Ezra Butler finds it absurd that lawmakers and regulators are trying to regulate discourse in the public square.
“Fuck” is one of the most utilitarian and versatile words in the English language. It also has the honour of being one of the most controversial. Yet, unlike more odious terms, it does not have a particular misogynist, racist, xenophobic or homophobic undertone. Nor does it inherently offend any religion or deity.
While it is regularly employed to express intensity and emotion, its use is considered taboo in official proceedings, public affairs, many publications of record [Though not this one - Ed.], and in mass media. Educational institutions forbid its usage and parents punish children for uttering it.
By many, it is considered to be the idiom of the uneducated masses, whose lexicons lack sufficient inoffensive synonyms. In many a working class area and in numerous movies, the word is used to punctuate sentences, much like the word blat in Russian.
The original sexually-charged meaning is still present and in use, but the overwhelming examples of usage have little to do with the copulation. They occur everywhere speech is natural and relaxed, such as the more atomised social networks.
Fuck is the precise definition of profanity, which comes from the Latin profanus, meaning “outside the temple”. There exists a place for profanity, just as there is a place for the sacred. Profanity does not belong everywhere.
The world, offline and online, is broken up into many different spheres, not simply the “public” and “private” as some internet pundits wish to imply. Social networks like Path and Google+ (with their circles) underscore the need to create content for a specific arena, as opposed to publishing to the world.
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Communities naturally create their own social dialects, or sociolects, which employ language, at times, in unique ways only understandable to members. By employing concepts common to both members of a conversation, they are able to quickly identify a bond.
Early members of Christianity would draw a half a fish in the sand and wait for someone to complete it. A modern homosexual may quote half a Mariah Carey lyric and hope the other individual in a casual conversation will identify it and recite the rest.
As denizens of multiple spheres, people become quite adept at changing their functional sociolect to whichever group they find themselves at the moment. Especially in the age of the internet, most people do not choose to be deviants in an unwelcoming society, rather find like-minded individuals with whom to pair.
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Over the past two weeks, though, the usage of the word “fuck” has caused a few melées in the American media.
First, a documentary about the bullying epidemic among youth in America entitled Bully was denied a rating of PG-13 by the MPAA because a derivative of “fuck” was used too many times. The utterers of phrase in the documentary were all children, as was the target audience.
Next, a senior in a high school in Indiana was expelled from school for writing a Tweet, ostensibly from home.
Profanity is not a black and white issue. Even the Supreme Court of the United States employs the Miller test when determining if an act of speech is considered “obscene”. A major tenet of the test is “applying contemporary community standards” before anything else.
The reality is that children, to the chagrin of mature society, regularly use profane language in daily discourse. To highlight a term that is taboo for taboo’s sake is inane. Such societal revisionism on the part of the MPAA is untenable and, in the internet era, can only be counter-productive.
“Fuck” does not have any place in school. But wantonly refusing to admit it exists does not educate young people. The educational establishment should recognise the concept of spatial and temporal acceptability.
In the modern age, teachers should be encouraged to have their students identify the sort of language they use at home versus on the proverbial street. Pedagogy should concern itself with the shades of grey inherent in human communication.
Similarly, the punishment for a student who publishes profanity into the aether should not be the same as that for a student who utters a profanity in the hallowed halls of an educational institution.
Because there is a place for profanity, more now than ever, as young people must learn to navigate ever more complex webs of unique online spaces, each of which demands a slightly different blend of content and discourse.
Swearing on Twitter, among friends, is fine. It’s lunacy to legislate against it. Just don’t do it on fucking Facebook.