(Self) Censorship, or, Feel Free to STFU
Cross-posted to Bring It On
I had something totally different in mind for this post. (Sorry MLK Jr. — someone else will have to talk about the state of racial equality in America today. Pretty sure it’s covered, dude.)
Today at the Roller Rink
Something that happened this afternoon got me thinking about the fundamental difference between ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shouldst’.
We took the girls to a birthday party being held for a five-year-old cousin at a local roller skating rink. The parties (there were four being held simultaneously) were supposed to start at 2 pm and the rink owners had no intention of letting anybody into the rink even a moment beforehand. It was also very cold here in Dreary Erie today.
The net result of all this was that about three dozen annoyed parents and their little kids were crammed into a small entry foyer at 1:55 pm waiting for the rink to open.
One of the parents whose kid was having a birthday party (not our group) went up to the window to talk to the owner about something. I was too far away to hear the conversation, but the parent was obviously ticked off as a result. Pushing back through the crowd, he said loudly, “that guy is a fucking asshole”.
Now, I’m a big fan of the F word. I love it. I use it daily, if only in my head. It fills a niche where no other word could ever fit. It’s also quite possibly the most versatile word in the English language.
‘Fuck’ conveys, through subtle inflection, the entire range of human emotion. Anger: Fuck You! Bemusement: Fuuuuuck!?! Agreement: Fuckin’ A, Dude! Disbelief: What the Fuck? Disgust: What. The. Fuck. Amusement: Fuh-huh-huck! Horror: Oh. Fuck. Panic: Fuck Me. Passion: Fuck me. Excitement: Oh My Fucking God! Despair: Oh, Fuck. Emphasis: I Mean Fuck…
That said, it’s also not a word that I use around my kids. And it’s certainly not a word that I want for my three-year-old add to her vocabulary just yet.
So anyway, some guy at the roller rink is acting like an obnoxious dipshit in front of a group of little children. Obviously not what the majority there wanted. So what’s the answer?
This is where the difference between ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shouldst’ comes into play.
What could we do? We could pressure the owner into adding a ‘no obscenity’ rule. Kick the guy out. Ban him for life. Sorry Jack — hit the street — no refunds, no returns. Thou shalt not say ‘fuck’.
Or, we could take it a step further. Send angry letters to the town council. Pass an ordinance. Levy a fine. Throw his ass in the klink. Thou shalt not say ‘fuck’.
Hell, we could take it even further than that. We could beat our breasts crying, “Protect the Children — Amend the Constitution”. Thou shalt not say ‘fuck’.
On the other hand, we could take the ‘thou shouldst’ approach — which is exactly what someone in the crowd did. “Watch your mouth — there are little kids here”. End of story. The guy wasn’t happy, but he didn’t say anything else offensive, either. He already knew better — someone just had to remind him.
If we’d been in a bar the situation would have been different. There’s no law to say that I couldn’t take my kids there, though I shouldn’t and never would. But if I did, I’d have no right to yell at the guy for cursing. Different environment; different social norm.
One size does not fit all.
The Big Picture
Every few years now, some genius in Congress has had the brilliant idea that the Internet needs to be censored in the name of decency and/or protecting children. News flash: it ain’t gonna work. Trying to do so will inflict harm and waste a buttload of money. Child pornography is evil and despicable. And it’s already illegal — no new legislation necessary. If you know where to find the scumbags publishing it, nail them to the fucking wall. Period. It ain’t rocket science.
Regarding for the garden variety ‘bad stuff’ on the Web: as a parent, it’s my right and responsibility to protect my children from exposure to images or ideas that are likely to harm, corrupt or traumatize them. My right. My responsibility. Not the federal government’s. (For Christ’s sake, if you feel the need for the government intervene on behalf of children, push to fund something like WIC, Head Start, or school lunches.)
The ability to self-censor exists in every television now being produced. It’s been that way for years. Chances are excellent that it’s in the TV already in your home. Likewise, software is available for free, or a very low cost, to self-censor Internet access. When my kids are older, I’ll enable it.
Far more importantly, though, I make a point of knowing (and limiting) what my kids are watching on television — and when they’re old enough to start Web-surfing, I’ll also make a point of knowing where they’re surfing, what they’re downloading and who they’re talking to. That’s my right, my responsibility. Not the federal government’s.
I suspect that the ’save the children’ line is a grade A load of crap, anyway. It’s more a matter of “the social norms ain’t what I believe they ought to be. Quick, Jethro, we better legislate!”
More ’shouldst’. Less ’shalt’. I mean fuck…