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Inappropriate language does not destroy innocence

When little kids curse out adults, it’s funny. I find it particularly hilarious. But when it comes to moral boundaries, is there a line between what is funny for the viewer and what is damaging to the child?

In Will Ferrell’s comedic viral video on FunnyorDie.com, called “The Landlord,” Pearl McKay – a 2-year-old girl – is portrayed as a distressed, drunken landlord demanding the rent. Throughout the video, she shouts threatening demands and curse words at Will Ferrell’s character. Some of the statements she makes are: “You pay now, b—-,” “You’re an a–hole,” “I’m gonna smack you” and “I need to get my drink on.”

According to Bill O’Reilly and Dr. Gail Gross, a nationally recognized expert on child and juvenile education and development issues, it is morally wrong to teach this script to a child because it contains material that is not appropriate for her to repeat elsewhere. O’Reilly opened his segment by asking, “Did Will Ferrell damage a little girl by putting her into a comedy bit?”

Gross said that this type of behavior negatively affects Pearl. She felt that “once you have language, you have memory” and that Pearl will remember everything she said in the script, therefore, completely perverting her views of right and wrong. In other words, learning the script destroys her innocence.

However, Geraldo Riviera feels differently, asserting that Pearl will not remember anything she said and was just enjoying a game she was playing with her parents. So there is a line, but “The Landlord” doesn’t cross it.An hour or two of memorizing and reciting the inappropriate words is highly unlikely to have completely destroyed Pearl’s innocence. At the end of the video, she sweetly says, “Come, Mommy,” and extends her hand toward her mother. For most of the shots, it’s evident that she is holding someone’s hand – this hand is revealed to be her mother’s in the outtakes. The ending of the video shows that her innocence is still intact.

Whether Pearl was part of this viral video or not, she will eventually learn these words. Her participation in the video actually helps her because she learned the words in a closed environment under the supervision of her parents. She learned how most people use these words, but she also learned that it is inappropriate to use these words at any other time. Pearl’s father Adam – long time collaborator of Ferrell – co-founded the Web site with Ferrell (among others) and was present at the shoot. Pearl took direction from both her parents and Ferrell. It is much better for her to learn these words from her parents in such a setting than from anything else – television, movies or other children.

O’Reilly and Gross assume the presence of bad language automatically causes a negative impact on children. This is simply not true. A child will learn bad language no matter what, but the moral imperative is to teach Pearl, and all children, the difference between right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.

According to a recent article in People magazine, Adam said Pearl does not curse like that off camera – clearly indicating that such teaching is being provided in Pearl’s case. And therefore, if Adam and his wife feel it’s OK for Pearl to participate in such a video, there is nothing wrong with it.

All in all, the video is very funny, and Pearl suffered no negative effects. In her mind, she was playing a game with her parents and having a good time. If I ran into Pearl one day, I sincerely doubt that she would call me a “b—-” and threaten to “throw (me) in the streets.”

Amy Mariani is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.