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Let Us Rage Together

by James Lileks

The Sanctioned F-Bomb finally appeared in the wake of the Boston bombings. Speaking at a televised baseball game, Red Sox player Big Papi said, “This is our [bleepin’] city.” The FCC not only declined to scold, but approved: The chairman tweeted that Papi “spoke from the heart,” which makes everything okay. You could say the same thing of Mother Tsarnaev’s lunatic screechings, but never mind.

Contrast with a poor TV anchorperson in North Dakota who mumbled the F-bomb while looking at his script, unaware that his mic was on. He also said something was gay, which gets you banned from the profession for two lifetimes. If he had, however, said “gay” and sworn in disgust over a terrorist attack on an LBGT advocacy center by tea partiers, he would probably be looking at Matt Lauer’s job right now. Authenticity, man!

That’s what proper sanctioned cussing is: authentic. Quality cable shows like Mad Men use profanity like a drop of Tabasco, and it has tang; it’s real. Network TV will be next. Because it’s real. No one seems to realize that if Papi had called the bombers “herkenheiming fish-binding ocelot tossers,” we would have gotten the point and remembered him all the better. But no. Our Bleepin’ Town. Readjust your Thornton Wilder theater programs accordingly.

Ah, you say: If occasional cussing’s okay in the context of art, why not in public life? Don’t bring up standards, Grandpa. Standards kept the Smothers Brothers from joking about the Vietnam War; ergo, all standards must go. Well, not all; if something is hurtful or hateful to select tender demographics, standards are terribly important, and part of encouraging a Positive Space where nowhere is heard a discouraging word. But outside of that, eff ’em.

For example: Previous standard for a college student: study hard, get good grades, be graduated to the sound of sonorous Elgar, then beaver away in a good job. New standard: topless pope protests. KDKA-TV reported:

Students at Carnegie Mellon say it’s freedom of expression, but the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it inappropriate and disrespectful. At an annual art school parade, a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down while she passed out condoms.

Even more, witnesses say the woman had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross.

As songwriter Neil Innes once said, “I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”

CMU issued a statement about the artistically reordered nether-hair, saying: “We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action.”

How? If they left it up to the student to come up with an “artistic” form of suspension, she’d probably work a cross into it. As for the “community standards,” the Carnegie Mellon student code of conduct says that students “must show a commitment to honesty without compromise, as well as truth without equivocation and a willingness to place the good of the community above the good of the self.”

So, no, she didn’t violate community standards, since they no doubt praise a raspberry blown to the gynophobic patriarchy. It was honest and authentic in its rage. It struck a blow. Pope Francis probably read the news story with a trembling hand, convinced this sort of honesty can only call into question two millennia of established religion. Good thing she didn’t go topless too or everyone would begin to doubt the Old Testament as well.

They’re doing topless priest-mocking over in Belgium. There’s a feminist group called FEMEN, known for showing up topless with feminist slogans scrawled on their bosoms — talk about the medium being the message. They crashed a press conference and threw holy water on a priest while screaming abuse, possibly because the Church doesn’t admit the possibility that Jesus was a cross-dresser. Put the trans in transubstantiation, man. The priest would have been excused if he’d stood up and shouted “HARLOTS BE GONE!” and shot lightning out of his fingertips — church attendance would have soared — but he simply bowed his head and prayed for them.

The photographs of the tableau may not convince an atheist that God is real, but they certainly make you believe in the previously mythical harpies.

Who are we to judge, though? Until he’s run a mile braless in their scratchy T-shirts, who among us can judge the wrath of the FEMEN or the disenfranchised Carnegie Mellon student? Anger is a guarantee of authenticity; if something is truly felt, it must be truly true.  The art of one’s utterance takes a backseat to the quantity of honesty.

But it’s real, and that’s what matters today. Studies of the last Obama campaign showed that e-mails with casual subject lines — “Hey” or “Are you in?” or entreaties to make sure Barack knew you “had his back” — appealed well to younger voters.  They sounded so inarticulate and slacker-casual they had to be real. Perhaps the GOP could vault over the slacker-chat tone and go right for the new age of Authentic Sanctioned Eff: swearing at every turn, sending out Mitch McConnell stripped to the waist to yell at Hillary Clinton for Benghazi answers, shaving a dollar sign into his pubic hair to “explore the relationship between politics and money.” They would fail to attract new voters and drive away their base, but they would make these things so uncool that politicians would say “Gosh” and “ma’am,” protesters would hone arguments instead of cheap shocks, and the culture would look to artists who create beauty instead of empty acts of theatrical narcissism. They’d lose the 2014 election, but if that’s the trade-off? Worth it.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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