Note: This post contains profanity. If that offends you, get the f**k over it already. And, also, sorry; I’m not trying deliberately to offend anyone.
Earlier tonight, Kathy and I were watching The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart had on guest Marion Cotillard, which right there led to a moment between me and my wife:
Me: “Oh, man, who the hell is that chick? She looks so familiar.”
She: “Really? You say that every time! She’s from ‘Inception’ and that movie with Johnny Depp!” (Public Enemies)
Me: “Oh, yeah, that’s right! Duh!”
Now, for the record, I’m quite sure that “every time” was at most only ONE other time. If it had happened more than once, I’d have remembered, but Kathy just gave me one of those looks as if I had been forgetting this actress’ name 100 times over the past 10 years, which I assure you was NOT the case. I firmed up my knowledge of the actress later. (*)
Anyway. Getting back to my point here.
At some point in the interview, Jon Stewart said “asshole,” which was bleeped as “ass****,” naturally.
Then Marion Cotillard, in her response to whatever the question was, also said “ass****.”
“Why did they just bleep her?” Kathy asked. “They didn’t bleep him.”
“Yes, they did,” I said. “You just didn’t hear it. Bleeping has become so invisible that you don’t even notice it anymore.” Which is true. I was proven right moments later when Stewart than said “ass****” and was bleeped.
I then went on to talk about the whole bleeping thing, especially as it pertains to cable channels like Comedy Central, where bleeping is completely optional (they are not subject to FCC rules about “indecency”). Cable channels make up their own rules as they see fit when it comes to what to bleep and when — known as “standards and practices,” and it’s often explained away as a matter of not offending their advertisers. Which, let’s be frank, is bullshit. The advertisers’ notion of where the line is drawn does not track with the commonly held idea of what is an HBO-permissible word versus what is a word allowed on Comedy Central or TNT. It’s just completely silly and arbitrary — and totally inconsistent.
“You know, this would make a perfect blog entry. I could do 500 words on this easy,” I told Kathy. (***)
Kathy rolled her eyes at me.
So this is me making good on that notion. The fact is, I simultaneously completely understand and totally reject this whole notion of profanity and what can and can’t be said on cable TV and online at a given moment. And yet, at the same time, I have completely paid attention to it for years on the basis of trying to reconcile the conflicts and figure out what rules get applied when.
For a network like Comedy Central, I don’t understand what the rules are supposed to be, because in practice they’re arbitrary and absolutely and completely inconsistent. For example, on South Park, they can say “shit,” “goddammit,” and “asshole” as often as they want, all of which get bleeped on The Daily Show a full hour later (except when they don’t; see below). BUT for years they couldn’t say “shit” on South Park (until Parker/Stone lobbied the network to just drop the charade). The network before that only let them say “shit” in special situations — apparently where the “plot” demanded it (specifically, there was the episode where they said “shit” some hundred-and-something times on South Park as a parody of that one time “shit” actually was said on a network prime-time show — Cop Drama in the South park parody; I believe it was actually Chicago Hope in the real life network TV world).
Anyway. It boggles my mind that Jon Stewart has to be bleeped at his hour. Conan O’Brien is allowed to say “shit” on TBS, but Stewart still gets bleeped — EXCEPT WHEN HE DOESN’T. There was a sketch several weeks back where “bullshit” was a centerpiece of the gag and they apparently got special “permission” to use the word repeatedly through the episode. And yet, after that episode aired, the rules reverted to their usual bleeping practice, where “shit” became “s**t.”
And that brings me to my other point. The profanity as bleeped leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. You know EXACTLY what was said and your brain fills it in — to the point one thinks it was actually said, as my wife thought, which is what prompted this whole posting in the first place.
So why bleep it at all? That’s the question.
When it comes to cable networks who do it solely for arbitrary “standards and practices” — except, of course, when they choose to ignore those standards and practices — I don’t understand who they are bleeping it for. Clearly not the viewers, who all know what’s being said and probably don’t even notice it anymore. We fill in the blanks automatically.
Is it for the advertisers? If so, then I don’t get it. Why is it any other variation of explicit adult content or violence or sex or other boundary-pushing depravity is okay, but the line gets drawn at the word “fuck”?
And why the bleeps during hours that are already defined as late-night?
There’s a part of me that wonders if it’s just some strange sense of decorum or courtesy or politeness, however thinly veiled. The simple fact is that in order to try not offend others, I also have censored myself in writing in ways that make it clear what the profanity SHOULD be without using the actual profanity. Instead of saying “fuck,” I’ll actually write “f*ck” or “f**k” or “f***.”
And somehow, when I look at it, it seems less severe and more polite. (Go back to the very first sentence of this post. That was slightly disarming compared to if I had not left out the asterisks, no?) I’ve found that those people that I’m mostly but not completely comfortable with (or not sure what their tolerance is on profanity), I’ll feel more okay to use profanity with one, two, or more letters blocked out with asterisks — as if to test the waters. It’s silly but it’s true.
Somehow, for some strange reason, that lessens the severity, just as bleeping on TV apparently does, even though it’s 100% obvious what the word being said is, because it’s not being hidden from us at all.
Is this a situation where we’re just hiding behind ourselves? I’m thinking so. Maybe we just need to get over it all. So much of people taking offense over anything is done under the notion of: I’m not personally offended; I’m offended on behalf of some other hypothetical third party you should be looking out for — and because you’re not, I have to!
* There comes an age at which point you (or, okay, I) will IMDB (**) any youngish-but-estimated-to-be-early-or-mid-or-even-late-30ish actor/actress who you (or, okay, I) think is around the age you (or, okay, I) are (am) — or, as it turns out in some cases, not — just to find out if they are older are younger than you (or, okay, me). Marion Cotillard turned out to be older than me by a little bit more than three months. Booyah! I’m still not as old as some youngish-looking people in Hollywood films! Take that, relevance meter!
** Yes, IMDB is a verb.
*** Turns out this ended up over 1,200 words. Brevity is for p***ies.