An Affinity for Obscenity?

Its seems no matter where I turn these days obscenities are flung about without reserve. 

There are cuss words spewing from my television set (and we don’t even have cable), bleeped over in the voices of hip young rappers every time I let my high schooler control the car radio (although, truth be told, country music can no longer feign innocence), keyed with offending fingers using every abbreviation in the book throughout social media and often just hanging out in black-and-white for anyone to see.  There is no end to exposure in movies, news, billboards, advertisements and - of course - typical everyday conversation. 

Story after story lately has mentioned senior white house officials and even the president using choice words, whether referring to world leaders or opposing party members who get under their skin.  Of course, with profanity flooding our ears from every available outlet, my shock in finding that it’s no more disdained in the highest office of the land than in the darkest of back alleys is admittedly more principled than practical.  But Congress is no better.  John Boehner made big news last year for telling Senator Harry Reed what to do, using a directive that included the f-bomb - a word that used to be completely off-limits for public consumption.

A couple of weeks ago, the heights of obscenity reached a new low when a for-profit company used (abused is more like it) five little girls, ages 6-13, to drop the f-bomb and other obscenities over and over again throughout a two and a half minute ad.  Their purpose?  Supposedly to engender shock value that would translate into widespread awareness about issues like gender inequality and rape - but I suspect it may have had something to do with a not-so-selfless desire to sell a few t-shirts.  Regardless, no matter how high they declare their moral ground, it collapsed beneath them the minute one little girl was sacrificed to vulgarity in the name of a cause. 

Of course, maybe this casual throwing around of what used to be referred to as obscenities doesn’t bother you. Maybe I’m just a prude who never got the memo that it’s OK to sacrifice civility in the name of self expression. 

Mind you, I’m not referring to violations of the Second Commandment.  While obscenity often seems often to go hand in hand with blasphemy, I’m referring to those words that used to be considered taboo, but which are not directly addressed in Scripture or the Catechism.  If it’s not blasphemy, cursing or swearing, should it be allowed?  Or would it be better to get our tongues under control, perhaps even to rid our ears of foul language altogether?

Maybe as a culture we’ve reached an unspoken agreement that obscene language isn’t a sin, but rather just the flexed muscle of common speech? Another form of self expression not to be suppressed in the name of polite society?  No different from tattoos and piercings - just a personal choice of ornamentation for the tongue?

If that’s the case, maybe we should reconsider.  Isn’t the banality of what was once considered obscene language just one more lie that Satan tries to promulgate among this culture of death? 

Sure, a simple cuss word is not an abortion, but doesn’t language, in fact, set the tone for a civil society?  In other words, shouldn’t polite conversation be a baseline of sorts? 

It seems to me that if we want a civil society, we have to be civil.  In order to live in a polite society, we must be polite.  And there is nothing civil or polite about vulgar language. 

What is your opinion? 

Maybe you agree with me that we need to clean up our act, but the task seems to daunting to tackle.  Well, I’m not under the illusion that we can change our culture overnight.  We can’t backtrack to a time when obscenities were unheard of outside of dark rooms and back alleys.  But that doesn’t mean we should sit back and turn a deaf ear to the rotting of our culture through the use of our tongues. 

One at a time, we can turn this around...if that’s what we want.  Change begins with you.  It begins with me.  It begins when I refuse to communicate through a vulgar vocabulary - or with a person who’s using one.  When I refuse to listen to music that would make a sailor blush.  When I commit to movies and television programs that would not scandalize my grandmother...  And perhaps you have ideas of your own to add to the list.        

If each of us commits to something better for ourselves, isn’t a higher standard bound to catch on?