The F-word goes to the Supreme Court

More

At least one thing besides the election is scheduled to happen tomorrow: The Supreme Court will hear FCC vs. Fox Television Stations, as yesterday's New York TimesWeek in Review section pointed out. The crux of the case is whether ... I can write the word here, "fuck" falls afoul of indecency regulations because it necessarily refers to "sexual or excretory activities or organs."

I'd agree that "fuck" is indecent - but that's not why. The usages that the Supreme Court will be learnedly considering include Bono's remark in 2003 that winning a Golden Globe award was "really really fucking brilliant" and Nicole Richie's assertion that getting "cow shit out of a Prada purse" is "not so fucking simple." What's sexual about either of those? "Nudge nudge wink wink" is a lot more prurient than either of them. So are certain kinds of eyebrow-raising. So are many, many ways of expressing oneself.

In the instances in question and many others (say, 99 percent of the 10 zillion times "fuck" turned up in the conversation of Tony Soprano and his guys), the word is just an "intensifier," meant to establish the speaker as aggressive and contemptuous of ordinary social norms. Part of its purpose is to offend to decent folk, should they happen to be reading or listening.

So of course we shouldn't welcome such a word into everyday conversation. (If we did, it would lose its impact, and aggressive, contemptuous people would need to find a new word.)

Peter Chernin, the president of News Corporation, which owns Fox, has complained that forbidding people from swearing on network TV puts the networks at "an inexplicable competitive disadvantage." I don't see that. As things stand, viewers know the networks won't assault them with language that's offensive on purpose. This could just as easily be a competitive advantage, if the networks treat it as one.

To sum up: I'm not eager to hear "fuck" on network TV. What's usually objectionable with the word, though, isn't that it's sexual but that it's crude.

UPDATE: Forgot to note previously that The Atlantic published Steven Pinker's take on this subject in the November issue. 

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In