, and then it is not a big deal after awhile.

As for the use of profanity… At one time, I thought of the words that are considered “profane” to be bad. That’s not to say that I didn’t use them… quite the opposite actually. I used them to excess because (I suppose) using these taboo words gave me some type of thrill. Now, I really don’t understand how, given two words that mean the same thing (“poop” and “shit” for example), someone could be offended by the use of one, and not the other (given the same context).

“Awww poop! I just stubbed my toe.”

“Awww shit! I just stubbed my toe.”

Both expressions convey the same idea. “I’m mad, and the first thing that popped into my head is feces.” Same idea. Different words. One is considered silly. One is considered profane. It makes no sense to me. The idea behind the word is the same in both cases. The difference is societal. As you mentioned, “bitch” is used on TV almost constantly. As a result, people are becoming desensitized to it. It still means the same thing it did when it was taboo (a mean or rude woman), but now society is beginning to think of it as casual slang.

“Poop”… “Shit”… A rose by any other name…

Back in the days of “I Dream Of Jeanie”, censors objected to Jeanie’s navel showing. They didn’t mind that there was a woman who would fulfil any desire that this man wanted… but, apparently, her navel was just too much.

Also, a few months ago, here in Southern California, there was a show called “The Beat” (I liked it, but apparently it’s been pulled). It featured ametuer-ish filming techniques to give it a “Cops” feel to it… anyway, during one of the sex scenes, they actually showed a woman’s bare breast… not very clearly, no, but it wasn’t obscure, either. I was surprised they put that on network TV. Offended, hardly… just surprised.

Actually, the first family sitcom had the couple sleeping in the same bed. Why? Because it was performed in the married couple’s actual apartment. So since they really slept together, there it was on TV. I guess once they started hiring actors to play a married couple instead of hiring a married couple themselves, they had to warp reality.

(The two bed thing isn’t all that unreal. My parents had two twin beds separated by a nightstand. I think my mothers bed was raised at the feet to help her circulation, and my dad snored, so any bed he was in shook too much. :D)

I remember a couple of other taboos being broken: “MAS*H” was one of the first, if not the first, to say “bitch”. Hawkeye called Col. Flagg (I think) a “son of a bitch” because he was taking a patient of his for trial and probably execution, because she was a North Korean spy. She thought Hawkeye was a fool for trying to save her anyway.

“Star Trek” broke the white/black taboo by having Kirk and Uhura kiss. They were being forced to by aliens, so I suppose that’s why that got though the censors. (Hell, I wouldn’t’ve minded kissing her, forced or not. ;))

“The Big Valley” had people calling Heath Barkley a bastard in the sense that he was born out of wedlock. But by the 1960’s, the word was more vulgar than the period that TBV portrayed.

What do the standards of mass media say about today’s culture? Can you make such valuative comparisons? I think you can. And I do not think the common use of what is generally considered vulgarity speaks well of today’s society. I would like to see the argument why the use of such language on TV is an improvement.

The word I continually am surprised to see and hear is “sucks.” It is very common on t.v., and even advertising. (A big sign in the train station reads “UNWANTED E-MAIL SUCKS money from your bottom line.”) I’m not sure that’s a “good thing.” Anyone else the least bit bothered by 7-Up’s new slogan - “up yours”?

The use of vulgarity certainly has a place in the English language. If used excessively, however, I believe it generally evidences sloppy usage, imprecision, laziness, and a small vocabulary.

I use more than my fair share of cuss words (my favorite, “Jesus fuck” is generally good for a response). But that is kind of my point. Swearing should be used for a purpose. For emphasis. To get a reaction. To express disagreement with or rebellion against societal norms … I do not consider it a positive development for it to simply become commonplace and accepted.

Tangent, since the OP was in the context of TV. What new network show is appropriate for a family with young children to watch? Star Trek Voyager is about all I can come up with. I’m gonna sound like a prude here, but there is so much “ugliness” out there, I don’t see the need to go out of my way to expose my kids to more than necessary inside their home. Say what you will about the Brady’s, Flinstones, Gilligan, etc. They might have been stupider than shit, but at least that is all they were. Remember when Love American Style and Laugh In were incredibly racy? Now, they would seem quaint.

Now where did I put my Geritol?

If you are old enough, you can remember when things were okay on tv but are NOT okay today.

Like you could smoke in a sitcom.

There were liquor ads & people drank it.

I’ve recently gotten into watching old reruns of All In The Family. That was one funny show. You couldn’t get that show on TV now days. People would be up in arms about Archie’s racist remarks.

I guess I feel the opposite of most people. I think we’ve become a society of wimps. Hell, Disney can’t make a single movie without SOMEONE being pissed about it. Remember Aladdin? Arab Americans were outraged at the line “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” in the opening song. People bitched so much that Disney changed that line of the song when they put the movie out on video. Disney also caught flack because Scar, the villain in The Lion King, spoke with an English accent.

C’mon people, loosen up. Relax and watch the show. If you find a particular show offensive, DON’T WATCH IT!! TURN THE DAMN TV OFF AND GO READ A BOOK… oh wait, you can’t, they’ve all been banned because they’re too offensive.

Naw, zone. You’re changing the prop. The casual use of certain language which previously was contrary with widely held societal norms, is different from the 2 examples you gave of an identifiable population being offended by something in a Disney flick (or feigning offense to advance their agenda).

And do you really think Archie was worse than “Married with Children?” At first I thought that show was pretty funny. Then as my kids got slightly older, I remember them being upset about the show because they couldn’t understand why the family members were always so mean to each other. And we haven’t even mentioned cable.