Years ago, comedian George Carlin had an infamous routine called “The Seven Dirty Words.” And just so you don’t continue reading for the wrong reason, I’ll tell you right now that I’m not going to list the seven words. That’s because they are, well, dirty.
The seven words are, supposedly, the words you can’t utter on radio or television without getting into a heap of trouble with the FCC. Frankly, I don’t know much about FCC rules, but using any of the seven would have gotten me into a peck of trouble with my mother.
Of course, Carlin’s routine makes fun of our fear of the words. When I was a sophomore in high school, I thought the routine was pretty funny. Forty years later, I think the routine is rather sophomoric.
Carlin’s words (no, I have not changed my mind; I’m still not going to tell you) were mostly about bodily functions. Today, there are additional words that are getting to be dangerous to say in various public places.
If high school students use them in public, they are reprimanded. Use them in a graduation speech and you’ll have to issue an apology for being insensitive.
Yes, brave soul that I am, I’m going to list these controversial terms right here in the pages of a national newspaper: Christ, Jesus, God, Bible, Mary, Catholic, Savior.
These are the seven that are most risky to use, but there clearly are others that linger on the edge of danger, words like faith, hope, charity — but I digress.
Here is how a speaker at a public high school or college graduation ceremony might be tempted to explain his philosophy of life:
“I thank God for his gift of my Catholic faith. By reading the Bible and with the help of my parents, priest and Church, I have come to know Christ as my personal savior. I look to Jesus and his holy mother Mary as the models for my life.”
Clearly, a statement like the one above would cause a great uproar in the halls of academia: “narrow-minded … intolerant … reactionary.”
Consider these recent Associated Press dispatches:
n In Nevada, Foothill High School officials cut the microphone on valedictorian Brittany McComb as she began deviating from a pre-approved speech and reading from a version that mentioned God and contained biblical references. She sued, and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed her. She lost.
n In California, Pleasanton High School’s Nicholas Lassonde was forbidden to mention his Christian faith in his graduation speech. He sued. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed him. He lost.
n In Washington state, the Everett school superintendent has been served with papers concerning a First Amendment lawsuit filed by a former student who says her rights were violated when a wind ensemble was stopped from playing “Ave Maria” at graduation. Who do you think will win that one?
When I was in high school, a surefire way to get sent home would have been to wear a T-shirt to school that displayed any one (or all seven) of Carlin’s dirty words. Today, a kid might still be asked to change a shirt with one of those words on it — but some misguided lawyer probably would step in and try to make it a case of “free speech.”
But show up at school with a T-shirt that says, “Jesus is God” and a student will find out how free speech isn’t. I don’t see a lot of stand-up comedy. But we have cable TV, and I’ve seen enough to know that many, maybe most, comedians depend on the shock value of profanity to get a laugh.
Comedians, do you really want to shock people? Just come out on stage and yell some of my controversial words.
But pray there aren’t any school administrators in the audience.
Jim Fair writes from Chicago.