Magazine | November 17, 2014, Issue

It’s Ineffable

If you wanted to change minds and win hearts about the issues that face women today, of course you’d take cute little girls who embody the sweet joy of innocence and have them shout F-bombs at the camera for three minutes. It’s a product of a company called FCKH8. YouTube took down the video, then realized that if there’s any sort of protected speech these days, it would be young children swearing for the proper causes.

Wouldn’t you know: Some people are offended. Yes, when the Right gets fussin’ about cussin’ it’s proof we’re (a) old-style moralists who probably blush when someone mentions a “chicken breast,” preferring the term “poultry bosom”; (b) hypocrites, because Dick Cheney used the word in a private conversation once, which is practically like putting it on a billboard over a highway; and (c) devious manipulators who understand that controlling language is the first step to controlling thought. If you frown on promiscuous deployment of the effenheimer, it’s because you want to marginalize the rage the word represents. Free speech! No limits! Say no to the fascist boot that would trod on our truth-telling tongues!

What do you mean, you hope the Redskins score this quarter?

The Left adores swearing. Its introduction in movies made ordinary stories Gritty and Authentic and Real, you know. It’s hard to watch Gone with the Wind without laughing, because you know Rhett would have said, “Yo, Scarlett? Eff you.” Likewise Casablanca: Rick should have thrown a shot glass at Sam’s head and said, “Who the eff do I have to eff around here so you can effin’ play the effin’ song, for eff’s sake? Eff it.”

See? Isn’t that more honest? I mean, Rick was a man of the world, and he was hammered as well; of course he’d dig deep into his bag of expletives and strew effenheimers around like sprinkles on a cow patty. Interesting people swear. Serious, concerned, passionate people swear. Everyone knew Mitt Romney was a dork, because he said “Gosh.” Elect someone like that and he’ll start his inaugural speech with “Jeepers, this is keen,” and ’50s lingo like that is a sign that we’re going back to the bad old days where Mom stayed home and vacuumed in a dress for seven hours.

No, swearing is liberating. You see this in the responses on websites to the FCKH8 princess video, where the audience — 99 percent women, it seems — curses like sailors, or would, if male sailors weren’t afraid to use the word in mixed company lest they create a hostile work environment. (Even though the very definition of a military is “a hostile work environment.”) The comments on the site are expressions of outrage that people are upset by swearing little girls instead of by sexual assault and pay disparities, and how can they cut through the patriarchal drone of disinformation unless their arguments are a hornet swarm of buzzwords and barbed curses?

Note that I haven’t called the words “obscenities,” because this is another way to lose the argument before it begins. Why, Elvis’s hips were once obscene. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was once obscene. Ergo, eff you. Yes, that makes sense: Because previously pinch-knickered populations blushed at the suggestive power of a Presley pelvis, it stands to reason there’s no possible argument against loosening current codes of conduct until it is acceptable to rut with sheep in the food court of a shopping mall. The only question would be whether the sheep had bleated consent. “Baa” means baa.

The words can’t be “profanities,” either. That would suggest there is something Profane, which suggests there is something Sacred, and that won’t do except in the secular sense. (As in, “We have a sacred obligation to require nunneries to provide birth control to the cleaning staff.”)

So they’re just curses or swear words. Forty years or more after a looser code of public speech predicated on the Vulgate and the proletarian vernacular was proposed by social critics — the technical term is “damned smelly hippies” — the words still have the power to impress the jaded ear, as evidenced by the glee with which they are employed. If they weren’t naughty, the speakers wouldn’t use them. Yet they want to diminish the curse word’s power by claiming that its marginalization in proper speech creates a hierarchy of values that makes some speech more “elevated” than others.

To which you just want to say, Oh, give me an effin’ break.

If you really want to know what irritated some people about the swearing-little-girls video, it was the commercialism behind the effort. The group is trying to sell shirts. While the ideas may have been effin’ brilliant, the desire to make money on the back of Social Justice is the true sin. (These sentiments were expressed on a site laden with advertising.) It made me rethink my belief that one day the advocates of naughty words would see them on a billboard somewhere, look at the child in the car seat gazing up at the word, and think, Hmm. What have we done? Then they’d distract the child so she didn’t see the big bad word that Mommy hushed Daddy for saying when he hit his head on the corner of the cabinet.

Now it’s the parents who make their kids say the words and get them jobs in commercials shouting them out. Imagine the ride home after the audition, when the kid didn’t get the job. What’s the matter, sweetheart? We practiced saying that word over and over, and when it came time you didn’t scream it out like we planned. It’s like you’re ashamed to swear.

Where did we go wrong?

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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