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Maybe I Don’t Mind Bleeping

by Jason Edwards

I went for a run this morning and observed a woman crossing a driveway off of 144th street near Aurora. A truck was in the street, waiting for her so he could turn left into the driveway. She looked over her shoulder as she crossed, saw the truck, went back to walking, lifting a compact with a mirror to inspect her eye make-up… and slowed down, right in the middle of the driveway, almost to a stop. What went through my mind as I observed this was, “Wow, what a c***.”

I am ashamed to admit this and I am ashamed to use such language, but I want to make a point about censorship, or, if may be orthographic, “censorship” in quotation marks, since bleeping out words barely counts as actually censorship. I don’t really mean to compare a bleep with book burning.

A few days ago I had a conversation with someone on a topic I’d discussed with others before: the inanity of bleeping out “bad” words on TV. It’s just so silly. You can’t say the F word, which is a word that in its literal definition means “to fornicate”—but you can say “fornicate,” or “screw,” or “boff,” or use the phrase “sexual intercourse” if you want. How is bleeping the F word protecting anyone—especially if it’s only being used as an f***ing adjective?

Or the S word. You can say feces on TV, and poo, and defecate. But you can’t say s***, even when you don’t mean actual s***, but random s***, or if you don’t give a s***, which if you ask me is a bunch of bulls***.

At least, that was my contention before. And my fellow interlocutor seemed to think that, since there are much better ways for people to speak, it’s good to keep those words out of the ears of children as much as possible—even though she agreed that doing so is really impossible. No person or even group of people can do much to tightly control what children hear as they grow up, short of locking them in a room with no access to media. Kids learn new words every day, words their parents never even use. Shielding them from all the f***ing s*** people say is a Herculean effort doomed to fail.

So why bother? I’d always said before it was just more conservative bullcrap, right-wing pedagogues forcing their agenda on the populace as another means of control. And it was backfiring, I asserted. It was keeping those words special. Bleeping them called attention to them, maintained their power as “bad” words. We’ve seen the opposite: gay men adopted the word “queer” and it’s no longer a negative epithet. Gay women have co-opted “dyke” and the word’s lost its sting. And there’s the so-called N-word, which maintains its power in the mouths of whites by their being forbidden to say it, while it has no power in the mouths of blacks, who can say it as much as they like.

Why bother indeed? Well, I realized this morning that I was able, too easily, and without thought, to call that woman a c***. Sure, it was all in my head, but ironically, there was little or no thought when I did. I reacted, judged, labeled, moved on.

Sure, those bleeps on TV do almost no obfuscation of the words they’re meant to hide. But they make a person think, don’t they? The real issue with language is not that there are “better” ways to speak, but there are “many” ways to speak. And I’d like to think people think before they speak.

If children hear the F word and the S word all over the place all the time, they cease to think of those words as special words, and then they end up using those words without thought. From a psycholinguistic standpoint, they’re f***ing awesome words, with that lip-biting F sound and the harsh angry K sound at the end. And the S word, you can really spit that one out. But doing so is a kind of loss of self-control. And language is too powerful, too wonderful, really, to be used so absent-mindedly. In my opinion.

I’m not sure if I’ve dissuaded myself from the notion that an ass-backwards conservative elite are trying to control the masses via, amongst other things, bleeping out certain words on television. Certainly it’s abusive and idiotic that radio and TV stations can be fined tens of thousands of dollars, for letting a bad word slip through. Those fines aside, however, I think I’m fine, for now, with bleeping. It makes people think about language, which I say is always a good thing.

But don’t get me started on boobies. Blocking those out on TV is a travesty.

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