Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Profanity, updated

Originally posted at 11:42pm on 3/30/09. Updated at 12:50pm on 3/31/09

Last week on Twitter, [a friend] tweeted about one of her writer friend's weekly video podcast and encouraged her Twitter followers to watch. Because "Obedient" is Item #7 in the Scout Law, I clicked over and watched her friend's video. Below is the conversation that I had with [my friend] before, during, and after my viewing of the 14-minutes-and-31-seconds-long video podcast in question. (You may click the pic to embiggen.) [UPDATE: I removed the Tweetcap in response to my friend's feedback.]

My response to the video was pretty much, "Why so much of the swear, man?" As you can read above, My friend defended the use of profanity in literature as a character-development and plot tool. This, I am OK with. What I was really questioning is why an adult human of any profession would choose to pepper profanity into his everyday speech, let alone the speech he or she would record and then make public on the InterWeb-o-Tron.

We didn't really come to any conclusive resolution, and I thought this episode was finished. Imagine my surprise, then, when the author's next weekly video podcast [UPDATE: I removed the link in response to my friend's feedback] rolled around and his entire first segment, the [identifying segment name redacted], was a defense of his profanity, quoting me almost word for word at one point and then ridiculing Great American Songwriter Cole Porter while completely missing -- and, haha, simultaneously proving -- Mr. Porter's thesis.

So, you know, I feel good for spurring that kind of internet debate.

But perhaps I wasn't eloquent enough in 140 characters to sufficiently lay out my argument. Yes, I grew up believing that the word (cover your eyes, Mom) "fuck" is offensive. And despite my colorful and frequent (though less so, now) use of it, it still affects me when I hear it from others. However, that's only part of my objection to the writer/podcaster's profanity. To me, relying on profanity is simply lazy -- I think that's really what Cole Porter meant when he penned:
Good authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.
Anything goes!
When people pay you to do things with words, why use a derivative of (again, Mom, please to be making with the eye-covering) "fuck" when any number of verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, and whatnot would work just fine -- and, likely, more descriptively? Because "Anything goes" these days, is why. Because you can.

I get that each writer has his own voice. And I get that the writer's voice is his fingerprint, his Unique Selling Proposition in the marketplace. People buy this guy's books or that woman's poetry because they identify with how he or she crafts words. And sometimes profanity is a part of it. I'm just surprised by how much this one writer's Unique Selling Proposition relies on his artistry in the medium of profanity.

All I'm saying is if I ever do a weekly video podcast, profanity won't be a part of it.


JL said...

Jon and I just were discussing that word after reading this. Not that we came to any conclusions but I was wondering how that word came to be so common that few in our generation is offended or shocked by it. Jon says it was in Beverly Hills Cop. So there! That is our contribution! Yuma Out!

JL said...

Really, you could have edited my bad grammar, couldn't you?

"few in our generation ARE..."

Clifton said...

Thanks for reminding me of somthing that bugged me at a performance of the Cole Porter review, "Red Hot and Cole" in this very conservative, churchy community. The printed program made a big, politically correct deal of pointing out that the actors' cigarettes contained no tobacco. But Cole said "God Damn," which I find even more unpleasant than the F word. I'm not suggesting "gol darn" but wouldn't a good strong "damn" have worked?

Scott S. Semester said...

Interesting that the smoking issue was a bigger deal to the producers than the language issue. Like JL points out, many -- especially of our generation -- are inured to profanity at this point. It might not have even occurred to the producers that "God damn" was inappropriate.

So I ask, literally and figuratively: What WERE they smoking? ;)

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts! I agree whole-heartedly.

Stace said...

I read the pre-updated version and now the post-updated version. What was the big deal? Your freind didn't like your calling her freind out?

Anonymous said...

Yes, curious -- why the edits?

Scott S. Semester said...

My friend was uncomfortable with my sharing her and my Twitter conversation and with the way I spoke about her writer friend.

I wasn't prepared to remove the post entirely, so I decided to make the edits and anonymize it.

Stace said...

Your freind is nuts, no offense to you or your freind. To me it look slike you took caution in talking about that writer guy.

Also Twitter is public. If your freind wants to keep her tweetings private she should not tweet.