Should the Media Be Using More Profanity?

Jeremey Garson

On April 13, NPR host Rachel Martin interviewed president of the American Dialect Society,  and author of the book “F-word,” Jesse Sheidlower, to discuss the role of obscenities in popular culture. During the interview Sheidlower expressed that he believes that the world is becoming more profane, and that the media fails to accurately distribute authentic news by not publishing offensive words.

“The media needs to report on what’s happening in the world, and if our world is becoming more profane, then you need the media need to reflect that,” Sheidlower said.

Sheidlower argued that like it or not, profane language is here to stay. Initially I disagreed with Sheidlower’s proposal, mostly because I had trouble imagining myself picking up a copy of the “New York Times” to see the “F-word” jumping out at me in big, bold print. It then occurred to me how silly the expression “F-word” is. We all are aware of the many meanings it stands for, and sometimes even if we try to hold our tongue it still manages to slip out of our mouths in conversation.

While it would probably be both a culture shock and outrageously comedic to switch to a system that employs expletives in media, it might ultimately resonate more strongly with the public and promote healthy discussion. Sheidlower could care less about people who are made uncomfortable by this unfiltered approach, because in his mind there should be no filter obstructing the exchange of ideas.

A negative byproduct of this change may result in youngsters screaming profanity at younger ages. Sheidlower does not think this is a big concern since the majority of people that watch the news are adults. I would be more concerned that if the f-word became an acceptable word in professional communications, then new hurtful language would evolve in the shadow of popular culture to take its place.

Our choice of words with each other constructs social norms in society. Bending these norms may ultimately change how we communicate with one another for the worse by diminishing the respect we express to other human beings. I would like to remind Sheidlower that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Despite using filtered language that differs from “common dialect,” media is an intelligent outlet for public opinion with few constrictions. YouTube, host to many media broadcasters, permits members to liberally comment and argue with one another. Some commentators enjoy berating other members with curse words when arguments are not going in their favor. It would be disgraceful to see American culture lose respect in the international community due to perverse dialect.

Sheidlower hopes to promote an untainted exchange of ideas, but that might result in drastic costs to our daily social interactions. Filtering language is a sign of respect, and while you may not feel favorably about the person you are arguing with, at least you are a decent enough person to hold your tongue. There’s that old saying, “if you do not have something nice to say, do not say it at all.” I think that the media may not always have something nice to say, but they are experts at presenting criticism professionally with thoughtful language. To end on a humorous note, I think it would give America a good laugh if the media parodied “Purge,” the movie, by hosting 24 hours of anarchy wherein they can publish whatever the **** they want.