Opinion

Profanity in media coarsens our society

Posted March 21

Americans love movies. We consume them in theaters, airplanes and on TV; we rent, buy and stream them. We spend billions and billions of dollars on them.

Unfortunately, movies are bringing us an increasing stream of the most obnoxious profanity. "The King’s Speech" uses the F-word 20 times and the s-word 20 times. "The Martian" uses the F-word several times notwithstanding its PG-13 rating. "La La Land," to which families are flocking in droves, drops the F-bomb, too. It seems unbelievable, but using that horrible word once is now a freebie for a PG-13 movie. Hearing it 20 times is terrible, but hearing it at all is highly objectionable, gratingly tasteless and morally compromising. It is completely unacceptable to me and many others.

Grade schoolers and even preschoolers repeatedly hear these obscenities as they watch contemporary movies. They see popular actors flip the bird, call people what used to be unmentionable names, use fleets of swear words, and routinely profane God and Jesus Christ.

Granted, no one forces us to watch any movie. But most people want to see the latest popular flick and are willing to overlook a few swear words. The pressure kids put on parents to see the latest movies can be very intense.

One can’t hear these gross words and not be tainted. The sound of swear words is hard and emphatic. Actors speak them in such dramatic or funny ways that they become memorable. They may assault you at first, but they also engage you. Your mind stores them. Sometime, one of those terrible words will leap into your mind and perhaps onto your tongue and leave a tainted aftertaste.

You might think it’s no big deal if there is only one swear word in a children’s movie. But families buy those films, and their children watch them repeatedly and will come to know what that one word means and the context in which to use it. It will be grafted into their memory and is guaranteed to pop into their minds at some time in their lives. The likelihood of their using it is high.

VidAngel (the movie streaming service recently suspended by a federal court injunction pending further litigation) became a blockbuster success in large part because one could watch most contemporary movies with undesirable material filtered out. (That the rental was only $1 and movies were instantly streamable contributed greatly to its success as well.) The VidAngel case presents other complex legal issues with a lot of money at stake. Still, it’s one more instance of Hollywood fighting any attempt to filter inappropriate or undesirable content. Fortunately, we still have ClearPlay.

Hollywood constantly invokes free speech and artists’ right to control their work; it rails incessantly against censorship. These are indeed important values. But Hollywood has always pushed the moral envelope. With its superior artiste’s taste, it seems to want to dictate to us bumpkins what we need to do to be as sophisticated as it is. And give me a break on the high-toned claims of artistic license. With some limited exceptions, gutter language in movies hardly promotes artistic values. For all its protestations, Hollywood just seems bent on pulling down morality, propriety and things sacred.

These artists argue they don’t lead society in its cultural development; they only reflect it. While that is partially true, it works much more powerfully the other way. Movies encourage and legitimize the public in using crude language. Movies “script” their viewers to adopt the behaviors and language they portray.

Do we have to give way to cussing’s steady creep? Should parents have to make the very difficult choice of whether to let their children see the latest popular movie — even movies made for children — with profane language? It shouldn’t be so.

Profanity degrades those who use it and those who hear it. It coarsens human interaction. It speaks to the lowest impulses in us. Profanity combines with the increasing incivility and crude sexual talk in our society to demean our conversation. These evils assault and besmirch our very civilization.

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