On Jan. 13, Patricia Heaton walked out of the American Music Awards. The actress, who plays Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, was scheduled to introduce a segment of the program. But after hearing the raunchy and profane performances of the presenters before her, including the Osbournes, she decided she couldn’t stand it — and left.
“I’m no prude, but this was such a vulgar and disgusting show,” she said. “What was passing for humor basically ranged from stupid to vulgar, and I just thought, ‘I’m not going to be part of this.'”
Heaton’s choice was courageous and a sad reaction to the state of American language, where profanity and sex humor pass for normal in sitcoms and everyday conversation.
Obscenity spouts from mouths everywhere, regardless of the social situation or listeners present. Use of the now commonplace four-letter word is no longer shocking enough, so people become more and more creative, using mutations of these words and coming up with new ones.
As for humor, the definition of “joke” has been reduced to an uncreative, brainless formula: 1) Think of sexual anatomy or act, 2) Link a common phrase to this anatomy or act, 3) Use the phrase in a sentence, giving it a slight emphasis, 4) Laugh like a junior high boy in the locker room.
Example: 1) Sex, 2) Rotating car tires, 3) “I’ll rotate her tires for her!” 4) Hahahahaha.
Wow, wasn’t that funny? So clever, too. Obscene language and sex humor only communicate a lack of thought. They are unoriginal and rude. They degrade the speaker.
They show a lack of self-control and a lack of respect for the listener. They offend. In the case of sex humor, they take something that ought to be beautiful and reduce it to gutter trash, devaluing it, as it becomes fodder for crude snickers.
Profanity and sex humor are the easy, useless filler a speaker uses when he doesn’t have anything worth saying. They waste our time, moving conversation and thought away from useful topics into the wasteland of toilet materials and private activities. They give culture an unhealthy and excessive emphasis on sex and things that are foul, which is not to say that the two are the same.
What we talk about becomes what we think about.
As U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., has often pointed out, children raised in this environment absorb the sex-and-profanity mentality at young ages, and their views of reality are skewed and poisoned.
The obvious solution is to not resort to sexual humor and obscenity. Breaking the habit of using profanity or making the easy sex joke may take some time, but there’s a lot to win: The impression you make on others is no longer foulmouthed. You no longer need worry about “slipping in” the wrong word at the wrong time.
English certainly has no lack of words to use in place of profanity. If emphasis is needed, there are many alternatives to the four-letter word.
Find it! You and your conversations will be better for the effort.
Joe Pull is a student at the University of Kansas.