It hit me rather suddenly. As a grown adult (and then some) and one who owns a fairly decent command of English, a Southerner too, one who was raised to have manners and tell stories and be direct and plain-spoken yet eloquent, I have long employed swear words, curse words and filthy expletives, blasphemies and various other distasteful devices, for both literary and conversational purposes. Yes, I damn well have done that.
I know when not to do it, too, because these expressions and constructs (often anatomically inconvenient acts suggested out of frustration or anger) only are effectve and gratifying if used artfully. "Artfully" can be confusing, because a quick hit with a bad word in the right moment can be as artful as creative writing at its best, and assuming one survives the interlude it may in fact become the stuff of other folks' stories.
Young children might well be wiser than us, but they also imitate us, and our artfulness. Also our artlessness. Maybe in a better world this wouldn't matter so much, but here and now, it does. Polite children do make for a more civil world. Yeah, I know, so WTF happened to us?? Good point.
Artlessness is what ruins good cursing anyway. Stupid, artless fart and dick jokes, inability to surgically dissect a victim with an obscenity-laced rant (case in point: Dick "Go fuck yourself" Cheney, as always the exception proving the rule), these things denigrate art and confuse the kiddies, including some kiddies well on the way to their dotage.
Still, we live in a somewhat liberated age. Not nearly as much so as I'd like it to be, but at least we have, most of us, overcome the Victorian scourge that plagued us right up through the mid-1960s. We have grown a little, if you will, as a people.
Now we are on the threshold of actually being able to say what we mean and, at certain times, in certain places (usually safely inside books, which may be banned even now in certain quarters or in commercial recordings with Parental Advisory stickers affixed) are saying exactly what is on our little minds. George Carlin may be gone, but his Seven Words live on, and a few others besides, and may be found on Youtube. People like Doug Stanhope use them artfully, along with some horribly inartful constructs at times, just to spice things up. I mean, we are adults, right? Except for the children.
It is that threshold that I find both amusing and infuriating. We are, like Van Morrison's Dweller on the Threshold, waiting. And like him, "I don't want to wait no more."
Then along comes CeeLo Green and his bouncy, freeing, pop hit "Fuck You." I love this song! It is bouncy and freeing precisely because it gives vent to what many of us have felt many times but felt constrained to say only in certain company or under our breath or in our constipated little minds. Hell, in 1956 when Little Richard exploded out of the radio the first time screaming "Tutti Fruiti, oh Rudy," he was obfuscating the original "Tutti Fruiti, good booty." Trust me, this is a fact.I'm old and know this shit. First hand. Tell it to Pat Boone, speaking of fucking old.
There is another version out there too, a more "adult" version, one that gives full range of feeling to the title and expression "Fuck You," by Sarah Bereilles. I include it here instead of Cee Lo's version, because it is more adult, more sophisticated, and so more powerful. Cee Lo's is for kids. Yes, that's what I said. It's for kids. Big kids too, for sure, but the following version is not for kids. It expresses a kind of contempt that only true and intentional hurt can evoke, and it is a powerful rendition of the song:
But wait! Did you notice how even though Bereilles spits out the word repeatedly during the video the title up at the top of the video says "F*ck You"? Oh for fuck's sake! That illusion was short lived! We're like fucking Beavis and Butt Head!
There. That's out of the way. Do I feel better now?
Well no, not really, because years from now we'll still be trying to explain to our grandchildren what the "N-word" means and the letter N will have taken on the aura of the number 666. It may lead to things like "Never say words with the letter 13 in them." Hello? Oh, and trust me, I have a very hard time using nigger in any other situation than one describing bestial brutalization by language, particularly in a literary context such as Mark Twain's problematic "Huckleberry Finn." But in order to do that I have to say the fucking word. I will not call any human being a nigger. No one. I will not call a woman a bitch, even if she is a horrible person, because doing so curses all women for the sake of the one in question. I will not avoid using either word in a personal address because God will be taking notes, but because using those words in that personal way will cause vicous hurt and I only want to hurt assholes, bigots, rapists, thieves and murderers. I can do that without ever saying a word.
Why do I bring this up now? Only because after last week's Dancing With the Stars episode, in which Kirstie Allie danced her ass off to a version of the "Fuck You" song performed by the house band and vocalist, the f*ck was left glaring at me. The words were changed, as in the sanitized Cee Lo mix, where it is changed to "forget you." Well OK, that's fine for the really innocent kids or the parents of kids who are not yet ready to let the kids hear artful use of obscenities or who, for religious reasons, fear actually saying the thing out loud will get the entire tribe smote by almighty God hisself. Imply all you want. Let people infer. Dodge. Obfuscate. Ambiguate. Just don't go and fucking say it!
My mother would have a problem with this, I'm sure. Yes, my mother who knew how to curse artfully, but was descended from people with that religious/Victorian aversion to the profane -- except when drunk.
Sorry, Mom. It had to be said. Just like that time you...no, that never really happened. My bad.
When this revelation struck me it hit with the force of a tsunami, something which may or may not be considered obscene depending upon where it strikes and how many lives it takes. Like tsunamis, wars, rape, theft, injustice and other obscenities either freely talked about or actually sanctioned by the state, fuck, shit, piss, damn, god damn, and a bunch of other words are danced around absurdly, and nowhere is this practice of obfuscation and ambiguation more obvious and grating than in the on-line world, where daily I read countless f*cks and sh*ts and eff'n thises, and GD thats. I have no idea what those people mean with their odd symbols. I am left totally in the dark and of course God has no problem with it since they didn't actually go and fucking WRITE it!
God is a tough editor. Except where His own exploits are concerned. All that sex and violence, all that misogyny and hatred and blood-letting and dismboweling and pissing against the wall and on and on...no, that shit's holy, so it's OK.
Of course I used to be amused. Back in 1973 when Steely Dan (a band named after a mythic and near-indestructible dildo from William S. Burroughs' masterwork "Naked Lunch," which survived being banned in Boston and had its obscenity charge overturned by the Massachussetts Supreme Court in 1962 for chrissake) slipped "Show Biz Kids" through the mostly AM airwaves over and over again. Did you ever notice? Can you pick up on it now if you missed it then? Here, listen, because the song is about obscenities, the kinds of obscenities that pass for polite conversation in these United States, the idiot obsession with people like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, false patriotism, war, materialism, poverty and human suffering generally:
They're out-fucking-rageous. Those things. And to those things -- war, materialism, celebrity worship, theft, regressionism, tea partiers, all those things that make up polite life in these United States, I would just like to say: Fuck you very much.