There have been several important Supreme Court decisions in recent weeks. Forgive me for not commenting on any of them. It was a lesser known or, frankly, cared about decision that caught my attention. The case involved the FCC and broadcasters, but I don’t care about the case just because I’m a broadcaster.
Do you remember the case? The court basically told the FCC that if it’s going to fine broadcasters for swearing or nudity, it will have to be clearer about how it goes about doing so, so that the broadcasters can know how to make sure they know how to bring their conduct in line with the regulations.
It’s complicated, and not terribly interesting.
Here is what interested me. It’s the swearing.
Haven’t people sworn in some form or another since the beginning of time? Haven’t big brothers always used bad words before teaching them to younger brothers, and haven’t mothers been angry when they do? Doesn’t this exist in every or nearly every culture — the expletive — the way of expressing anger or outrage or something beyond what everyday language can express? So what do we do about it?
“There are other words people can use,” Salt Lake NAACP President Jeanetta Williams said on “A Woman’s View.” “People should be able to use more words in their vocabulary, but they throw it out there like it’s regular language. My 90-year-old father, my daughter, my granddaughter, we don’t use that language.”
“I love this subject,” TED talk giver and certified trainer Shantel McBride jumped in. “The power of words. There is a book out there called, ‘The Angel Words.’ Swear words are actually low vibrational words.”
“What about the word idiot?” I asked her.
“Very low vibrational word,” she replied.
Here’s my point. I’m not advocating the use of swear words. I know they can hurt people, and I would never advocate that. But what about all the other words that hurt people that the FCC can’t regulate against?
Like idiot. Worthless. Fat. Terrible. Nothing. Trivial. Useless. Unsuccessful. Stupid. Trashy. Unimportant. Unworthy. Bad.
Bad mother. Bad father. Bad daughter. Bad son.
Where are the FCC rules to protect you from that? The language that really hurts?
There is no swear word spoken by a stranger on the television that can ever hurt us like cruel words spoken by someone we know, and there is no legislation, no regulation, no court of law that can protect us from that pain.
So how do I teach my children about language that can hurt them? Shall I tell them that swear words can hurt them, or cruel words from people they trusted? How do I protect them from the latter? I have children with disabilities. The world is a cruel, cruel place, but not only to them, just especially.
I suppose I have hardened skin to obscenities because I have heard so much other language that is truly obscene, language spoken with hate. This is an unfortunate side-effect of my job. When you are in the public eye, people feel justified, even invited, to attack you for things large and small. I have received hate mail for the way I’ve pronounced words and how often I flew back to Pennsylvania to see my mother before she died.
(But before this feels too self-pitying, I also receive a great deal of love, mostly undeserved, for which I am enormously grateful.)
I’m just asking a question. Would regulating swear words effectively make us use them less? Be hurt by them less? Would it help us be less cruel to each other? If the answer is yes, by all means, let’s continue trying. I don’t see a good deal of success in the removal of cruelty by the unsuccessful attempts thus far.
But then again, what the bleep do I know?