Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

ANOTHER VIEW--Obscene, profane and vulgar

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 by BRUCE FRASSINELLI Special to the Bethlehem Press in Opinion

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this editorial by Bruce Frassinelli directly reflect the views of the Times News and Lehigh Valley Press Editorial Board and publishers.

Many Americans have been astonished that the media are allowing the use of words which, until just a few years ago, were considered off-limits.

Readers are certainly more tolerant and less shocked than when I started my journalism career nearly 57 years ago. The same is true of other media, too. The word ``virgin” in the 1953 movie ``The Moon Is Blue” caused such a national scandal that it resulted in its being condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Remember when Lucy and Desi, despite being married with children, slept in separate beds?

When I was a broadcaster in 1960, the program director of WVPO in Stroudsburg, where I worked as a disc jockey, ordered me to say ``Darn Yankees” when referring to songs I played on the air from the hit Broadway play, ``Damn Yankees.”

Unlike broadcast media, which are controlled by Federal Communications Commission rules, newspapers and magazines have no pre-publication prohibitions on which ``dirty words” they can publish. The boundaries are dictated by internal policies and readers’ reactions.

In 1974, a radio station aired the late George Carlin’s comedy routine involving the ``seven dirty words you can’t say on television,” prompting a complaint from a listener. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s right to regulate content, especially when it airs at times when children might be listening.

Presumably, community and family-oriented publications could print the seven words Carlin utters in his comedy routine, but public outrage might cause the editor who authorized use of the words to dust off his or her resume.

How times have changed; even network broadcast media are now airing some of the words on Carlin’s ``Seven Dirty Words” list.

Some media critics call journalists hypocrites because of the lengths to which they will go to avoid telling it as it is. These are words that 10-year-old kids are using routinely today, these critics insist, so why would an adult medium such as a newspaper or magazine hesitate to use adult words?

Years ago, when I was an editor, the argument was that parents didn’t want to have their children picking up the newspaper and seeing such ``blue” words. Of course, we know that kids today haven’t had a newspaper in their hands in months, maybe years, so that becomes an argument from a bygone era.

Despite this, we want to assure our audience that even though we might be considered old-fashioned, we respect our readers and will not subject them to these obscene words.

Pop music has lowered the bar exponentially in the last quarter-century when it comes to explicit lyrics. The line of demarcation was crossed about seven years ago with Cee Lo Green’s ``F.U.” and Doylestown native Pink’s ``F---in’ Perfect.” The former catapulted to number 2 in the U.S. and number 1 in Great Britain, while Pink’s song made it to number 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

The trend has since spread to books. Publishing over the past several years bulged with best sellers whose unprintable titles are disguised with blanks, asterisks and other devices to substitute for the unutterable words.

A manager at Barnes & Noble told me that the big difference is that language on the cover of the book is now matching what has been inside books for a long time. One of the most controversial and eye-poppng titles was ``Go the F--- to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach, a parody of a children’s book directed at adults, which peaked at No. 6 on the best sellers’ list.

Not unexpectedly, there are two passionate viewpoints on this topic. Some say we still get a thrill no matter how much sex, violence and profanity is on TV, online or on the printed page. Others say enough is enough and criticize those who go with the flow and don’t object for fear of being termed prudes. We place ourselves in the latter camp.

Are we likely to see more of these publications with the ``no-no” titles? Well, let’s put it this way: America never fails to capitalize on money-making trends.

Let’s hope, however, that it is a passing fad, a gimmick. We’re banking that these few titles will fade, while the quality books that are being written will endure.

BRUCE FRASSINELLI is a former newspaper editor and currently a contributor to the opinion page of the Times News, our parent daily newspaper.