This will certainly be a most challenging Quiet Corner. Not because some church or parish official will be called to task or some personal misstep will be revealed, but because the subject matter at hand cannot be expressed in words suitable for a family publication like The Rhode Island Catholic. Vulgarity, profanity, and obscenity in word and gesture are now wholly part of daily American life including political dinners, advertisements for bodily ailments, even talk at home. A guest in black tie and tux obscenely signals back to the emcee at a Washington gala that his rude jokes are not appreciated. Solutions to male infertility are advertised more often on television than the leading brand of soap suds. Toilet tissues do such a good job that one’s undergarments need not be changed daily. An advertisement for pillows alludes to the foulest expression pertaining to motherhood. Not all the rudeness is spoken. An advertisement for razors features scantily clad young ladies standing in strategically suggestive positions. And if regular broadcast television is tasteless, the cable networks are even cruder.
The cinema, of course, is completely out of control. Vulgarities, profanities and obscenities abound. Even child actors are accorded offensive lines. And of course Hollywood no longer knows the fade away or the black out. Intimate scenes must be depicted in all their glory or gore. One’s imagination may be left at the theater door. The Holy Name of Jesus Christ is simply another expletive on the big screen. Even locally the Holy Name is often invoked by a talk show host with little apology. And talking locally, the use of vulgarities and mildly suggestive phrases are frequently encountered on bus trips that parish senior citizens make to area venues where local comedians do stand-up routines. Considering that probably half of these senior parishioners are daily communicants, sexual innuendoes and allusions are obviously in poor taste.
Also indicative of the crude turn that American viewing, listening and speaking has taken are the offensive metaphors that have characterized the recent Republican campaign for the American presidency. One-time Republican candidate Barry Goldwater never anticipated such extreme rhetoric when he observed, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice…”
In the old days, it was often said that a dirty joke was a cheap laugh. It took little imagination, little creativity, little talent to insert foul words into a conversation for shock value. Profanity might get attention and it might have evoked a blush or a laugh. But vulgarities still indicate a very limited vocabulary and obscenities still suggest a dull sense of humor. The comedians of our youth — Bob Hope, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Lucille Ball, Groucho Marks, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett — had viewers in tears of laughter before their 16” black and white television sets with never a curse word uttered or a graphic gesture viewed. Then Benny Hill from Britain and Laugh-In from the USA introduced some impropriety. Next Archie Bunker, Roseanne Connor and Maude Findlay made family rudeness laughable and the Golden Girls thrived on overtones of senior misconduct. The trend was from implicit to explicit, from innuendo to expletive. And so the American viewer arrived mischievously at the “Jersey Shore” — a program beyond all respectability. The airwaves used to entertain; now they titillate.
American celebrities, performers, politicians and the public can and indeed do watch their language. Political correctness is very strictly enforced in some parlance while basic manners are impolitely ignored in others. Racial and ethnic references come under very close scrutiny in American conversation nowadays. One Presidential candidate had to apologize after an interview for the using the expression “off the reservation.” And any mention of sexual orientation must be expressed very gingerly. Slang is strictly taboo when it comes to sexual preference. So Americans can be respectful when fashionable.
Vulgarity, profanity and obscenity indicate equality run amuck. Men used to watch their language in front of women. Parents guarded their tongue in front of the children. Teenagers watched their language at home. Programming and filming had standards. Some would say this was hypocrisy. No, this was respect. Now all society is down and dirty. There is no respect.